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Op-ed: Three Wednesdays that changed America

By Rep. Mike Levin

This year began with three Wednesdays unlike any in American history. First, we experienced a violent attack on a co-equal branch of our government; next, a vote for accountability rooted in our Constitution; and then, a transition of power to a new President and Vice President who are determined to unite our country.

Millions of Americans watched these events unfold in their living room, shocked by what they saw on their TV. My loved ones watched while often fearing for my safety. I tried to take notes, knowing I was watching history unfold.

On Wednesday, January 6, Congress was set to proceed with the typically ceremonial counting of Electoral College votes. That morning, I had been given the option of watching the proceedings from the House Chamber. I considered it but decided to remain in my office until voting began, unaware of how pivotal that decision would be.

Just hours later, domestic terrorists violently attacked the Capitol, looking to harass, kidnap, and even kill my colleagues. It was simply unimaginable. I sheltered in my office with a staff member. We locked the doors and avoided the windows, fielding frenzied calls and texts from worried family and friends. The images of destruction were heartbreaking, and we were trapped for several hours. I said to myself, “this cannot not be happening in America.”

I was trying to come to terms with what was happening: a violent insurrection had been incited by the President of the United States against a co-equal branch of government. A US Capitol Police officer and others had died. We were experiencing the most formidable test of our democracy since the Civil War.

Late that night, having not left the Capitol complex, with debris and broken glass still visible from the attack, we went back to work to affirm that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the Electoral College. We also began a discussion of how to hold President Trump accountable for the destruction he had provoked. Three of my colleagues began drafting articles of impeachment.

The next Wednesday, January 13, I arrived back at the Capitol, now surrounded by thousands of men and women from the National Guard. Vice President Pence had been unwilling to invoke the 25th Amendment, and the House reconvened to impeach President Trump for an unprecedented second time.

Like all members of Congress, I pledged to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Trump’s clear incitement of insurrection left us little choice but to impeach. Ten of my Republican colleagues agreed, including Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, who said, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

That evening, I struggled with the reality that so many of my Republican friends and colleagues still refused to hold President Trump accountable. Many Republicans spoke of healing and unity. I agree with them — we desperately need to come together. However, true healing and unity can only be achieved with true accountability.

That night, I also thought of my two young children and the country they would inherit. When it came my time to speak on the House floor, I called on my colleagues to recognize that “what each of us chooses to do today, whether we vote to hold this president to account or look the other way, will be remembered by history, by our children and their children.”

A week later, on Wednesday, January 20, with tens of thousands of National Guard and law enforcement personnel dwarfing a modest crowd of invited guests, our nation experienced a profound moment of renewal. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office. They appealed to our shared values as Americans, spoke to our purpose as the greatest democracy in the world, and discussed resilience in the face of the extraordinary challenges that lay ahead.

Like the previous two Wednesdays this month, my family feared for my safety. Given specific and credible security threats, I questioned whether or not it was smart for me to be there at all, but I felt it extremely important that Members of Congress be present for the peaceful transition of power.

After everything we had experienced this month, the successful inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was one of the most important days in our nation’s history.

I’ll never forget the first three Wednesdays of 2021. They have changed America forever. The deep divisions in our country linger, as do enemies both foreign and domestic.

At the same time, our democratic institutions have prevailed, we have reaffirmed that elected leaders will be held accountable for their actions, and we have a new president and vice president who are prepared to lead us down a more hopeful path.

Rep. Mike Levin represents the 49th Congressional District, including the cities of Vista, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and a portion of southern Orange County.

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