The brazen assault on the Capitol was an indelible stain on our nation. Now must come the consequences.
Begin with the perpetrators. They were rioters not protesters, and must be identified and prosecuted. Comb the videos and social media posts. Many committed crimes ranging from sedition to trespassing, serious felonies as well as misdemeanors for even rushing past the fences on the Capitol grounds. Several rioters were charged by federal prosecutors in Washington on Thursday. The FBI and the U.S. attorneys in New York should be aggressive, too. The son of a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge has been identified as one of those who denigrated the workings of the federal government on Wednesday. Every American must be shown that these acts will not be tolerated.
Next, the Capitol Police. Its failure to protect was profound. Some officers were overwhelmed, others seemed too chummy with rioters. While top leadership is being replaced, Congress must investigate why such a symbol of our democracy was so vulnerable — including why the Capitol Police was unprepared or failed to anticipate the dangerousness of some in the mob who had posted for weeks on social media about bringing weapons to town — and it must take steps to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Almost all of our representatives were in the complex to certify the Electoral College results; think of the national tragedy that would have unfolded if any of them had been killed.
Responsibility also lies with the politicians and enablers who gave oxygen to the president and his mob. People like Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley with their presidential ambitions and phony principled Electoral College objections. Donald Trump Jr. threatened Republican lawmakers in an expletive-filled speech at the pre-assault rally Wednesday morning. Rudy Giuliani called for "trial by combat" at the same event. And Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin, like Cruz and Hawley, stoked the grievances and resentments of rioters with his backing of Electoral College objections despite having no evidence to support them. With the riot underway, Zeldin tweeted to the attackers to stop but that won’t remove the blemish of being part of the "Sedition Caucus."
And, finally, the president. The last 12 days of his term are shadowed by calls for invoking the 25th Amendment or impeaching him to remove him from office. The 25th Amendment, meant mainly to address the need for transition of power when a president falls ill, is a crude and likely unworkable tool. Sadly, threatening an immediate impeachment might be the only way to send a powerful signal about accountability, funnel outrage over his conduct, and perhaps forestall more aberrant behavior in his final days.
But the focus must remain on the future and finding ways to prevent the transgressions of norms and laws he committed since taking office. Amendments to the Constitution and new federal laws — like one detailing whether a president can be prosecuted and for what — are required to constrain those who might emulate him.
These are fraught times. The task now is to do everything we can to ensure we don’t see them again.
— The editorial board