Republican lawmakers suddenly have a lot of thoughts on how to heal the nation ― and none of them has to do with addressing the insurrection that Donald Trump’s supporters mounted at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago in an attempt to overturn election results.
GOP legislators have been reluctant to accept their own responsibility for stoking massive divisions in the country. But in the two days since President Joe Biden took office, Senate and House members have been twisting his call for unity into attacks on his agenda.
In his inaugural address Wednesday, Biden called on Americans to come together to confront the “rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism,” in order to “restore the soul and to secure the future of America.”
“We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury,” the president added, standing on the same platform where pro-Trump rioters had invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In response, Republican lawmakers are arguing that Biden’s policies will only hurt unity. In other words, according to these lawmakers, the only way to heal the nation after a violent mob tried to overturn an election that put Democrats in power, is to do exactly what Republicans want.
Here are some of the policies that Republicans have claimed would undermine national unity:
Restoring National Monuments
As part of a broader first-day executive order to “protect public health and the environment and restore science,” Biden ordered a review of Trump’s rollbacks of national monuments ― a first step toward his own promise to restore the sites.
Ten Utah Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney and Gov. Spencer Cox, issued a joint statement this week decrying the move, saying it “will only deepen divisions in this country.”
“For over 25 years Utah has been the center of controversial and divisive unilateral national monument decisions. ... A review in name only with predetermined results, which ultimately leads to a unilateral executive order enlarging the monuments’ boundaries, will not solve the root of the problem and will only deepen divisions in this country,” they said.
Republicans invoking national monuments ― in particular, Bears Ears in Utah ― in their newfound wish for harmony is ludicrous.
In 2017, following a sham review in which the Trump administration cozied up to monument opponents, cherry-picked data and dismissed overwhelming public support for maintaining protected sites, Trump carved more than 2 million acres away from two sites in southern Utah.
Bears Ears, a landscape sacred to several area Native American tribes that is named after a pair of buttes, was shrunk by 85%. Nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante, a sweeping 1.87-million-acre monument rich in dinosaur fossils and archeological sites, was cut roughly in half. Later, in June 2020, Trump opened the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a 4,900-square-mile protected site off the East Coast, to commercial fishing.
The 10 Republican critics made no mention of the five tribes that had petitioned the Obama administration to grant Bears Ears monument status and felt betrayed by Trump’s rollback. After dismantling several federally protected land and water monuments, including one that honored Native American cultural heritage, Trump turned around and threatened up to 10 years in prison for anyone who vandalized or destroyed a monument to a slave-owning president or leader of the Confederacy.
Barring Oil And Gas Drilling On Federal Lands, Rejoining The Paris Climate Accord, Stopping The Keystone XL Pipeline
On his first day in office, Biden issued a temporary moratorium on oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
Halting fossil fuel development in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the middle of a rapidly worsening global climate crisis? That would go against “healing” the nation, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said. Sullivan immediately called the move “divisive.”
“In his inaugural address, President Biden called for national unity and healing. However, just hours earlier, his administration took their cues from radical environmentalists in issuing punitive and divisive actions against Alaska, many other resource development states, and whole sectors of our economy,” Sullivan said in a statement.
There’s some added hypocrisy in Sullivan’s comments about unity here. Biden’s moratorium reverses a policy that was slipped into the 2017 tax law — a bill that Republicans crafted behind closed doors without any bipartisan input and passed without a single vote of support from Democrats.
To make their case for opening the Arctic refuge to oil drilling, the Trump administration and its Republican allies repeatedly touted the potential for this fossil fuel development to generate $1.8 billion in federal revenue over a decade. But when the administration held the long-awaited lease sale ― on Jan. 6 as the Capitol was being stormed by pro-Trump extremists ― it generated a paltry $14.4 million in bids, less than 1% of the administration’s total revenue estimates.
Other GOP lawmakers echoed this “unity” complaint when deriding Biden’s other early environmental policies, like revoking a crucial permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and reentering the Paris climate agreement.
“It was really ironic that he’s talking one thing, one game, over here about unity,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) said in a video posted to Twitter. “And the first thing he does is go over to the White House and do just the opposite, and that is alienate a number of people who agree with those [Trump] policies and want to see those policies implemented.”
Carter, who called the insurrectionists “nothing short of pure anarchy,” nonetheless voted against certifying the election results hours after the riot, alongside 146 other Republican lawmakers — a vote that Trump encouraged as a last-ditch attempt to override the will of 81 million American voters.
Reversing The Transgender Military Ban
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) questioned how dedicated Biden was to “unifying” the country when the president made good on a promise to reverse the Trump administration’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.
The senator shared the news of Biden’s executive order with a snarky tweet.
In 2016, the Obama administration reversed decades of precedence to allow all transgender Americans to serve openly in the military. Trump changed that guidance in a series of tweets in 2017, saying he would not allow any transgender people to sign up for military service.
Biden ran on changing Trump’s order on Day One of his presidency.
Supporting Abortion Rights
Biden’s early efforts to dismantle Trump’s legacy included repealing the Mexico City Policy, also known as the “global gag rule,” which bars federal dollars from going to global health care nonprofits that provide abortions or abortion services. The Trump administration expanded the policy several times.
In a Jan. 29 interview with right-wing outlet Newsmax, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) slammed Biden’s repeal as radical and divisive.
“Joe Biden pitched to the American people that he wanted unity and to work together with Republicans, but we’ve seen over and over again just how radical he is,” she said. “Here he is promoting abortions, once again. Let’s face it, that’s killing unborn babies. I mean, I don’t understand the obsession by President Biden and the Democrats that they’re so pro-abortion.”
“They do not want to work across the aisle,” she added. “They want to push through every radical agenda piece they can in the time that they have control.”
Impeaching And Putting Trump On Trial
Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack that left five people dead at the Capitol, adding that Trump “should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
But McCarthy has already backtracked, saying this week that Trump didn’t provoke the rioters and that holding the former president accountable in an impeachment trial and otherwise taking a stand against that sort of violence would tear the nation apart.
In polls conducted before Trump was impeached for the second time, Americans were largely split along party lines on whether he should have been removed from office and disqualified from holding future office, although there was slightly more appetite this time around.
Ten Republicans joined with Democrats to impeach Trump in the House last week, making it the most bipartisan impeachment vote in history.
But the vast majority of GOP lawmakers don’t want to convict Trump of inciting the mob in a Senate trial. Many of these same politicians spent months spreading baseless allegations about voter fraud, questioning the legitimacy of Biden’s win and standing silent as Trump encouraged the “stop the steal” movement.
Now, with Biden in office, they’re concerned about unity.
“Well, I think it’s obvious that the post-presidential impeachment [trial] has never occurred in the history of the country for a reason, that it’s unconstitutional, that it sets a bad precedent for the presidency and it continues to divide the nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Capitol Hill reporters on Friday.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the same in a Friday tweet, writing that “Biden is preaching unity & healing while Dem leadership is focused on impeachment of a former president.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) perhaps put the GOP view most plainly in a Friday morning tweet: “A radical leftist agenda in a divided country will not help unify our country, it will only confirm 75 million Americans biggest fears about the new administration.” That was after Rubio posted a video claiming that Biden had governed “from the radical left” in his first two full days in office.
As Democrats come to power in both chambers of Congress and the White House, Republicans are making clear that the only unity they’re interested in is unity behind their agenda. Anything contrary to that would simply be too “divisive.”