Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio is facing immediate pressure at home for being one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump this week and is moving quickly to defend a decision that could hurt him politically.
Under tough questioning Thursday morning from local conservative radio host Bob Frantz, Gonzalez said Trump’s behavior before and during the deadly riot on the Capitol “tipped [him] over the scale.”
“It was a series of events that transpired that you can just read on Twitter. You can listen to the speeches. You can think back, ‘OK, what was the purpose of the Stop the Steal rally?’” said Gonzalez, who represents a suburban district outside Cleveland. “And we may disagree on this, but in my opinion, what this was was an attempt by the president of the United States to circumvent the Constitution to overturn an election.”
The radio interview with Frantz, a longtime right-wing commentator on the station WHK who affects a Rush Limbaugh tone and cadence, was mostly civil. But Frantz often interrupted and made his displeasure known. He repeatedly likened impeachment proceedings in the House to a regular criminal trial — a step that comes later in the impeachment process and happens in the Senate — and parsing what Trump said at the rally.
“Fiery speech alone? Not impeachable,” Gonzalez said, explaining that his vote was not only about the words Trump used at the rally that egged on the rioters.
“So, me and my colleagues under attack,” he added. “The United States Capitol under attack. Most people were there peacefully. I've talked to some people from the district who were there, and ... they were praying — I think you mentioned this earlier — they were praying. They were chanting. ... They were doing things that are perfectly appropriate. But the people who stormed the Capitol killed a police officer. Five people dead. The Capitol under siege. We are imploring the president to help, to stand up, to help defend the United States Capitol and the United States Congress, which was under attack. We are begging, essentially, and he was nowhere to be found. OK? And so, in that instance, if this were a foreign country, Bob, if this were a foreign adversary, if this were an Islamic terror group, if this were Iran, if this were China, we would be sending missiles over right now. Immediately.”
Gonzalez, 36, is a former NFL wide receiver and standout athlete at Ohio State University. He won Ohio’s 16th Congressional District seat in 2018 after emerging from a primary where he was pitted against a pro-Trump conservative who campaigned with the president's allies. At the time, Gonzalez’s advisers bristled at the contrasts that made him out to be a comparatively lesser Trump supporter, though the representative also cited Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse — one of the president's loudest critics in the Republican Party — as a role model.
Ohio's 16th District, as it is drawn now, is safely Republican, though the next round of redistricting could drastically change things. On Frantz’s show Thursday, Gonzalez reminded listeners that he had campaigned for Trump’s reelection and was an honorary cochair of the campaign in Ohio. He also called the impeachment process “terrible” and said he wished there had been more time for it before Trump leaves office next week, but he held firm in his conviction that the president deserved to be impeached.
Jim Renacci, a Trump loyalist who held the seat before an unsuccessful Senate bid, now chairs the Medina County Republican Party. He told BuzzFeed News he’s been “slammed with residents calling for Anthony Gonzalez to step down, be recalled, and/or primaried.” Renacci cited a recent survey by a Trump pollster that found 76% of Republicans were less likely to vote for a member of Congress who votes for impeachment.
“That should be troubling” for Gonzalez “if the election was in 30 days,” Renacci, who is interested in primarying Ohio’s sitting Republican governor next year, wrote in an email. “That being said, 30 days in politics is a long time and 22 months is an eternity. So there will be many more votes taken and constituents are always less likely to remember something 22 months ago. But only time will tell.”
Gonzalez told Frantz he knows listeners “are furious with me … and I know you are, too.”
“But let me tell you this,” he added. “Every single person listening, every conservative listening right now, we have got to come together at some point. We have to, and I know we're divided right now, but we have Joe Biden coming into office in a couple days. We have a Democratic Senate. We have a Democratic-controlled House. We are going to have to be unified and pushing back on the agenda that we know is so bad for this country.”
Frantz praised Gonzalez for taking his questions.
“You got guts for coming on the day after the vote," Frantz said, "because you know that a lot of people are angry. You knew you're going to get challenged here, so I do appreciate you coming on. But I will say this: I'm going to question that commitment to liberty that you just made on all those other issues because to me the ultimate testimony to liberty is the Constitution, and yesterday you voted to deny Donald Trump his constitutional right to due process.”