Matthew Schmidt, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of New Haven, joins Yahoo Finance's Adam Shapiro and Seana Smith to discuss the breach of Capitol Building and how foreign governments may perceive the situation in the future.
- We also are getting some reports out of CNN saying that the entire DC National Guard has been activated again. This is according to CNN. For more on this, we want to bring in Matthew Schmidt. He's the University of New Haven associate professor of national security and political science. And Matthew, we saw the US Capitol storm today. The Capitol largely unprepared for what happened. When we determine who is responsible how to prevent something like this happening in the future, how do you even believe that something like this could happen? What are your thoughts on that?
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: So I think first of all, yesterday, this was impossible in the United States of America. And today, it's not. Today it's possible. Which means tomorrow, it's possible and the tomorrow after that. And I think that really changes the political environment that we live in this country. Secondly, I think you have to call this an insurrection, right? Just because it's incompetent doesn't mean it's not an Insurrection. It does exactly what everybody has said before me, which is it's disrupting the fundamental institutions of democracy in this country, which is what insurrections try to do.
If you looked at this in Kiev or in Belarus or in Afghanistan, you would be using those words. You'd describe it as a coup, you describe it as an attempt to overthrow government. And I think it's important that we treat this that way and we need to prosecute people and we need to be very careful here because there's a possibility that this president will issue a blanket pardon for everybody who's involved here. And I think that would be terrible for our system.
- Well, let's explore who's truly in control in this regard. The National Guard, for instance, now being deployed. And it's shared authority with the federal government and the state government. So the National Guard originally takes its orders from the governors of each state, unless they are then federalized by the president. How does that work, especially with the curfew coming into play in just about an hour? And who's going to be in charge, perhaps, of rounding up the people who disobey that curfew?
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: So this is why we have lawyers, right? It's complicated. It's everything you just said. But it's in the District of Columbia, it's not in Maryland. So the district is controlled fundamentally by Congress in the end. And then secondly, there are a variety of ways that you can deploy the guard. And the mayor in DC, or the state governor, could deploy the guard for emergencies. These would be floods and hurricanes and things like that. And the Pentagon wouldn't get involved.
But this isn't that kind of an emergency. And secondly, the guard would primarily be needed on federal property downtown right on the Capitol grounds on the mall. And so that now complicates whether or not that authority has to come from the Pentagon or it can be issued by someone else. And so, I haven't heard yet, but I'm very curious to see if the guard troops that are reportedly coming in from Maryland and Virginia or the DC ones that have been activated are operating on federal grounds or are basically buttressing the DC Metro Police by operating in the rest of the city and allowing them to move personnel downtown. I haven't heard.
- Matthew, I want to ask you about a tweet that we're just getting here from Congresswoman Ileana Omar. She's saying that she's "Drawing up articles of impeachment. Donald J Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives and removed from office by the United States Senate. We can't allow him to remain in office. It's a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath." What is your reaction to this when we're hearing these types of words from Congresswoman Ileana Omar?
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: I agree with it. I think, again, that what we're dealing with here is we will deal with this today and Congress will reconvene and we've heard from several members of Congress that they will immediately go back to their work certifying the election and we'll go on. But in the long term, this has to be dealt with. And a signal has to be sent that at its most basic level a democracy is a country where when you lose an election the losers accept that defeat and they don't start an insurrection to overthrow the election. They work within the system. And when the system says that lawsuit is frivolous, we're throwing it out, they stop. That's not what you see here.
It's now possible in the United States of America to see people storm the legislature of the country, as we're seeing. And we need to send a very clear message that that is not allowed, that we cannot have future presidents do what this president did to incite this violence. We've seen now that people have been shot, there are injuries going on. We don't know the whole story yet, but you could classify this in some sense as an armed Insurrection in some way, right?
And when you were talking earlier about who is organizing this. Well, the person who has the most direct responsibility seems to be the president. So impeaching this president and sending that signal and barring this president from seeking federal office again because of the impeachment I think is important.
