U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, our local congresswoman for the past decade, is suddenly well-known in national politics thanks to refreshing displays of candor and independence.
You would have to hide in an off-the-grid valley in the Willapa Hills to escape news that Herrera was among 10 Republicans — out of 207 House GOP members in attendance — to favor impeaching Donald Trump after he incited the Jan. 6 insurrection. Late last week, first CNN and then other national networks noticed what Herrera had been telling local constituents and media for a month — that in a heated Jan. 6 phone call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Trump expressed solidarity with the Capitol mob.
“When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol,” Herrera said. “McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”
It speaks well of Herrera and poorly of McCarthy that she cared more than he did about conveying this illuminating remark to U.S. senators and other citizens.
Congressional Republicans who broke with Trump after Jan. 6 face considerable blow-back from right-wing activists in their states and districts. Herrera was already in trouble with some in the Clark County GOP for insufficiently toeing the Trump party line — despite voting with him about two-thirds of the time. Here in Pacific County, where she carried the 2020 election 54 to 46%, there are Trump true believers ready to cast her into the wilderness.
The overall electorate takes a more nuanced view. The Chinook Observer’s Feb. 13 Facebook post about Herrera’s summary of the Trump-McCarthy confrontation earned her 126 “likes” and 28 “loves,” to 33 “dislikes.” (Some mistakenly believed Herrera violated a rule against hearsay, a restriction that doesn’t apply in impeachment proceedings.) Though far from a rigorous poll, these social media reactions suggest many readers value honesty above lock-step fealty to one man.
How this plays out for Herrera’s political prospects remains to be seen. Assuming she runs for reelection, she is nearly certain to face a GOP primary challenger. But as a newly minted maverick in part of the state that appreciates independence, general election voters either may reward Herrera, or elect a Democrat if the GOP replaces her with a radical on the November 2022 ballot.
Looking beyond her overall conservative political ideology, Herrera has earned local trust with consistently helpful positions on issues like harbor maintenance, channel dredging, veterans healthcare and constituent service. In the Vancouver area, she has taken a leadership role in Interstate 5 bridge replacement negotiations — a matter that impacts coastal residents when we travel to Portland. Whether she can continue to be effective after bucking McCarthy and Trump is yet to be determined.
Here at the start of a new two-year congressional session, Herrera and all elected officials in Washington, D.C. can best serve us and themselves by concentrating on the pandemic and the other enormous challenges we all face. Political controversies come and go. What we need are solid professionals dedicated to our nation’s survival and future.