Q&A: Peter Meijer Voted to Impeach Trump. Can He Win as a Republican in 2022?
A conversation with the Michigan congressman who cast a defining vote just days into his political career, now facing a charged political environment.
Rep. Peter Meijer has represented Michigan's 3rd District as a Republican since 2021. On January 6, Meijer was just days into his term when pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol. Later that night, he voted to certify the election. A week later, he was one of ten Republicans in the House to vote to impeach Donald Trump -- and the only freshman, and the first freshman ever to vote to impeach a president of his own party. Days later, he started drawing pro-Trump primary challengers.
Meijer is one of just a handful of Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump to face voters in 2022. Two out of the 10 GOP representatives who voted to impeach have decided not to run for re-election. ("2 down, 8 to go!" Trump said.) Only one of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump has an election in 2022, due to the Senate's six-year terms.
I spoke with Rep. Meijer last week over Zoom about January 6, the impeachment vote, and the Republican party. Our conversation follows, condensed and edited for clarity.
Luke Johnson: One of your first acts as a new Congressman was to certify the election on January 6. Normally that's a formality, but Trump had turned it into his last stand. What was going through your mind going into that day?
Peter Meijer: I would say two main things. One, it was really disorienting to see the interior argument, which was objecting because of non-legislative modifications at the state level to electoral processes, and believing that was in violation of the Time, Place, Manner clause of the Constitution, despite the Electoral Count Act of 1887. But there was then the subsidiary argument that the Electoral Count Act was unconstitutional, or at least constitutionally dubious, because it had never been challenged, and then thereby upheld in the Supreme Court. That blended with the outside, which was, stolen election, rigged election. There was a step missing that involved gumming up the works at best, or at worst, violently interceding.
If we were making a craven, cynical political argument, we didn't have the numbers. We're in the minority in the House. It would have failed on the merits, even with 100% Republican compliance, number one. And number two, in that craven political calculus scenario, we're destroying the Electoral College. What's to stop the Democrats down the line from pursuing a similar tactic that they could actually succeed if they were in the majority and had uniform support? There was no good logic anywhere.
You see this mass hysteria, mass delusion, among some, combined with the knowledge that there will be strong political consequences for the certification. My goal was okay, how do we not be one of 20 or 30 certifying, but, hopefully 120 or 130. There's a lot of folks, who I call the board-watching caucus. They don't really feel strongly in either direction, they just want to wind up in the majority of wherever their colleagues are, and find safety in numbers. The day before Eric Trump had said if you don't vote to overturn this rigged election, we'll be in your backyards in six months, threatening the primary component. There was some dark humor among some colleagues who we knew what the right answer was, and didn't feel great about having to go in and do that. [We joked] "Can we just repeatedly test and maybe we get COVID, the day before, can we figure out some way of avoiding running into this known problem" -- obviously in jest. Those of us who knew what we had to do [thought], "Oh, great, this is going to be fun."
LJ: The Articles of Impeachment were introduced just five days after the insurrection, and the vote was two days after that. Clearly didn't come to Congress thinking that was something that you would deal with. What was going through your mind prior to the vote?
PM: I think it was a similar feeling of well, there's no winning here. But it was my responsibility to both not act in a rash manner, but to also not to cower from my responsibility. I judge that based on an understanding of the articles and understanding of the constitutional predicate, and other factors.
There was a strong effort to avoid an impeachment trial. We had supported a strong, swift, and bipartisan censure, condemning what had occurred, but also trying to give more time for an investigation for things to play out. The impeachment was a week before Joe Biden's inauguration, so it was more punitive. Not that I'm opposed to punitive measures, but in a much better world, it would have been either the 25th Amendment scenario, if immediate removal is required, and impeachment is not a tool for immediate removal, because of how the process goes, especially in the Senate trial. If immediate removal was appropriate, that was incumbent on the administration itself. In my view, an impeachment trial would have been much better served with a more full set of facts with a more full opportunity to have that be spread. Instead, with how quickly the impeachment unfolded, it drew a much higher watermark. If it would have been a censure that had gotten 50 to 60 percent of Republicans voting in support, it would have been a very different next couple of weeks -- not only a [different] close to the Trump administration, but also in how Trump was viewed going forward. An impeachment immediately drew lines and allowed for folks to take more, even the ones who believed that, impeachment was probably warranted. There was an effort by at least one Republican who did not vote to impeach to draft a version of the Articles of Impeachment that would have gained more Republican buy-in. But ultimately, Nancy Pelosi did not serve the best interest of the Republic. It was to both sate the anger on her side, and frankly, make it as hard as possible for Republicans, either who wanted to afford it who didn't, and also ensure that it didn't succeed in the Senate. Nancy Pelosi needs Donald Trump to stay in politics - probably more than Donald Trump does.