- Matthew, you're a political scientist and you compared what's going on here today in Washington DC what might have gone on or taken place in a third world country or another country around the world. And it's so shocking to see this here. But, in fact, in history things like this, somewhat like this have taken place in America. And so I'm wondering, just being in this century sort of give us this false sense of security? Like, oh, we're so much more evolved politically as a society, as a nation. And maybe that's a false sense of security that we had.
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: Yeah, I stand by what I said before that I think it's important to really be clear about putting this idea down that you can do this. But you're absolutely correct. When you look at American history or world history, political environment that we've seen in the post World War II era the baby boomer generation represented by Trump and Biden and these leaders is actually abnormal. And the normal style of politics is much more driven by identity, it's much more chaotic like what we're seeing today. And it is important for people to recognize that because I believe that we are coming out of that post-Cold War era now and moving back into something like what we saw in the 19th century in this country and, really, in the pre-Civil War era.
- So as Andy points out that we've seen this in the past, but not perhaps quite like this, what steps does a president take or somebody take to prevent this in the future? How do we not become Venezuela or Belarus or Ukraine?
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: I don't think it's the president that takes this step, it's Congress. This is why impeachment is so important. This is why the Supreme Court stepping in at some point, perhaps, and laying down guidelines for how you can give pardons and whether or not you could pardon yourself, whether or not you could pardon people engaged in this kind of activity. These are the things that are important in establishing the norm of behavior that we want in a democracy. I don't think that the White House has a lot of role to play in this because it's really about, in essence, constraining the future occupants of the Oval Office.
- OK, so if it's up to Congress, does the House of Representatives refuse to seat the 140 Republicans who signed on to what we all know was just a political effort to save their own necks with their own voting base? And does the Senate expel or refuse to seat the 12 Republican senators who were also culpable?
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: I'm not sure you would go that far. I'm not sure it's politically plausible to do that. But you could certainly center, right? I don't know, this is unprecedented, right? Maybe you could find some grounds in the ethics regulations to censor people who engaged in this kind of thing. I think if you expel people or you don't see that many members of the opposite party, then you're pouring gas on the flames here. However much I think theoretically that would be the right thing to do. And so there might be other creative ways, though, to issue some kind of censure.
- What do you see as just some of those potential creative ways? I know it's hard to decipher all this at this time, but anything that comes to mind right off the bat?
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: Well, I mean, I think first of all I'm thinking out loud here. I think you could look to the ethics rules and see if they're going to do something there. I think that you could probably use the power of assigning people to committees and not assign people to certain committees or just, perhaps, don't assign them anywhere. Things that you could do using House rules or Senate rules and that way would be two of the things that would come to mind.
- Are they any last thoughts you have as to what's going to happen next?
- I think as you see right now, we're going to get this back under control. I'm still curious to find out if the Pentagon actually was involved in releasing the National Guard or if they worked the sort of bureaucratic work around and didn't get involved but still let the troops go out there. You're going to see the real question next is what's going to happen at curfew to everybody. Then I think you're going to see the details come out about what happened on the inside. Reportedly, someone was shot in the chest. Who shot them? Who are they, right? What other injuries were there? What else went on in the capital? Did people try to get into the skiffs, the secured compartmentalize information facilities where intelligence data is? What else went on?
And as that stuff starts to trickle out, it will paint a bigger picture of what this is and, really, what the prosecutorial ground is that we're going to be able to look at and maneuver in. And then I think the next big question is is the president going to issue a pardon. And if he issues a pardon, what's the response and then will people take up the impeachment clause here. So that's where I see this going. I think as far as tonight, viewers should be looking for the story starting to trickle in from inside the building and then what's happening during curfew.
- Matthew, people around the world are watching right now, what do you think are some of the foreign policy implications or potential implications as a result of this?
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: First of all, I think they'll go on for years. Secondly, the thing that's hard to explain to people is that the optics themselves that we're seeing have an effect on actual policy. So domestically, Americans are used to politicians talking about good optics and bad optics. Well, this is really bad optics. And if optics matter and they move people to act or not to act domestically, they do the same thing internationally.
