NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said Monday he doesn't hold President Donald Trump personally responsible for inciting last week's deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol as senators and representatives met to certify President-elect Joe Biden's Nov. 3 victory.
"I really don't," said the Tennessee Republican from Ooltewah when asked by Cleveland-based Mix 104.1 WCLE host Steve Hartline during a morning call-in interview if Trump bears blame for what happened. "I think people are responsible for their own actions."
Fleischmann said he "condemned violence when the radical left was burning down our cities. I condemned it. I condemned the violence immediately last week when these people stormed the Capitol. There's a lot of frustration out there, but there's never a reason to engage in violent activity. So again, I think we need to move past this."
The Ooltewah Republican, who has twice tested positive for COVID-19 and said he is experiencing respiratory and other symptoms, also lashed out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who along with fellow Democrats is pushing to impeach Trump after last Wednesday's storming of the building by an angry mob stirred up by the president.
Five people died, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer killed while defending the Capitol. A second officer present later committed suicide, according to multiple news accounts.
The congressman, who last week described to the Times Free Press having to be evacuated twice from his congressional office by Capitol police and moved to safer locations amid the violence and threats, also said, "Trump has committed to a peaceful transition of power to the Biden administration. And we involve ourselves in political theater this week — and that's all it is.
"Everyone knows [senators] are not going to convict President Trump, it's just not going to happen," Fleischmann added. "Remember, impeachment is just bringing up on charges." Senators are the triers of facts and Fleischmann said, "they're never going to get two thirds in the Senate," the requisite number required for impeachment.
Pelosi later on Monday sharply criticized the chamber's Republicans after they blocked Democrats' request for unanimous consent to take up another measure calling on Vice President Mike Pence to mobilize the Cabinet to activate the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office before the defeated president's departure from office on Jan. 20.
"On Wednesday, the President incited a deadly insurrection against America that targeted the very heart of our Democracy," Pelosi said in a statement. "The President represents an imminent threat to our Constitution, our Country and the American people, and he must be removed from office immediately."
Democrats have introduced the impeachment resolution that they plan to vote on this week.
"We need to vote on this ASAP," tweeted U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat.
Fleischmann, who announced Sunday he had tested positive for COVID-19, which he believes he got from his roommate Congressman Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, said he won't be allowed to come to the Capitol and participate in votes for the time being. He said he is experiencing respiratory and other symptoms.
As for his votes against certifying Biden's electoral vote victory, Fleischmann said, "the overwhelming amount of calls from all across the people in the 3rd District of Tennessee, good people, God-loving, country-loving people, have had great questions about voting irregularities and the sanctity of our election process. They told me to do that. Was that a unanimous vote? No."
He said he did hear from "some of our Democratic friends who were adamant that they wanted me to vote to certify" but the "overwhelming, and I mean staggering, amount of people" opposed it for what Fleischmann called the "sake of our republic and getting elections right in the future. This is about process, it's about making sure that whether someone's in Tennessee, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, that one legal person get one legal vote and nothing short of that.
"We owe it to the American people to get it right. Our credibility is our voting system, and I would say this, [confidence] in our public officials has been greatly eroded," Fleischmann added.
All but one of the 60 or so legal claims Trump and his team have made that massive election fraud and irregularities in states including Georgia were enough to overturn elections have been rejected by courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take them up. The one challenge upheld was a minor ruling in Pennsylvania that did not alter Biden's victory there.
But in the Senate, two staunch GOP supporters of Trump, Tennessee's U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and freshman Sen. Bill Hagerty, flip-flopped from their previously stated opposition to certifying results for key states Biden had won, such as Georgia. Following the attack on the Capitol, they voted to certify the results.
In their joint statement last week, both senators denounced the violence but did not mention or explain their voting in favor of certifying Biden's victory. They have yet to publicly address that.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com.