LJ: But those [censure or 25th Amendment] weren't the choices that you faced.
PM: Once it was introduced, it was either I vote yes, or I vote no, or theoretically, I can vote present. I debated with myself, morning, noon, and night for those four days, reached out to dozens of folks for kind of counsel, opinion, and advice, reread what the foundational intent of the founders was. Once it was clear that that's how things were heading, I knew that this would be an enduring vote in one way or the other. I was committed to making sure that that vote was something that I could both defend today, but also defend 50 years from now.
LJ: Did you get pressure from the Trump Administration to toe the line on impeachment?
PM: No. There's one individual [from the White House] who messaged me the morning of and said, "Hey, I know that you're thinking about doing this. I wanted to offer my words of support."
LJ: Support for impeachment?
PM: Yeah, it was just to say, hey, if you're thinking about this, I think it's probably the right move. There was no real arm twisting one way or the other. It was mostly internal wrangling and debate. It was not, you better not do this, or you better do that. That was the case with certification. I think a lot of those voices who would have been the strongest argument against it were sufficiently chastened in that moment to not bother.
LJ: You gave an interview on MSNBC after the impeachment vote, you said you and your colleagues were looking into purchasing body armor to deal with threats of violence. To the extent you're able to share, What's your level of threats now?
PM: I should have never said that. That came across as overly dramatic; it was not inaccurate. I tried to be very sensitive, very mindful, in my particular circumstance, after the vote, I know I can do one of two things, I could either retreat -- not from the position -- but avoid public locations and avoid a lot of folks might be angry, or I could face that wrath head on. I plunged in, head on; it was a lot of getting yelled at. I tried to patiently explain to those who felt disappointed, frustrated, or betrayed, while at the same time, saying, I'm not going to change your mind, but I at least want you to understand where I'm coming from. I think that played a really big role in lowering the temperature. That's not to say that the people who disagreed have changed their opinion. But just the act of trying to get understanding, even if it's not achieved, is a gesture of respect. Locking myself in a bunker would make somebody who feels betrayed, do nothing but amplify that feeling of betrayal.
I'd say that the temperature has gone down quite a bit in some ways. In other ways, that whole undercurrent has continued with the full manifestation of a vibrant "stop the steal" election fraud component that has everything from very valid concerns about pandemic related emergency modifications getting made permanent, to just absolute insane theories that are miles away from anything realistic. I think it gets additionally frustrated when they trust the plan, and the plan fails them again, and again, and again.
LJ: Every congressman gets an earful, but some of your colleagues have said they faced threats of violence. Is it more of the former or the latter?
PM: It's both, I would say the death threats are down pretty significantly. It's funny, I had a guy who threatened to come to my house. He actually called our staff, and they answered, "Okay, well, we need to get some information from you." The police reached out and said, "please don't do that." It wasn't, I'm going to come and kill you. (We did get some of those anonymous messages.) That gentleman, he had my cell phone. I remember talking to him, between when he first called her office, and then when the police talked to him. At first, it's "I'm going to come to your house with 5000 people," and then it's, "Okay, well actually, I'm away this weekend," and by the end of the conversation, he ended up being pretty polite. There have been a lot of those where somebody [is] thinking abstractly, and then when you talk to them and [they're] treated respectfully and you listen, it's a lot harder. It's obviously still a concern, but having communication is a release valve on that tension. We still get things where they didn't say they were going to kill me, but they did say that I hoped I died of the COVID vaccine. Probably not a death threat. But we should probably note that. It's definitely a heightened political environment, all things considered.
“But at the end of the day, if I was asked, Do I believe Donald Trump bears responsibility for what occurred? Was his conduct appropriate? I think the clear answer is yes, he bears responsibility, and, no his conduct was not appropriate.”
