Pennsylvania Governor Race Could Be “Life or Death for Democracy”

The House committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol will hold its first public hearing on Thursday after 10 months of meeting in private. The hearing will be the first of eight and is expected to draw on roughly 1,000 depositions and interviews. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Will Bunch says the success of the hearings will hinge on whether the committee can convince the public that the January 6 attack “wasn’t just a one-off event” but rather “part of an ongoing threat to democracy.” Bunch also speaks about the Pennsylvania governor race, which he says “is life or death for democracy,” as well as the mass shooting in Philadelphia on Saturday, which left three dead and 11 injured.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

After 10 months of meeting in private, the House committee investigating the deadly January 6th insurrection at the Capitol will hold its first public hearing on Thursday, primetime, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Democracy Now! will live-stream at democracynow.org. It will be the first of eight congressional hearings, modeled in part on the 1973 Watergate hearings. The session is expected to feature video clips from January 6th, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol after then-President Donald Trump’s called on them to, quote, “fight like hell” to stop Congress’s certification of Joe Biden as president. The hearings will also draw on some of the committee’s roughly 1,000 depositions and interviews, many of them videotaped. Congressmember Liz Cheney is vice chair of the committee, one of just two Republicans on it. She spoke to CBS News.

REP. LIZ CHENEY: The threat — and it’s an ongoing threat. You know, we are not in a situation where former President Trump has expressed any sense of remorse about what happened. We’re, in fact, in a situation where he continues to use even more extreme language, frankly, than the language that caused the attack. And so, people must pay attention. People must watch, and they must understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don’t defend it.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as The New York Times reported Friday the chief of staff for then-Vice President Pence warned the Secret Service, a day before January 6, that there could be a threat to Pence. Pence’s aide, Marc Short, conveyed the message to the vice president’s lead Secret Service agent during a meeting in the West Wing. When thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol the next day, on January 6, some were chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury has indicted former Trump adviser Peter Navarro for failing to comply with a subpoena from the House January 6 committee. This is Navarro. The Justice Department has declined to charge two other former Trump officials: Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino Jr.

For more on developments related to the January 6 insurrection, we’re joined by Will Bunch, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, national columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, who has been following this closely, including the Pennsylvania state Senator Doug Mastriano, who attended the January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally and helped arrange buses for pro-Trump protesters to come, as well. He later worked with former President Trump’s legal team to overturn the 2020 election results and has now won the Republican governor’s primary in Pennsylvania. If elected, he’s vowed to continue to help undo the 2020 election. And he is in charge, right?

Will Bunch, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s talk the broadest picture now. The significance of these hearings and what you think needs to happen Thursday to draw the attention of the American people? It’s happened behind closed doors. Most people don’t have any idea, even though there have been at least a thousand interviews conducted.

WILL BUNCH: Yes. I mean, this has been such a long time in coming. I mean, it’s been a year and a half since January 6th. And so, I think the question now — you know, so much has happened since then. The war in Ukraine, that you’ve just been talking about, is one. You know, people are very concerned about the economy, about inflation. So, it will be fascinating to see this week if these televised hearings can kind of get the American people reinterested in this story, because I think what the goal of the House committee is here — and it’s a very important goal — is to make people understand just the seriousness of what happened on January 6th, that there was an attempted coup in the United States of America that was orchestrated by the sitting president of the United States, a self coup to try and keep himself in power and to try and thwart the peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration.

And so, I think the real significance here is, you know: Can the committee tell a compelling story that will keep people interested and appeal to the persuadable public? Now, we know that 30 to 40% of the public is hardcore, going to tune this out, going to buy the Fox spin that these are rigged hearings. But can they persuade people in the middle that this wasn’t just a one-off event, that this is part of an ongoing threat to democracy, and, first of all, you know, build a case for punishing the January 6th perpetrators? I mean, I think there’s a real interplay between these hearings and what’s happening at the Justice Department with Merrick Garland and the decisions that he faces about whether to prosecute Trump’s inner circle and whether to actually prosecute Trump himself for their involvement in this coup attempt. You know, it seems to many of us like an open-and-shut case, but I think they’re waiting to see if that public support happens. And I think these hearings are critical to building that public support. So I think that’s the broader significance.

So, I think you’re going to see — you’re going to see, hopefully, some new pieces of news about January 6th that we haven’t heard before, but I think also just they’re going to try and create a coherent narrative for the public, so the public can really see how serious this was and what a threat to democracy it is, and also, hopefully, you know, as you touched on, talking about Doug Mastriano running for governor here in Pennsylvania, also connected to the ongoing threats to democracy that exist in the 2022 elections and in 2024 and beyond.

AMY GOODMAN: So, OK, let’s go there for a minute to Pennsylvania, where you are. The significance of Mastriano winning? This is not just a person who attended the January 6 insurrection. He facilitated many, getting buses so that people could go down. And talk about what he himself represents and, if he were governor, the man who is continuing to challenge the 2020 elections, being in charge of the elections.

