Interview: Rep. Jason Crow on the push to keep Donald Trump off the 2024 Colorado ballot

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12min 09sec
APTOPIX Electoral College Protests
John Minchillo/AP
Violent protesters storm the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

The War Between the States dates back more than 150 years, but Jason Crow says the memories of a more recent civil warfare aren’t very far away.

“Well, it wasn't that long ago,” Crow, the representative of Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. “It seems like a long time ago to a lot of folks, given everything that's happened in our politics and in the world and our country in the two years … but it's still pretty fresh in my memory, and I don't think we can forget how brutal that day was.”

Crow says the insurrection that occurred in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 can be directly traced back to Donald Trump, and because of that, the former president shouldn’t be eligible to return to the White House. It’s why he thinks there’s merit to a movement that’s taking place in Colorado and a handful of states across the country.

A group of voters has filed a lawsuit stating that a clause of the 14th Amendment should ban Trump from the 2024 presidential ballot in Colorado. The clause prohibits those who “engaged in an insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution from holding higher office. That reading goes back to the Civil War and has only been used a handful of times since then.

Most officials in the states where Trump is being challenged under the amendment have said they expect the ultimate say will belong to the Supreme Court – while acknowledging some uncertainty, Crow says he believes the language is applicable to Trump.

Trump Impeachment
U.S. House via AP
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.

“Voters can and should always determine (who wins office via elections),” Crow said. “What I'm saying is that there are instances where candidates try to rig the system, and they try to use violence and intimidation and rebellion or insurrection, in the case of the former President, to actually thwart the will of the voters. So, what these provisions are doing is actually protecting the voting process, protecting the will of the voters, by prohibiting people who are trying to go around that system from doing so.”

Crow also discussed the likelihood of a government shutdown at the end of September, saying it’s the result of dysfunction in the Republicans that serve with him in the House of Representatives.

 This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Ryan Warner: The day after supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, we heard from a congressman who was inside. Here's Jason Crow of Aurora, January 7, 2021:

“The rioters moved so quickly into the capitol that we ended up getting trapped. I knew that things were getting really bad when, instead of escorting us out, the Capitol Police actually locked all of the doors and started to barricade the doors and windows with furniture. And they confirmed to me that, indeed, we were trapped and surrounded by the mob. We heard gunshots starting to go off outside of the chamber, and I was preparing to fight, frankly, getting ready to fight our way out, if necessary..”

Warner: Now a lawsuit in Colorado argues Donald Trump is ineligible for the 2024 presidential ballot here because of his role in the riot. Crow, a Democrat, is not a party to this suit, but is watching with interest and has said he might be called as a witness. And Congressman, welcome to the program.

Rep. Jason Crow: Good to be with you, Ryan.

Warner: Before we get to the lawsuit, I wonder what comes to mind when you hear yourself from the day after?

Crow: Well, it wasn't that long ago. It seems a long time ago to a lot of folks, given everything that's happened in our politics and in the world and our country in the two years. But it's still pretty fresh in my memory, and I don't think we can forget how brutal that day was. An officer was killed, several others have taken their lives due to the trauma of that day, over 150 police officers were brutally beaten and still hold invisible and visible scars from that day. It was certainly a tough day, and I think we have to remember that our system can be very fragile at times.

Warner: To the lawsuit, it would ban Trump from Colorado's ballot under a clause of the 14th Amendment saying, "Any official who has engaged in an insurrection or rebellion against the United States cannot hold public office." There will ostensibly be a hearing in October. Do you agree this clause, which dates back to Reconstruction, applies to the former president? And why?

Crow: I do think so, Ryan. Voters should always decide our election. That's how our system works. The challenge that we're facing right now is when you have the former president, President Trump, who is using violence, intimidation, fraud, and lies to actually thwart the will of the voters. And when that happens, when you have somebody who's trying to thwart the will of the voters and go around our system and to rig our system, the Constitution actually has a provision to deal with that. And our laws have a provision to deal with that. It is illegal, it is unconstitutional, and that's the provision that we're invoking in this instance and what this lawsuit is focused on.

Warner: It's interesting you say, "Voters should always determine," but not in this case. I guess this is an asterisk for you?

Crow: No, that's not at all what I'm saying. Voters can and should always determine. What I'm saying is that there are instances where candidates try to rig the system, and they try to use violence and intimidation and rebellion or insurrection, in the case of the former President, to actually thwart the will of the voters. So, what these provisions are doing is actually protecting the voting process, protecting the will of the voters, by prohibiting people who are trying to go around that system from doing so.

Warner: There's all sorts of evidence that President Trump tried to thwart the will of the voters in the 2020 election. What is the evidence that he's doing that now?

Crow: You look at the pressure that he's putting on elected officials around the country. He continues to keep up with his lies, he continues to intimidate folks. Look at the cases that are going on around the country, including the Atlanta case. He is using his various platforms to intimidate and threaten and actually incite violence against those prosecutors, against the jurors, against the judges. This is not a well man. He's a man who will do anything, including the use of violence and intimidation to get what he wants, and he's certainly continued to do that since January 6th. So, even before January 6th, during January 6th and since January 6th. He has not changed his approach, and nor should we expect him to do so, because he's proven to us who he is.

Warner: This clause of the 14th Amendment dates back, as I said, to about the Civil War, but federal and state laws offer little to no guidance on how to proceed. So, the provision bars those it applies to from serving, but not necessarily from running for office, raising the murky question of whether it's legal to keep Trump's name off of ballots. Is that a distinction without a difference in your mind?

