SEATTLE (AP) — Jaime Herrera Beutler has spent a decade in Congress as low-key moderate Republican who largely avoided heated partisan battles. That changed with Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial.
The Washington state congresswoman was at the center of a debate Saturday in the Senate over whether the former president dismissed lawmakers’ pleas for help when his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Her statement late Friday asserting that Trump rebuffed a request from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., upended Trump’s Senate trial and sparked a fight about calling Herrera Beutler as a witness. That outcome was avoided by a last-minute bargain between Democratic prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers.
Herrera Beutler, 42, has not spent her career seeking that kind of attention.
She was first elected to Washington’s 3rd Congressional District in 2010, emphasizing her humble roots and connecting with voters by describing how she and her husband were renters still saving money to purchase their first home.
As a state legislator, she defeated a much better known Democratic opponent to win the U.S. House seat that includes rural southwest Washington as well as the more liberal northern suburbs of Portland, Oregon.
The oldest of her three children, Abigail, was born prematurely in 2013 and without kidneys. Herrera Beutler has worked to help other families facing long-term medical crises and has pushed legislation to make child care more affordable.
Herrera Beutler, a Hispanic in a party that has struggled to win over Hispanic voters, was immediately seen as a rising Republican star in a state bereft of viable GOP candidates.
But she never ran for U.S. Senate or governor and was not in the news as much as U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, another Washington congresswoman, who assumed a leadership position and became a national figure.
Then the spotlight found Herrera Beutler.
Her statement Friday night said McCarthy told her he spoke with Trump as rioters were storming the Capitol. She said McCarthy asked Trump to publicly “call off the riot” and he told Trump that the violent mob was made up of Trump supporters, not far-left antifa members.
In her statement, posted on Twitter, Herrera Beutler said: “That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.'”
She then called on people with knowledge of Trump’s conversation with McCarthy to speak out.
“And to the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time,” she said.
She came to Congress in the tea party-dominated class, but Herrera Beutler has been a vintage establishment Republican, albeit one more willing than most to defy Trump and other far-right GOP figures. She voted against Trump’s push to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, but has favored curbs on abortion and guns.
For the past two election cycles Democrats targeted Herrera Beutler, hoping they could retake her House seat by linking her to Trump. But in 2018 and 2020, Beutler won, beating back a well-funded challenger and running ahead of Trump in her district.
Herrera Beutler has emphasized her willingness to work occasionally work across the aisle and listen to the other side. In 2018 she was one of the few Republicans who voted against the renewal of the federal government’s warrantless surveillance program.
She voted against impeaching Trump in 2019. But she was one of 10 GOP members of the U.S. House who voted to impeach the former president for his role in the Jan. 6 riot.
Like other Republicans who broke with Trump, Herrera Beutler was condemned by her local and state party.
Herrera Beutler said people should not be surprised by her recent statements surrounding impeachment and her conversation with McCarthy.
“Since I publicly announced my decision to vote for impeachment, I have shared these details in countless conversations with constituents and colleagues, and multiple times through the media and other public forums,” she said.