by Cher Muzyk
Yesterday evening I received an email from Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA01). It was an informal invitation entitled, “Free for Breakfast?,” and asked me to “just stop by for a bite, say hello, and let me know what issues matter most to you and your family.” Unfortunately, the email gave only 16 hours notice and the restaurant was nearly an hour away in morning traffic. Since it is exceedingly rare to get in-person time with my congressman I rescheduled a meeting I had in the morning and decided to go.
After I decided to go, I heard from several friends who could not make the event but had questions for Wittman. After I dropped my twins at kindergarten, I headed to the restaurant in Dumfries with a list of six questions in varied topic areas asking his thoughts on: 1) the possibility of another shutdown; 2) $6 million being diverted from HSI Cyber/Child to fund the border wall; 3) the diversion of billions in military construction funding for the border wall; 4) sea-level rise and increased temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay; 5) a very specific healthcare question provided to me by a mother of a medically complex child; and 6) the impeachment inquiry.
I arrived at 9:30 am, an hour after the breakfast started. Wittman was still there chatting with constituents and moving from table to table. I sat down in a booth with a friend of mine who was already there and two of her friends. My friend let me know that she had arrived at 8:00 am to get a table. Wittman had not made it to their table yet. We continued to wait for him as he had long discussions with people at a few other tables. I went up to Wittman’s aide and asked her if we could get on the list to speak with Wittman. She was polite and told me that there was no list and that Wittman was just making rounds and would visit all the tables. A few minutes after that we watched Wittman shake hands with someone and then quickly move past our table and toward the door. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. At all of the other tables, Wittman had just pulled up a chair or slid into the booth and had a pleasant talk. But when he looked at our table he affirmatively decided not to stop and talk with us. I had questions from constituents that I really hoped he would address.
I followed him, pulled out my phone to record him, and on the fly decided to ask him a question on video. In the meantime, a woman and her teenage son walked up to him and the boy asked a question about his thoughts on the impeachment situation. At this point Wittman noticed I was recording and became agitated. He tried to turn his body away from me. Then when I persisted recording, he got right up in my face. He moved so close to me his face was only a few inches from my face. I felt like he was trying to intimidate me and stop me from recording.
As he was giving his view on how the impeachment process works in the House of Representatives, he tried to say that a conviction was necessary before articles of impeachment were brought in the House. I corrected him and said that a conviction was not necessary and that charges alone were sufficient. Annoyed, he stopped talking and actually brought up the text of Article 2, Section 4, of the US Constitution on his phone and read it to us. I tried to correct him again and say that a conviction is required in the Senate in order for removal from office but not required to bring articles of impeachment in the House.
I could not believe that I was hearing Wittman twisting the words of the Constitution to try to obfuscate the issue and mislead his constituents. I am disappointed in myself because for a moment I fell victim to his gaslighting and began to fumble over my words and when I finally had an opportunity, I could not get my question out. I had to demand that he let me finish my question. Unfortunately, I had not rehearsed any of the questions because I had notes and thought we were going to have a quiet conversation. As we were speaking I could tell he was getting angrier by his body language and his face was flush.
I was finally able to get past my nervousness and spit out my question which was supposed to be: “Yesterday on the south lawn of the White House the president publicly asked the Ukraine and China to investigate a political opponent. Are you okay with the President asking a foreign adversary or an authoritarian government to investigate a politic rival with the result of interfering in our elections? Yes or no?” He would not answer. Sadly, but consistent with the Republican talking points, he started telling me that all Trump was doing was trying to “root out corruption.” It was typical Rob Wittman, just towing the party line. Then he began the “whataboutism” that Trump is famous for, by telling me that it was actually Biden and his son that need to be investigated. I told him those allegations had already been debunked. I continued to try to appeal to his sense of reason and ask him if he “really wanted to go down with the Trump ship?” Again, he tried to deflect from the real issue and cited our government’s obligation to end corruption.
Wittman did not have the courage to speak with four women constituents who had waited to chat with him. He misinterpreted the words of our Constitution on purpose. And when pressed, he attempted to “normalize” both Trump’s explicit quid pro quo to the Ukraine, and the fact that Trump already confessed to an impeachable crime on the lawn of the White House. It is now obvious that Wittman chooses to ignore the facts and instead puts our democracy at risk by regurgitating the lies of a president who has abused the power of the Oval Office and put our very democracy at risk. The founders put a sensible process in place for impeachment in the Constitution for times like these. I watched today as Wittman told all of us where he stands and it is not on the side of truth and justice.
What I was hoping for today was a moment of moral clarity from Wittman. I was hoping he would show integrity like Mitt Romney later did this afternoon when he tweeted, “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.” Instead, Wittman demonstrated today that he is not fit for the office he holds. He failed his constituents and he ignored the oath of office that he took to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” It is a profound realization that Wittman is not a protector of our democracy. He is unfit and we must vote him out.