Crow: There's no doubt that, in my time in Congress here, we have dealt with unprecedented situation after unprecedented situation. That typifies my time in Congress, that so much of what we see is new and novel. But that's not unusual in our court system. There is precedent, and we rely on precedent. There's this concept of stare decisis. But there is certainly no shortage of cases of first impression, as they're called, in the legal system. And that's what we're dealing with here. We're in uncharted territory, constitutionally and legally, and we're going to have to sort that out. And the courts are going to have to interpret that, and that's why you rely on history, that's why you draw on the record at the time to figure out what the intent of these provisions were.

Warner: So, you think that there might be some new legal precedents set here under, what you see as, extraordinary circumstances. Earlier, you called Mr. Trump, "not a well man." Do you want to expound on what you mean by that?

Crow: Sure. I think he's demonstrated the use of violence to get what he wants. I think that he's demonstrated the fact that he has narcissistic tendencies, sociopathic tendencies, and that's not somebody who should be trusted, certainly in the highest office of our land, not to mention to be a dog sitter, for that matter. And I don't mean to say that's in jest, by the way. I just think that he's not somebody who could be trusted in any capacity, in any position of trust, let alone our most trusted, coveted position in our government. So, I don't think he's well, no.

Warner: And yet he is by far the Republican front-runner, and a core of Americans swear by him. What do you make of that? How do you square that? What are you potentially missing?

Crow: I think the answer, like all of these things, is complicated. I don't think I'm missing anything. I think people are motivated by a variety of facts. Our nation is complicated, Americans are complicated, there's fear, there's uncertainty, people are frustrated by the lack of upward mobility, the American Dream is out of touch for a lot of Americans. Like I've said all along, the American Dream has gone from a chicken in every pot and a car in every port back in the mid-20th century to now. I define it as that every successive generation should be able to do better than the last. And right now a lot of Americans are looking and saying, "Hey, my children and grandchildren probably will not be doing better than me on this current trajectory." So, that's frustrating. And the answer, of course, is not the brand of nationalism and blood and soil populism and isolationism that Donald Trump presents to us and the division.

He is about dividing us against each other and presenting the other as the problem. The solution, of course, is to govern, to actually address those root cause issues of inequity and lack of fairness in our system and how it's not working for folks. So, that's really the distinction here. But there's also a lot of racism still endemic in our system. He has no doubt tried to jumpstart white nationalism and white supremacy, right? The white supremacist movement and antisemitism in America is surging right now in no small part due to the rhetoric and the mobilization by Donald Trump.

Warner: Back to the notion of the court case in Colorado, there's also this argument that, while Trump was impeached by the House for his alleged role in January 6th, he was acquitted by the Senate. And so, legally doesn't bear responsibility. That, to some extent, there has already been a trial. Is this double jeopardy?

Crow: No, those are different cases, different mechanisms, right? An impeachment is a process to remove a sitting president or someone who was president, and prevent them from running again via the impeachment process. Section Three of Amendment 14 is a different process. So, there are different situations. And the acquittals in the Senate, I long said, was, I think, the wrong answer. We did our job. I did my job. I thought, and continue to think, that Donald Trump is a danger to the American people and as an impeachment prosecutor in the first impeachment trial, I made that case. The Republican-controlled Senate disagreed with me, and they did not ultimately vote to convict him. By the way, he was impeached, right? So, they did not convict him. And the conviction and the removal is what's done in the United States Senate. But the impeachment happened in the House, and he's now a twice-impeached president.

Warner: Trump's impeachment for his role in the January 6th insurrection, indeed, was his second. Almost a year prior, he was impeached by a democratically-controlled House for his part in withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for damaging information on now-President Biden's son. And, in that trial, you were one of seven managers who brought Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. I wonder if you use it as any sort of barometer how popular Trump is among some, a barometer of what Democrats are doing and saying, and how that's resonating. Does that make sense? In other words, do you look at Trump's support and say, "What message is in it for my party?"

Crow: There's no doubt that it forces some introspection and some hard discussions. Why are Democrats not reaching vast swaths of the country? There's a huge urban-rural divide right now in America, and Democrats can do amazing and great things for rural America. In fact, we did just last year, we passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is going to bring tens of billions of dollars of broadband expansion to rural America, it's going to increase the healthcare coverage to rural America, it's going to reduce the costs of insulin in rural America.

We passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which is going to help us build out a modern electrical grid, including rural America. So, we need to do better about getting that out. And we will, right? We are going to continue to talk about that and explain. We are going to do the work, we are going to govern, and we're going to make life better for you.

Warner: Although Mr. Biden's had three years to make that argument, and I imagine it would be much more complicated to make that argument if the government were shut down, Congressman.

Crow: Well, I don't know the connection between the two. A government shutdown is not the right answer in any event, right? It costs the taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. It sets us behind addressing things, like we need to address on countering China and the Asian Pacific, bringing our jobs back, implementing the Chips and Science Act, which will re-onshore advanced manufacturing in America. That’s again, another bill that we passed last Congress. So, it's not the answer.

Governing by dysfunction, which is what the Republican-controlled House continues to do, is not the answer to any of this. And in fact, many of my Republican friends, of which there are many in the House, I have a lot of good buddies, are saying the same thing. They're actually casting aspersions of their own colleagues now for this dysfunction, and they're not wrong. So, we need to get beyond this current dysfunction and pass a bill to fund the government, and I'm going to continue to work to do that.