Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee on the aftermath.

On Thursday’s episode of The Gist, Mike Pesca spoke with Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan, about the attack on the Capitol. They covered the events on Wednesday and the consequences for the rioters and the members of Congress who chose to object to the Electoral College count. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mike Pesca: The U.S. House of Representatives, your workplace, is a literal crime scene, and I think it needs to be investigated as such. Do you agree with that? And what do you think should be done about these infiltrators, if they can be identified?

Rep. Dan Kildee: It’s 100 percent a crime scene. This was an act of terrorism. It was not a protest. There may have been a protest at some point during the day, but this was not a protest. This was an insurgency, an attack on the United States, an attack on our democracy, an attack on the Capitol. And it has to be treated as such. There’s evidence that needs to be gathered and people who need to be brought to justice.

I didn’t realize until I was walking over after midnight for that CNN interview exactly how extensive it all was. We were in the middle of this, [so] we weren’t able to see any of the reporting. … Smashed furniture, every window broken, trash strewn everywhere, graffiti, and bottles and cans and wrappers that would be only attributable to many, many hundreds of people, if not thousands, occupying that space for some number of hours.

There are a couple of aspects of this for which accountability is going to be required. No. 1 is to hold the people who did it, who were there, criminally liable and use the fullest extent of the justice system to bring them to justice. Second, a very serious review of the failure of the security mechanisms of the U.S. Capitol, which clearly failed and were not prepared for this.

And then there’s another level of accountability that I can’t ignore, and that is the accountability for so-called political leaders, elected officials, colleagues of mine, who have fanned the flames of this, benefited and warmed themselves by the heat of that flame for months and months and months. And now that the fire has burned out of control, [they] are doing all sorts of mental gymnastics to try to separate themselves from responsibility, for a fire that they fueled and now has nearly burnt down our democracy.

Do you worry about a mass amnesty for protesters?

Yeah. There has to be criminal liability, and we have to pursue it. There’s no similar equivalent event. And this is one of the things that has really been frustrating: The tone-deafness, which is a very kind characterization of some of my colleagues, when we went back into the debate [Wednesday] night was breathtaking. Breathtaking tone-deafness, where they were making comparisons to what happened on Black Lives Matter Plaza. Give me a break. This has nothing to do with it. It was nothing like that. There’s no corollary. It’s just nonsense. But this what-aboutism that has been so much a part of the political dialogue is just allowed to pass, and it’s just nonsense. It’s ridiculous.

This is a significant, unique moment in American history. The Capitol was attacked and encouraged by the president of the United States. How do we compare that to people doing a sit-in? You can’t. It wasn’t a sit-in—this was a violent attack. It was a criminal act.

What does accountability look like from other members of Congress?

I think unfortunately the only accountability will come from … the long view of history, [which] has placed them on a list that they are not going to extricate themselves from. The long view of history is going to look very dimly on these pathetic members of Congress who whipped this thing up, who continued with it, and voted for a confection that they know is not true. At the heart of this is this big lie about an election that was fraudulent. It’s a big lie. And they know it’s a big lie, but they were afraid of violating the base, and so they went along. So the accountability will come ultimately in the fact that their names are written in indelible ink on a list that they cannot get off of.

Three of those names would be your Michigan colleagues: Tim Walberg, Jack Bergman, and Lisa McClain. McClain just got elected, and Bergman recently elected. But I’m thinking of Walberg. I’m sure that longtime members of a delegation co-sponsor some legislation together and work together. And I heard an interview that you did where you said, when you were in your secure area, you couldn’t even look him in the eye. What about Congressman Walberg?

I can ask him to reflect and give him the opportunity to reconcile what he’s done, but I can only speak for myself. And I’m only in control of what I can do. And I will say this in a way that reflects on both Congressman Walberg and the others. (Lisa McClain is brand-new, [so] I’m giving her a little bit more space—not a lot, but some.) These guys know better. And they know that this was nonsense. They know it wasn’t true, and did so because they knew their base would punish them. This is the ultimate breach of faith with our democracy.

I can’t pretend that I don’t feel this way. There’s no mental gymnastics that I can engage that would allow me to continue to look at them in the same way that I did before this. All I’m doing is being a human being, responding in a rational or logical way. People like John Moolenaar, Fred Upton, Bill Huizenga, and Peter Meijer—who is a brand-new member of Congress, and this is the first stuff he’s faced. I will look at them differently as well forever, because when their moment came to choose between the Constitution and their fealty to our democracy or their own personal political gain, they sacrificed their own politics. They will pay a price, but it’s a price they ought to be very proud of. I don’t know, maybe they’ll get primaried, then maybe they’ll lose, but I will carry them in the kind of esteem that I had before because of this. And that is something that those who went down this path and stuck with it are never going to be able to have.

The Senate lost about half of the sponsors of the decertification movement after the attack. You would imagine they made a different political calculation, maybe experienced some shame, but that dynamic was not present in the House. There were hundreds of people objecting to the will of the people. To what do you attribute the difference?

It’s hard to say. I think one of the differences between the two bodies is that the House is more susceptible to the immediacy of the moment. Senators, for lots of reasons—smaller body, longer terms, different culture—tend to give themselves a little more space and maybe take a longer view. That actually is part of the construction of our democracy that was intentional. It was thought that to have one body that is more closely associated with the immediate sentiments of the public, the House, that that would be important to include in the political conversation. And then have this clearly more deliberate body, the Senate, take a different view. So that has a lot of benefits, but in this case we saw House members measuring their political fortunes.

And not to introduce myself into this, but I’m going to pay a price for this. I’m a Democrat. I’m sort of expected to be in this space. But I have a very Trumpy district, and we’re just getting all forms of hell directly at my office right now for the things that I’ve been saying. But for a Republican it’s even more difficult, because they’ve got to think about a primary and a general election, if you think in those terms. But here’s the problem with all of this, and this is something that’s important to say: If all we do is think about getting reelected, we should find a different line of work.

Do you really think it will hurt you and your standing? This cuts through politics. And I would think that even the Republicans that you represent would be appalled by actions like this.

It’s a pretty Trumpy district. And Trump didn’t win it, but it was just a few-point margin. And again, I’m really not trying to go to the political calculus, because I’m just not even going to think about it. I know when the district lines are redrawn, my district’s going to be even more Republican, because the only direction I can go to add more people is into Republican areas. And we’re going to have to add 60,000 or 70,000, maybe 100,000 people in my district.

My point being that it’s not worth it to have this job if I have to sacrifice my soul in order to keep it. And there are some votes that are defining moments. There are some votes where you’re walking over to the floor and you’re having this internal debate:  “I could argue both sides of this. What do I do? I really got to think this through.” But there are some votes that are simply a matter of conscience. The only consultation you have to have is with your own heart, and this was one of those. And that’s why I think they failed so miserably.

Listen to this full conversation in the player below, and subscribe to The Gist on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Join Slate Plus, and enjoy ad-free episodes of the show.

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