GOP Rep. Meijer receiving threats after 'vote of conscience' to impeach Trump

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — A day after he voted to impeach President Donald Trump, Michigan freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer said he is buying body armor, changing his daily routines and taking other security measures in response to threats.  

"We are living in unstable times. There are 10 of us (Republicans) who voted for impeachment, and that puts a target on our backs both literally and figuratively," Meijer told The Detroit News.

"It’s something that I’m very mindful of. We're trying to downplay this, but there's escalating rhetoric. At the same time, where I come down is we need to press for accountability before we can truly heal these divisions." 

Michigan's 3rd District Congressional Republican candidate Peter Meijer speaks at a campaign rally, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Meijer, an Iraq veteran and former Army officer, noted he never wore body armor when he worked in Afghanistan as a safety adviser to humanitarian aid organizations.

Other members of Congress have had an uptick in threats in recent days. Thousands of National Guard troops now guard the Capitol complex, and security officials are boosting security for lawmakers traveling by air after incidents of angry Trump supporters harassing senators as they traveled to and from Washington, Axios reported.

Despite the threats against him, Meijer of Grand Rapids Township has "absolutely" no regrets about his decision to vote yes Wednesday on the article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” for his part in stoking the violent mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol. The Democratic-led U.S. House voted 232-197 for impeachment, and the charge is set to go to the U.S. Senate next week.

"A commonly accepted definition of terrorism is attempts to achieve political objectives through violence," Meijer said. "At at the end of the day, if you make decisions because you're fearful of the consequences, not because it's the right thing to do for the country or in line with an oath of office, that's just a very sad place to get to."

The Kent County Republican Party Chairman Rob VerHeulen said Thursday that the party "totally repudiates violence and threats, and it has absolutely no place in our political system, period."

"No matter how you vote," added VerHeulen, a former state lawmaker from Walker. "We don’t solve our issues by physical threats or engaging in violence."

In his first 11 days as a congressman, Meijer, 32, was faced with two potentially career-ending votes — on impeachment and last week voting down objections to disputed Electoral College results to confirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory. 

"This may have been an active of political suicide, but I know that I can look myself in the mirror because I voted my conscience here," he said. 

Meijer hopes his early votes send the message that he's not trying to take positions that benefit him politically.

"If anything, both this and the Electoral College votes were probably the dumbest moves I could have made if I wanted to ensure a smooth reelection," Meijer said. "I came out here to serve my country, to uphold my oath of office and that will be my focus —regardless of the cost or of the consequences to me personally or politically."

Meijer said two moments influenced his impeachment vote. The first came as he sat sheltered in a secure location on Capitol Hill after being evacuated from the House gallery, where police with guns drawn held off intruders trying to breach the chamber. 

In lockdown, he and other members didn't know whether their colleagues were among those those killed or injured, didn't know if they were still in danger or what the threat level was, he said. Then Trump tweeted a video in which he praised those who had just stormed the Capitol and "gently" told them to go home, Meijer recalled. 

"That landed like a gut punch. That was a moment when we needed leadership, and when the one person who could have changed the tone and kind of reversed course on this sad chain of events failed to rise to the occasion," Meijer said. 

The congressman said his decision was also influenced by the "continuing unwillingness of the president to accept even some responsibility for what happened."

"There will be criminal investigations, for sure. Impeachment is a political move. I may be old-fashioned, but I also hold a president to a higher standard than somebody who stands up on a soapbox on a street corner," Meijer said. 

"If he hadn't held that rally, if he hadn't lied to those who trusted him about a massive 'stolen' election, and hadn't lied and said that this was the time that they could change the results of that election, then five people wouldn't be dead today."

Two people including a Capitol Police officer were killed in the chaos on Jan. 6, and three others died in medical emergencies. Rioters ransacked offices, vandalized the building and roamed the corridors for hours as staffers and lawmakers hid. 

In the week since the attack, images and video have emerged showing insurgents in the building wearing tactical gear, carrying zip ties, a gallows erected on the East Lawn and small squads moving through the masses with "precision and a sense of purpose," Meijer said.

The House intends to appoint a commission to conduct oversight into what happened Jan. 6, and Meijer hopes to be part of the panel, noting his background in safety and security analysis, collecting intelligence and conducting interrogations.

"There are a lot of parallels with a nascent insurgency, and I would be honored to take part in establishing and having a role in that process of accountability, as well," he said.

Meijer was elected last fall to succeed retired former Rep. Justin Amash, a Libertarian who quit the GOP after clashes with Trump and voted to impeachment him in 2019.

Meijer suspects he already has at least one, if not multiple primary challengers — something that was "to some extent, going to be inevitable." He won a five-way GOP primary election in August with 50% of the vote.

"If someone's in office and looking over their shoulder the whole time, they're probably not going to be making decisions within the best interests of their constituents," Meijer said. 

In the day since his vote, Meijer said the response from constituents has been mixed, with some relaying support for his vote of conscience and others feeling betrayed. 

"To me, that's heartbreaking. I've tried to reach out to as many as I can to say, 'Listen, I don't expect you to agree, and if you feel like this was not the right move, I of course respect that,'" Meijer said. 

He also tries to explain that the majority of House Republicans believe the president's actions to be worthy of serious reproach or even impeachment, but many didn't vote yes Wednesday due to concerns about due process, timing and the fallout, Meijer said.

"It just goes to show our strict divisions over what to me was a betrayal of the accomplishments of the administration," he said. "Every bit of that legacy was just destroyed in a few hours of violence on Capitol Hill."

Part of healing the rift in the GOP, he said, is reaching out to people who feel like the election was stolen, who believed the politicians who lied to them, and work to regain their trust. 

VerHeulen of the Kent GOP said impeachment is an emotional issue, and party activists have reached out to him.

"I’ve had calls who have supported Representative Meijer’s vote, and others who oppose it, candidly on all sides. There’s a lot of emotion. It’s a difficult thing, but the Republican Party is a big tent," he said. 

VerHeulen recalled during his days in the state House when a constituent had threatened him, and law enforcement got involved. 

"It’s intimidating. It’s a shame when a public official or any public official is threatened. You are doing your best to make the right decision, and some people take it the wrong way."

Political analysts noted Michigan's Republican primary is more than 18 months away, and conservative rage at Meijer might wane by then. 

Meijer also enjoys wide name recognition in his district, coming from the family who owns the Meijer super store chain and has money to help fend off a challenge. 

In one week, the United States will be in the post-Trump era, and there will be more room for people like Meijer, said Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"In fact, Republicans desperately need to elevate members of Congress who aren’t Trump drones, who can appeal to the vast middle in well-educated suburbia and among the young who have been deeply alienated by Trump," Sabato said. 

"Agree or disagree with Meijer’s vote to impeach, it was a gutsy move. He wasn’t showboating. He came across as quite sincere. First impressions matter, and he passed that test."