LJ: You voted for the bipartisan commission to investigate January six with 35 House Republicans that failed in the Senate due to Republican filibuster. Later, Speaker Pelosi decided to have a select committee. You didn't vote for that. (GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger did.) Nevertheless, you voted to hold Steve Bannon in contempt for obstructing a subpoena. Walk through your thinking on those votes.
PM: One of the biggest elements of why we need an investigation is because there's a lot of people with questions. We're getting news from garbage sources, and a lot of spin. It's been on both sides, far worse on the right. There's a lot of whitewashing and recasting of what occurred. My goal was that there could be a document that was viewed as sufficiently neutral, that somebody who was coming from the "it was Antifa, it was BLM, Trump did nothing wrong," that some of those folks could view it as credible. I'm not pretending that everyone would [view it as such]. There would be a lot of revisionism and whitewashing, even of a report seeking to correct revisionism and whitewashing. The bipartisan independent commission would have had no sitting members of Congress; it would have had a much more curtailed process so that it would, theoretically, get far more buy-in and input and not become a partisan exercise. I think there's a lot of blame to go around for how that failed. I think it was short-sighted for Republican leadership in the Senate to tank that.
If the bipartisan independent commission was patterned after the 9/11 Commission Report, the select committee that Speaker Pelosi proposed was patterned off of [the] Benghazi [committee]. I think that becomes more of a partisan effort now. That is why I did not support it. But I will view it on its actions and on the merits rather than any preconceptions. One of the reasons why I voted to hold Steve Bannon and contempt is because he openly flouted Congress's ability to issue subpoenas. [This interview was conducted before the House voted to hold Mark Meadows in contempt, which Meijer voted against. He told The Independent that he was viewing contempt votes on a "case by case basis," and voted no because the Supreme Court had not ruled on a lawsuit that Trump had brought against the Jan. 6 Committee.]
LJ: But this is the committee that exists, and is there anything you want to know from it? It's going to wrap up next year.
PM: I would want it to get to the bottom of some of the gaps in the timeline that we've seen, to answer what is not currently in the public domain, and then also to synthesize it, because I think that's one of the frustrations. I learned so much about what happened on January 6 from Twitter or from our news outlets. There has been a DOJ investigation, there may be some kind of Senate committee hearings that have occurred. There's a big difference between criminal activity, and shady, unethical things that maybe go up to a line, but don't actually violate any specific statutes. I think both are important to know, so that we can avoid anything like this happening in the future. I think it is important to look at it in a collective, cohesive manner, so that we can adjust and make modifications as necessary, and hold individuals responsible as necessary.
LJ: So you're running in 2022?
LJ: Most of the members in the Senate who voted to convict are not up for reelection. Two out of 10 in the House aren't aren't running. Is it hard to escape the shadow of his vote?
PM: It was obviously defining. I would have viewed it as morally defining in either direction. You can view it as a badge of honor or a scarlet letter. This was not a vote I ever wanted to have to cast, but that's not my choice to make. When given the choice, it was the only option that I could justify, or that I felt that was called for in those circumstances. I could have thought of a thousand technical, minor excuses not to do it because it wasn't perfect. But at the end of the day, if I was asked, Do I believe Donald Trump bears responsibility for what occurred? Was his conduct appropriate? I think the clear answer is yes, he bears responsibility, and, no his conduct was not appropriate. The three hour gap when the Vice President [Pence], Speaker of the House [Pelosi], the President Pro Tem of the Senate [Chuck Grassley] -- the next three in the line of succession -- were all in a building being ransacked and overrun by a violent mob, and the President is MIA, is to me just one of the most damning facts of the entirety of the circumstance.
I do not regret that [vote]. I wish January 6 never happened. I wish we didn't have to get to the point of holding another impeachment. But, that's not for us to decide.
LJ: Your predecessor was Justin Amash, who was a critic of Trump and left the Republican Party. He said, there's no room for him [in the party]. Do you feel like there's room for you?
PM: I'm going to make room. I think it's the only party that has a philosophical foundation and the approach towards government, and especially local control, subsidiarity, believes in limited government beliefs and a humble approach towards how we wield power rather than one that seeks power for its own end. I think that's the only pathway forward for a country that's facing a whole host of other problems in addition to political violence. I am committed to keeping on that path and making sure that even if others may disagree, I have a vote in that as well.