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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Strategically tight-lipped?

by John Brummett | May 1, 2022 at 1:39 a.m.


Word from a new book and The New York Times is that there is one Arkansas Republican member of Congress who stands out, though I couldn't get him to take a bow late last week.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, aforementioned standout, did not favor me with a returned call on Thursday. His staff said his schedule was jam-packed and hectic. Perhaps he felt he had stood out enough already.

I needed only a minute. Womack could have obliged me while walking from one scheduled event to another.

All I wanted was to ask whether The Times' report was accurate and if he still feels the way he felt at the time of the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and for days after, and then later still when he sat for an interview to review all of that with the forthcoming book's authors, Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns.

Here's the report from "This Will Not Pass," to be released Tuesday: As a member of the powerful House Republican steering committee working with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in running House GOP affairs, Womack was aghast that, on Jan. 6, 2021, Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama gave a speech to Donald Trump-inspired election protesters that perhaps was even more incendiary than Trump's remarks on that occasion.

Womack played for the steering committee a recording of Brooks' speech. Those remarks contained this section: "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass. Now, our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives ... are you willing to do the same? My answer is yes. Louder! Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?"

Brooks' listeners marched to the Capitol and broke in to fight police, commit vandalism, shout violent threats and apparently try to prevent the routine congressional acceptance of the presidential election returns.

Womack is quoted as saying steering committee members' jaws dropped upon hearing the recording. He is quoted as saying he told McCarthy that the House caucus simply had to discipline Brooks, and that McCarthy didn't disagree, but asked for time until the next meeting.

By that next meeting, Womack is quoted as saying, McCarthy had lost any appetite for dealing with Brooks. Womack wrote a letter of resignation from the steering committee. McCarthy never responded.

McCarthy also declined to answer when reporters asked him Wednesday about Womack's remarks.

Womack is quoted as saying he told McCarthy and other Republican leaders that their inaction demonstrated a lack of leadership they would come to regret. "I cannot tell you how angry I was," the Arkansas 3rd District congressman from Rogers is quoted as saying.

Absent any statement from him on whether he still feels the way he is reported to have felt then, we cannot know the answer to the key question. It is whether Womack has now engaged in the mass Republican transactional rationalization that the events of Jan. 6 should be placed in the past.

While Womack apparently was more outspoken than others, his revulsion at the time of the Capitol invasion was widely shared among Republicans in Congress, including McCarthy and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, according to this book.

But they and other Republicans soon made the tactical decision not to push it, owing to Trump's popularity and influence in their party and, in McCarthy's and McConnell's cases, a burning desire to remain in leadership positions.

Apparently McCarthy will suffer only minor if any damage in his caucus for having been revealed by tape recordings to have been ready to cut it with Trump after Jan. 6.

As a liberal-minded social media commentator put it: Womack's position was nice, but it would mean more if he would repeat it today in a speech to a state Republican Party gathering.

Speaking of remarks made to contemporary Republican gatherings, and of Alabama, it turns out that Brooks enjoyed Trump's endorsement in his race for the U.S. Senate in that state until he told a rally that it was time to move on from fighting the election returns of 2020.

Trump took back the endorsement, and Brooks currently polls third in the Republican senatorial primary.

That's why Republicans have been busy making the political transaction to excuse the disgraceful events of Jan. 6 by speaking not of them.

I wait to learn whether Womack is now excusing by ignoring.

I have a better feel now for U.S. Sen. John Boozman's telephone call to Trump to apologize for getting caught on tape saying what Brooks said publicly--that the presidential race was over.

Arkansas has gone at least as Trump-simple as Alabama. A two-term incumbent senator here wouldn't want to lose Trump's endorsement and plummet to third behind a defensive end and a gun goddess.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



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