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Rep. Meijer avoids censure after GOP committee deadlock

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

GOP U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer avoided censure by Republican leaders in his west Michigan district after they deadlocked 11-11 Monday night, causing the censure resolution to fail.

Meijer, who represents the Grand Rapids area, was the only freshman lawmaker among 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in instigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

Meijer, 33, addressed the 3rd Congressional District Committee Monday evening on the eve of the start of Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate. 

"I'm always grateful for the opportunity to talk with local political leaders," Meijer told The Detroit News on Tuesday. "We had a spirited exchange, and I appreciate that even when we disagree, we can do without being disagreeable." 

Peter Meijer

Mike Hewitt, chairman of the district committee, agreed that it was a "very civil exchange."

"The congressman was very gracious in his time and his explanation of his position, and the members of the committee listened intently," Hewitt said. "We had a brief conversation after and a vote, and you know the results."

The attempted censure comes after two county parties in southwest Michigan voted last month to censure longtime U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a St. Joseph Republican. 

Both the Cass County and Allegan County Republican parties took action against Upton in a symbolic gesture of disapproval, condemning his vote in favor of impeachment as "a betrayal of his oath of office and core values" of the GOP.

"We believe this vote ignored the voice of the voters of Cass County and was against our interest," according to the the Cass County GOP's resolution. 

The attempted censure of Meijer is the latest fallout from the civil war within the Republican Party pitting Trump loyalists against those denouncing his unproven claims that the presidential election was stolen.

Several other House Republicans who voted in favor of Trump's impeachment have already been censured by local or state party entities, including U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who ranks No. 3 in House GOP leadership and was censured by the Wyoming GOP over the weekend.

Meijer, who has been in office one month, has drawn a primary challenge from Tom Norton, after his impeachment vote. The Afghanistan veteran and Trump supporter declared his intent to knock out Meijer during an interview last month on the podcast of Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

"If people contribute to us, we'll be able to really destroy him this time," Norton told Bannon. 

Norton criticized the impeachment process as a rush to judgment and a violation of due process. He had called on the GOP 3rd District Congressional Committee to censure Meijer and called the members "cowards" on Facebook when the resolution failed. 

Norton of Ada finished third last August in the five-way Republican primary for the 3rd District, garnering nearly 16% of the vote behind Meijer (50%) and former state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township (26%). 

Meijer went on to defeat Democrat Hillary Scholten by 6 percentage points on Nov. 3.

He took over the seat held for a decade by retired U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Libertarian who quit the GOP after clashes with Trump and voted to impeachment him in 2019. Like Meijer, Amash also attracted GOP challengers after his vote to impeach Trump.

Meijer was in the House gallery on Jan. 6 when a crush of Trump loyalists broke into the building in an effort to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's victory. They beat police officers, ransacked offices and forced lawmakers into hiding for hours. 

Before the rioters broke into the building, Trump gave a speech near the White House urging his supporters to “fight like hell” to reverse his defeat. Five people died in the chaos at the Capitol that day, including a Capitol Police officer. 

Meijer has said his impeachment might have been an act of "political suicide," but it was what he felt was needed for accountability and the good of the nation, especially after Trump took no responsibility for inciting the riot. He has said he does not regret his vote.

"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," Meijer told The News after his vote.

At a virtual town hall last week, Meijer noted that Trump waited two and a half hours after lawmakers were evacuated from the House chamber before issuing a video telling the rioters to go home, but also expressing sympathy for their cause and saying: "We love you. You’re very special."

At that point, a rioter had been shot and killed, and dozens of police officers were injured combating the intruders, Meijer said. Trump's video "hit me like a ton of bricks," he said.

"He reaffirmed and celebrated those who had shown up, making no distinction between those who had committed awful, awful acts of violence and those who had who had been there peacefully," Meijer said.

"This was a moment when we needed leadership, and the president, in my view, did not show that."

A couple of Meijer's constituents told him during the town hall that they were disappointed, and that he'd lost their votes. One urged Meijer to re-read Trump's speech, arguing he didn't incite the attack.

“Why aren’t you doing what your constituents wanted you to do?” voter Cindy Witke asked. “You know what? I went against people who said not to vote for you because I believed in you. I’ve lost that belief.”

Meijer acknowledged that many Republicans in the district — "maybe a strong majority" — disagreed with his vote. He said that weighed on him and he "felt ultimately sickened by having to take this vote."

“How do I balance that immediate feeling with what we need to do as a country? What I feel my party needs to do and where I hope we can go?” he said. "I don't know that there's an answer to that."

Michigan's GOP primary is more than 18 months away, and political analysts have suggested that conservative anger at Meijer could subside by then.

An Iraq veteran and the grandson of retailer Fredrik Meijer, he enjoys widespread name recognition in his district and has money to help fend off a challenge.

mburke@detroitnews.com