DIASPORA

Kathimerini interview: Greek-American members of Congress on raid on the US Capitol

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Three members of the US Congress who are of Greek descent and were at the US Capitol in one of the historic building’s darkest moments, Democrats John Sarbanes and Dina Titus and Republican Nicole Malliotakis, talk to Kathimerini about their ordeal, the political implications, and the day after.
 
The two Democrats criticize Donald Trump for using rhetoric that incited the mob raid that cost five human lives and caused widespread damage, and for in essence attempting to destroy US democracy and prevent the traditional peaceful transfer of power.
 
For her part, Malliotakis strongly condemns the violence but sticks to the arguments about voting irregularities.
 
Indelible images
 
“Last Wednesday’s events were extremely unsettling. They shook our nation to its collective core. The imagery of our Capitol being overrun by hostile lawbreakers is hard to put into words – those images will remain with us, forever,” says Sarbanes, who was first elected in the state of Maryland in 2006.
 
“However, in the face of President Trump’s dangerous rhetoric and the violent actions of his supporters, we persevered. Late into the night and early into the morning, we fulfilled our constitutional duty and counted the Electoral College votes. We demonstrated that American democracy is resilient.”
 
As far as the “day after” is concerned, the 58-year-old Sarbanes notes: “Moving forward, we must ensure that our fragile democracy becomes even more resilient. That’s why I am firmly committed, as our first order of business this year, to pass H.R. [House of Representatives] 1, the For the People Act – a transformational anti-corruption and clean elections reform package that will strengthen our democracy, return power back to the American people and restore public trust in our government.
 
“With the combined efforts of our reform agenda and the restorative dimension of the Biden administration, I am hopeful that we can begin to heal our country and bring Americans together.”
 
The words of Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus echoed the same spirit: “On Wednesday, Congress did its job despite the violent interruption from lawless domestic terrorists encouraged by the president of the United States who attempted to destroy US democracy and prevent the peaceful transfer of power. They did not succeed. We reconvened to count the votes and respect the results of the free and fair election. My staff and I are safe. Our union, however, is fragile and I will do my part to make sure it endures. I congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris on their victory and look forward to working with them to accelerate vaccine distribution, bring back jobs in Southern Nevada, and strengthen our democracy.
 
“In the 2020 election, Americans made their voices heard in a free and fair election. I am grateful to the election officials and poll workers who put their own health at risk for the sake of our democracy. The objections to counting electoral votes from Nevada and other states made by Republicans in Congress were an abhorrent attempt to silence voters. Those who seek to undermine faith in our elections by making provably false claims are playing a dangerous game with our republic. Elections are decided by voters, not by politicians or violent mobs.”
 
Voting irregularity worries
 
Newly elected New York Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis takes a different approach. She condemns the violence and the destruction that occurred last Wednesday, but when it comes to the substance of the rallying cause for some, the allegations of election fraud, she follows President Trump’s line.
 
“In that chamber at that moment, when the Capitol Police had rushed in, they told us to reach for our gas masks. You have to understand that earlier in the day there were bomb threats. My office building had been evacuated as well. So we weren’t sure what was happening at that exact moment,” says Malliotakis, who thanked “the brave men and women of the United States Capitol Police for their work to keep members and staff safe during [Wednesday’s] horrific events on the Capitol complex.”
 
The 40-year-old congresswoman condemns “in the strongest of terms those who participated in violence and lawlessness. Their actions were unconscionable, unacceptable and un-American – each should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
 
Then, she turns to the issue of voting irregularities: “I, along with millions of Americans, am concerned about the number of voting irregularities reported in Arizona and Pennsylvania and voted against certifying their electors. This was not an attempt to overturn an election, but instead to highlight the need for a proper hearing into unconstitutional rule changes, irregularities and alleged fraud. I took an oath to uphold the US Constitution and I will not turn a blind eye to those who violate it.”
 
The common voice of Democrats and Republicans is confined to the condemnation of the violent events that shocked America and the world. And this mainly from the politicians, not the public, as the latest PBS NewsHour-Marist poll indicates that 18% of Republican voters were in favor of Trump supporters breaking into the US Capitol.
 
In any case, the Republican Party is split between its traditional establishment and a new, more aggressive right-wing that identifies with Trump.