Harrisburg’s political tensions demonstrated in chaos at the Capitol

Listen 5:41
Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

In the wake of yesterday’s events in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on about who fanned the flames that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and who was questioning the validity of the electoral votes that were being certified by members of Congress.

Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn turned to WHYY’s political reporter Katie Meyer the following morning to see what role Pennsylvania’s legislators may have played in all this.

Good morning, Katie.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Good morning.

First, I want to remind listeners that the electoral votes confirming that Joe Biden will be our next president were certified late last night after the chaos in the Capitol. Now, Katie, how did that play out among Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation?

Yes. So, members of Congress had really telegraphed their intentions pretty far in advance. So what we had was a very divided delegation. Eight of Pennsylvania’s nine Republican House members said that they were going to vote against their own state’s results and they did. All eight of them did that. The only holdout was Brian Fitzpatrick, the representative from close down to Philadelphia and the Southeast. Democrats all voted to confirm the results.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also released a very strong statement calling Trump …  a demagogue and said that even though he had voted for Trump, he did not support his actions, saw that it had caused the violence and did not contest Pennsylvania’s results. So, yeah, a divided delegation. But yet eight of our congressmen voted for Pennsylvania’s results to be overturned.

Senator Toomey is not going to seek reelection, I want to note that. Let’s just kind of focus back on him a little bit. Were you surprised by some of the things he said or did yesterday at all?

I don’t know about surprised. I think Toomey has made it pretty clear that he did not believe that it was appropriate for Congress to be challenging the results in this way. And certainly, the Senate is usually much more reticent to take steps like this than the House is. We only saw a couple of senators ever moving to contest results. And only two states, ultimately Arizona and Pennsylvania, ended up going to a debate on this [because] senators contested them. So, no, I wasn’t surprised by Toomey, but I do think that his decision to not run again has freed him up to be a little bit more vocal against Trump.

And do you think the eight Republican congressmen who said they would contest the votes, and they did, will they feel the heat from this at another juncture in their political careers, or could this also amplify them as very solid Republicans in Pennsylvania?

I mean, a lot of these guys are in really Republican districts. And you heard them saying over and over — this is the one of those arguments out here on the floor that it really just doesn’t make any sense, unfortunately — that they were doing this because they have heard from a lot of constituents who are worried about the election. So they think that that worry needs to, they need to manifest it somehow in, contest[ing] the results on the floor. … That’s regardless of whether, first of all, there is any question about Pennsylvania’s result. No fraud claims have ever even really been brought, in a significant way, in court. And any challenges that have been brought, and have been raised, wouldn’t affect enough ballots to change the results of the presidential election. So I think, yeah, there’s been a lot of playing to the base here. I think that’s the calculation they’re making. Some members like Scott Perry, his district is getting bluer and he’s been very, very forthright about where he stands on this. He challenged Pennsylvania’s results. He was the first to do it. So, we will see how the political dynamics play out for these congressmen down the line.

And at the state level in Harrisburg earlier this week, Pennsylvania Republican state legislators refused to swear in a re-elected Democrat state senator who won his race by less than 100 votes. They’re being contested by his opponent. This is sort of stoking existing tensions between Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg, is it not?

It is. I think there’s no question that tension on the federal level has trickled down to tension in states, and not just Pennsylvania. Lots of states are kind of going through this. But, yeah, Pennsylvania has a state senate race that was decided by 67 votes. It is contentious. It was about two counties doing different things with their mail ballots. And there’s a case pending in federal court about it. That’s what Republicans say they’re waiting for. But, yeah, absolutely, we’re seeing a lot of unrest. And I should note, one of the senators who was involved in this whole thing, Doug Mastriano, he was down in Washington, D.C. for this unrest. He was part of the rally. He said he didn’t go inside, wasn’t involved in any violence, condemned it. But again, he was there. So this is all connected, I think.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

And a question about the safety and security of our own state capitol building in Harrisburg, is there any question about that?

Yeah, we did see some ralliers yesterday, but nothing significant. The caucuses and other staff in the capitol, they’ve been told to work from home today. They told me it was “out of an abundance of caution.” So I don’t think there are any significant concerns. But, of course, we did see in the capitals around the country and it’s certainly possible that it could happen in Pennsylvania. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen big rallies there before.

Katie Meyer, WHYY’s political reporter, thank you for joining us.

Thank you.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal