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U.S. Congressman Rob Wittman of Virginia represents Virginia’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has been criticized for his vote against certifying electors from Pennsylvania. WHRV's Gina Gambony spoke with him about his vote and violence at the capitol. 

Gina Gambony Thank you, Congressman Rob Wittman, for joining us. I want to first ask you about what happened Wednesday at the Capitol. Where were you and what did you experience?

Rob Wittman Sure. Well, I was actually on my way back to the office, from the capitol as things began to unfold. So I was then safe and secure with several my staff members, as we watch things unfold. Very, very disturbing, certainly a blemish on our nation's history. And as I said, I've condemned this violence and destruction in the strongest terms possible, just absolutely unacceptable. You know, we have to be able to, as a nation, express our thoughts and ideas, but this is not the way to do that.

Gina Gambony I saw that you released a statement condemning the acts of violence by the rioters at the capitol. You said you do support peaceful disagreement and debate.

Rob Wittman Yes.

Gina Gambony You stated your intention to object to the electoral college certification, and you did. You certified Arizona electors, but you voted against certifying electors from Pennsylvania. Can you tell us what led to that decision?

Rob Wittman Sure. Well, I looked very carefully. This was a very, very tough decision, I looked across the spectrum at the information that came in. And again, we get a lot of concerns from folks across the district about the integrity of election systems across United States. And I wanted to make sure that we're expressing folks concern. So it was there was the debate there.

We had a pending case before the Supreme Court. We had comments by Judge Alito, and what he saw is issues there with the constitutionality of what happened in Pennsylvania with their election laws. We also had a letter that came to us from members of the Pennsylvania legislature saying, don't certify these electors for a whole variety of reasons. So all of those elements of question led me to look at just a simple constitutional question. And that is, did Pennsylvania follow its own state constitution? And did it did it in turn, follow the United States Constitution?

And the intention is not to overturn the results of the election. And listen, I knew that this wasn't going to in any way, shape, or form, impact the results of the Electoral College. But I do think it's incredibly important to be able to express everyone's concerns. I know people are going to disagree with me. But I want to make sure that as we see, in today's world, people that feel frustrated, because they don't believe that issues that they see are real, are being addressed. I think that there are issues across the United States with different election systems. I think it's a great opportunity for Congress to work to address these issues. I don't want to federalize the election system. But I do believe that things that we can do, to put on the radar screen the issues that are indeed there, with these election systems. And again, Joe Biden was certified as president-elect, and Kamala Harris was certified as vice president-elect. So, again, this was not about in any way shape, or form decertifying. This was about getting to the issues that are incredibly important for a large number of people out there, and who expressed their frustrations by saying, “Listen, nobody is looking at the integrity election system.” And that's foundational to our nation. If we have folks out there that don't believe in that for whatever reasons. And I hear from others that completely discount that and said, listen to all that, you know, fake, it's all contrived. There is a lot behind these issues, if you look at them objectively.

I want to make sure that we're listening to everybody, I think what happens in our nation too often is that, you know, one side completely discount the other, won't even listen to the other side won't even consider their thoughts and ideas and writes them off. And then we end up, instead of being able to have a productive debate about the merits of let's say, the constitutionality of what happened in in Pennsylvania, we get into these attacks, you know, it's, I don't even want to debate, I just want to personally attack you. And that leads to this situation where we can't have civil dialogue. And then we have tensions flare. And that's not good for our nation.

Gina Gambony Some people say that because of this great divide that we have in our nation right now, that we have different realities, in terms of what's true, and what's not true. What do you think about that?

Rob Wittman Well Gina, I think there's a significant amount of truth to that. And what I see in the first congressional district is not as much an ideological divide, but more of a geographic divide. I see folks that live in rural areas and have a very, very different viewpoint. About what they see as important what they see needing to happen in their government versus folks in suburban or urban areas. And there is a wide gap between what they see. And the difficulty is, is when that gap continues to widen. There's not even the willingness to listen to or understand and appreciate the thoughts and concerns of others. So, unfortunately, I think that gap continues to widen. And that's why I think it's incredibly important for legislative bodies to find ways to express those different thoughts and ideas. I understand people will adamantly disagree, but I'd want them to at least take the time to to understand. They don't have to agree, but at least take the time to understand and say, Well, yeah, at least I can see what these others have in mind as their concerns with this particular issue.

Gina Gambony
Now, many people have posted on your Twitter account saying that you and other representatives who planned to vote against certification of the electors were complicit in instigating the violence that occurred yesterday. I spoke with one man from Richmond, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Fred Wellman. He's a former republican he is now working with the Lincoln project on Veterans issues. He said that you personally are complicit in the violence that occurred because of your support of Trump's rejection of the election. What do you say to that?

Rob Wittman Well, listen, I think that's, again, not a proper assessment of what my effort was about yesterday. And listen, I understand he's certainly entitled, to his opinion. The bottom line is this is, you know, we we are there to make sure that we understand all the different elements of what goes into this. And what happened yesterday is not unprecedented.

Democrats have objected in the same way as things happened yesterday. None of the election results were overturned. In fact, if you go to to 2005, Speaker Nancy Pelosi actually said, this type of debate is needed to make sure that we can express the concerns in that year on on Ohio. This was the same effort. So it has been done by the other side of the aisle multiple times. This was the same effort to be able to express those those thoughts and concerns. Listen, I understand the ramped up rhetoric with that. I have looked at my Twitter feed, I've gotten all the nastiness that come comes out from this.
But I think if people were to take a step back and really look at what was behind this, this was not about overturning the election results. This was not about anything other than making sure that folks that had concerns about our election system had their concerns expressed. We shouldn't be afraid of debating this nation. In fact, that's what we want, we actually want that debate. We want that exchange of ideas. We don't want things to show up in other ways where those those passions and emotions are expressed in other ways. I'm want to make sure we do it in a productive way.

In fact, I thought that the debates that we had yesterday, were actually very productive. Both both sides, I think did a great job of presenting their viewpoints. And that's exactly what what we should have. We shouldn't be afraid of having those types of debates. We shouldn't condemn having those types of debates. That should be part of who we are. And my concern is, is when we start to say no, if you even consider that part of the debate, again, that's been if there is precedents out there for these things to happen if you say somehow that that is that that is unacceptable, then what you're saying is, is you don't want the full viewpoints to be expressed through your government, which makes things even more divisive.

Gina Gambony So congressman Whitman, is it fair to say that you don't agree with the results of the election?

Rob Wittman No, I agree. Listen, I agree with the results of the election. We've gone through the process. We've we've looked at each of the states yesterday, the electoral votes have been certified. So I am in agreement with the results of the election. I was in a mode of not aligning myself with certifying the electors of Pennsylvania for those constitutional reasons. But again, that doesn't change the outcome of the election, the election is still the same. I want that to happen. In fact, what I would love to see, and I don't know, I don't believe that it'll happen, is I've wished this Supreme Court would have heard this case prior to that time. But when you have that amount of information before you, you can't just discount it and say, “No, I'm not going to look at it.” Now, obviously, you know, others will debate and say no, for a variety of reasons. They have different ideas about the significance of that. But that's that's what makes our country. But no, the results of the election are as they are. The results of the election were certified yesterday. And unequivocally, Joe Biden is president-elect and Kamala Harris, is vice president-elect. No question about that. I believe fully in that, I believe fully in the process. I believe that that we went through the process yesterday and the results are before us.

Gina Gambony And where do we go from here? How do we as a country move forward in this unprecedented time?

Rob Wittman Sure. Well, listen, emotions are raw, there's a lot of effort that has to go into healing that we have some we have closely divided bodies, both the Senate and the House, it's going to be incredibly important that both sides be willing to work with the other side. I am concerned about the rules that have been put in place by the majority on the House side that essentially do not allow the minority amendments, don't allow the minority to have a a role in crafting legislation. I tell folks that, that good ideas are not the monopoly of one side. And I think the best legislation comes out when you allow those thoughts and ideas of the other side. Unfortunately, the way the rules are developed is we don't even get an opportunity for an amendment as bills go forward. So it's either kind of a take it or leave it scenario. And I look at it as as that further exacerbating frustrations when you can't even get even some of your thoughts and ideas into a piece of legislation. So, I hope that we find ways to be able to get things done.

I think you're going to need bipartisanship, because the house is so so so close in its margin and the Senate is 50/50. So if you're going to get anything through the Senate, it has to go through cloture, which means it's going to take 60 votes. Which means it has to be something that's that's bipartisan. So I hope that both sides work very hard to go ahead and move move past this and begin to get things done in a bipartisan way. I think that's the quickest way to to heal where we are today as a nation.

Gina Gambony What about the public? People who have these strong feelings people like who, you know, created violence at the capitol yesterday, other groups who might create chaos in other situations? How do we as the public move forward?

Rob Wittman Well, we what we have to do is to is to completely condemn any of the actions that we saw yesterday, and to make sure that people know that there are other ways to express their ideas, their passions, their frustrations, their emotions. I think we have to make sure that we as representatives also take the time to express everyone's concerns.

I'm listening today from hundreds of people that have ideas on both sides of the aisle, it's pretty much split 50/50 as far as how people feel on things, and making sure that we are listening to them understanding their thoughts and concerns expressing how we came to the decision. I understand some people will disagree with that. But I think making sure that we involve folks making sure that there's a way for them to express their passions, to make sure there's a way for them to to do that in a way that is productive, to where it's not focused on unproductive actions. And that could be you know, trying to harm somebody else or to coming to destroy property and any of those things. And we've seen demonstrations in those efforts across the country in many different ways. And I don't want to see that continue to ramp up, where people feel like the only way that they can express their passions is just to get out there and be destructive, or be violent. Those things can't happen. And what we have to do, again, as elected officials is to express the thoughts and ideas of everyone.

And that was my effort yesterday is to make sure that we gave voice to those folks that have deep concerns about the election system. I understand folks adamantly disagree with me on that. But if but if I don't do that, if I don't express the thoughts and ideas of both sides, then then we will have problems. As I said before, for 49 of the states, not an issue. This was not about overturning the election. So for those folks that, you know, said, Hey, listen, you know, I don't like what you're doing. And many of us very, very strong words and expressing that isn't I understand. But at the end of the day, I am fully behind the electoral college, the results of the electoral college. And clearly, Joe Biden is President Elect and Kamala Harris is Vice President, no two ways about it.

I have to emphasize that, you know, the electoral college played itself out the way it's supposed to have the debate. What happened yesterday, is not unprecedented. It's happened before. In fact, against Speaker Pelosi talked about this as a necessary part of that. And in this the decision has been made. And we are going to go forward with where we are on January the 20th with inaugurating Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and we will look for ways to get the the work of the nation done. I think everyone has to look for ways to work together to make sure we're working in the interests of the folks that we represent.

Gina Gambony Thank you so much, Congressman Rob Wittman, for joining us.

Rob Wittman Thank you, Gina.