And so, part of American foreign policy, really the foundation of it, is to say that we support democracy in its variety of forms because the more countries that are Democratic, the safer we are. That's the core of what it means to secure our nation. When something like this happens, the optics are so terrible that it makes it hard for us to promote democratization, to promote our kind of form of government in other countries.
And when that happens, you get people in power who try to do what our president has just done, which is to try to act like an authoritarian. But Trump is an inept authoritarian, right? He's a clown because he doesn't really have the courage of his convictions to authorize force. But other people do. And now they'll be able to do it with more impunity because they'll say don't come here and monitor our elections, right?
Those aid groups at the International Republican Institute of the Republican Party or the National Democratic Institute of the Democratic party that they send out to help groups in Russia-- they've actually been kicked out now. But in other places, we're going to kick them out. We're going to say that they are foreign agents. And we're going to say who are you to talk to us about improving our democracy. And they're going to hold up a picture, a video of what you see on the screen right now.
And that changes things over time slowly in a lot of places. But in a place like China, this is going to have a direct effect on our ability to push back on their treatment of the Uighur population. Because again, China will come back and say don't lecture us on human rights, don't lecture us on democracy when your president has incited violence against his own legislature.
- Matthew, that notion of Trump pardoning the protesters that you brought up blows my mind. And you wonder, you can break a window on the capital and get pardoned. You wonder about Black Lives Matters protesters looking to get pardoned as well. But that's not my question. My question is this, what happens to the Republican Party here now? I mean, Georgia was lost both Senate races. And so essentially, Donald Trump has scuttled Mitch McConnell's position. And I think the events today certainly undermine mainstream American's love for this wing of the Trump party. So where do you think they go from here?
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: Again, I think you're right in what you were saying before about the nature of politics and how it's shifting. And I would add to that as a political scientist what we actually know is that policy doesn't matter, or at least policy is really a proxy for identity politics, for the idea that I am a member in a group. And people who are here in DC will go back to their pro-Trump communities and they will say I was there, right? I threw a rock, I punched the Capitol Police officer. And other people will say, gosh, I wish I had been there. And then five years from now they'll lie and say that they were there because that narrative is binding people into a group. And those people are the core of the Republican Party today.
And that's a problem. Because the rest of the country-- never mind the election results. Because remember, our system is crazy in terms of the electoral college. So if you had a true popular vote, this would be a center left country. But it doesn't look like that because of the inequalities built into the electoral college system, right? But what that means is that the majority of the country doesn't fit into the identity group of the people you see on your screen. Right? And that's just going to get more and more the case as we go forward in time. And the Republican Party is going to have to decide.
- Well Matthew, when you talk about the Republican Party I want you to react as we wrap up to this tweet from Senator Lindsey Graham. Quote, "I could not agree more with President-elect Biden's statement to the nation. Time to retake the Capitol and the violence and stop the madness. Time to move forward in governing our nation." This from a Senator who phone called the Secretary of State of Georgia to try and get him to, essentially, throw out the will of the people and the vote in Georgia.
MATTHEW SCHMIDT: Well, let me be frank. Lindsey Graham is an old white man, as I will be soon. And the future is not the future of old white men in America, it's AOC, it's people who look more like her who are young like her. And the Republican Party, the group that you see on the lawn is fundamentally reacting to that massive demographic change that's happening in this country and the values, the perceived values change that is going along with it. And so the problem-- while I agree with the words that he's released there, the problem is that those people on the ground here don't believe that people like me or people like AOC are actually members of the same nation, that is members of the same identity group.
We're not real Americans in this way. And that's the problem, right? Until the Republican Party starts to work through that and find a way to reconnect to the change in the country that it cannot stop, this long term demographic religious change in the country, then the only way it has to exert power is what you see on the screen.
- Matthew Schmidt, University of New Haven, associate professor of national security and political science. We thank you so much for taking the time.