The annual luncheon and rally that the Maryland Democratic Party hosts each January, the day before the General Assembly convenes, tends to have a heavy Annapolis focus.
True to form, Tuesday’s virtual gathering was dominated by newsy speeches offered by the legislature’s presiding officers, who laid out ambitious agendas and discussed the unprecedented security and health challenges that appear destined to make the 2021 session unique.
But the Democratic elected officials and allies of the party who attended the event also got to hear from several members of the state’s congressional delegation. Their thoughts on last week’s mob attack at the U.S. Capitol — and what should happen in the future — had attendees paying rapt attention.
In an interview after the lunch, Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Yvette Lewis said she “breathed a sigh of relief” when lawmakers popped up on her screen.
“They were in a powder keg last week,” she added, “so it felt good to see them today.”
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) called the insurrection at the Capitol “a moment that I never thought I would ever see in our country” — and he blamed President Trump’s Republican “enablers.”
“Yes, my personal safety was at risk when there were mobsters in the hallways knocking on our doors, trying to enter the Senate chamber. And we didn’t know whether the barricades would be adequate,” he said.
“We knew that there was gunfire in the Capitol. We knew we were at risk,” Cardin added. “But we also recognized that our democracy was at greater risk.”
Cardin said Congress’s immediate priorities are public safety, the inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, “as well as accountability for everyone involved in this insurrection, from the president of the United States to those who entered the Capitol building and put us all at risk.”
“We will take all steps necessary to make sure that the inaugural takes place in a safe manner,” he added.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) embraced Biden’s call for a two-track approach to impeachment and the new administration’s agenda.
“We can both move the country forward under the next Biden-Harris administration and do the necessary business of sending a very clear signal that insurrection from a president of the United States is unacceptable,” he said.
Rep. David J. Trone (D) said Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives who encouraged Trump — and then were too timid to urge him to end the siege — brought “shame” on themselves and their party.
“We’ve got to hold them accountable,” he said. “We can’t let them off the hook.”
As for Trump, “there’s not much we can do besides impeach the son-of-a-gun and then later on see if we can arrest him down the road. We can’t let up on him until we’ve got justice,” Trone added. “There’s a lot of justice coming toward ex-President Trump.”
Trone did not mention Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R-Md.) by name. But Lewis said the lone GOP member of Maryland’s congressional delegation, who backed the challenge to Biden’s win even after the siege, “embarrassed our state with his behavior last week, and that cannot be tolerated.”
In the interview, Lewis said the threats posed by far-right forces “are not over.”
“These next couple of days are going to be very, very challenging for all of us,” she said. “We’ve unleashed something in this country that is truly frightening. And there’s an element that is determined to keep this going. Those of us who are reasonable people are going to have to fight very hard to work towards unity, so that those voices are isolated and eventually drowned out.”
“There are more people of good will that want this country to work than those that want this country to fight, so that’s what I’m hanging my hat on,” Lewis added.
Cardin said he has received “hundreds” of calls every day from constituents wanting to know that lawmakers and staff were safe. “I was stopped on the streets every place I went. People of concern. Thank you all for your concern and thank you for your concern for our democracy.”
Missing from Tuesday’s event was Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D), who was leading efforts in the House Rules Committee to pass a resolution that would call on Vice President Mike Pence to hold a Cabinet meeting to activate Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to declare Trump incapable of executing the duties of his office and to immediately exercise powers as acting president.
“This is not just a crisis and an emergency. It is a continuing crisis and emergency,” Raskin said during the hearing. “It is not over yet. Can we say that we feel safe being in the hands of this President, with the horror and the threats returning to the Nation’s capital? We are asking Vice President Pence, with this Resolution and the Cabinet, to act with the powers that were wisely put into place by the Congress back in 1967. They should meet, they should consider all of the circumstances, and they should move to restore order to the United States of America.”
Pence signaled Tuesday evening that he would not invoke the 25th Amendment.
The U.S. House will move forward with impeachment proceedings on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Tuesday night that Raskin would be one of nine impeachment managers in the forthcoming debate.
Maryland Matters Reporter Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.