WILL BUNCH: Right. Well, in addition to being there on January 6 — and I think he rented three buses and sent a bunch of supporters down. He was very involved in January 6th. But beyond that, he also was a state legislator. He supported a resolution that would have allowed the Legislature to appoint Pennsylvania’s electors, basically to override the popular vote and override the will of the people and give the Legislature power to presumably appoint a slate of Trump electors based on this supposed fraud that didn’t actually happen.

And so, now if he’s elected governor in November — and remember, a lot of experts are predicting, you know, because of inflation and other things, that this could be a wave election for Republicans, that Republicans could be swept into office, no matter how qualified or unqualified they are. And so, if Mastriano wins under those circumstances and becomes governor, he has the power in Pennsylvania to appoint the secretary of state, who oversees the elections. It’s an elected job in many states, but not in Pennsylvania. It’s appointed by the governor, subject to kind of a rubber-stamp confirmation by the Republican-dominated Legislature. And he’s made it clear that he’s going to appoint a secretary of state who supports his big lie election theories, who presumably would get involved in this crackpot theory.

I wrote a column about this last week, that there’s still a movement out there to decertify Biden’s victory in 2020, to, quote, “reclaim,” unquote, electors from the 2020 Electoral College and somehow transmit to Congress that, you know, Biden should leave the White House immediately and install Donald Trump. Now, that’s not going to happen. It wouldn’t last 30 seconds inside a courtroom, I’m pretty sure. But, you know, he’d be wasting Pennsylvania’s time on this effort.

And, you know, he’ll have — if he’s governor, he’ll have a big influence on the 2024 election, both in implementing various voter suppression maneuvers — you know, taking away drop boxes and mail-in voting and those sorts of things — and then, you know, we know that he subscribes to this theory of state control over the Electoral College that could override a Democratic victory in 2024 and appoint — just appoint electors for Trump or whoever the Republican candidate is. And so, when people say that democracy is on the ballot in the 2022 gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania, they’re not kidding. It really is life or death for democracy in terms of who wins this election for governor.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you have a quick comment on what has now shaped up to be the senatorial race? You’ve got John Fetterman, lieutenant governor, who had a heart attack, was in the hospital on Primary Day, the heart patient versus the heart surgeon. Dr. Mehmet Oz has just been declared the winner of the Republican senatorial primary.

WILL BUNCH: Yeah. And, Amy, I mean, that’s a fascinating twist. But, you know, the reality, though, is that both Mehmet Oz and the candidate he narrowly defeated, David McCormick, both of them have been living outside of Pennsylvania for years, which has irked a lot of voters here, understandably. You know, both of them were people who basically made up new political personas to appeal to the Donald Trump element in the Republican Party. You know, both of them were maybe conservative, but sensible conservatives, who just adopted extreme positions on guns, abortion and other issues to appeal to the ultra-MAGA right. And so, in a sense — I mean, in a sense, it almost didn’t matter which one won. I mean, Oz is maybe a little bit more of a threat because he’s very telegenic, he’s very charismatic.

And I think Fetterman has a slight edge. What I really want to see about Fetterman is, you know, this heart news. I mean, it seems like he’s on his way to a full recovery. But the fact that he ignored his doctor for five years is not a particularly good look. I’m hoping he maybe comes out — I’d love to see him do a PSA for heart health and say, “Look, you know, I made a mistake. Don’t do what I did. Go see your doctor,” and kind of embrace his new persona as a successfully recovered heart patient, because — you know, otherwise, I think Fetterman has a good story to tell. He connects with voters, and, you know, he’s certainly in touch with the majority of Pennsylvanians who want to see abortion rights preserved, who want to see voting rights expanded. But it’s going to be a tight race, absolutely..

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we’re speaking to you in Philadelphia, Will. This has been a hard weekend of mass shootings, I think nine across the country — in Philadelphia, three people killed, 11 others wounded by gunfire Saturday night when multiple gunmen opened fire on a large crowd. I wanted to go back to Doug Mastriano — right? — the gubernatorial candidate. The Jewish publication The Forward resurfaced a 2018 video of Mastriano likening gun control to Nazism.

WILL BUNCH: Right. I mean —

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play that clip for you.

WILL BUNCH: Yes, OK.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to that clip.

WILL BUNCH: OK.

DOUG MASTRIANO: The Second Amendment codifies our God-given rights to keep and bear arms. In a long — it’s appalling to me, anytime there’s a shooting, the left will jump on that as a way to advance an agenda to remove our right to bear arms. Whatever — what other right will they suspend? We saw a similar protest, a historian, with a doctor in history. We saw Lenin do the same thing in Russia. We saw Hitler do the same thing in Germany in the ’30s. Where does it stop? Where do the tyrants stop infringing upon our rights? Whose great idea was it to declare a gun-free zone of schools? The schools should be fortified and strengthened.

AMY GOODMAN: In response to the resurfaced video, Mastriano tweeted, “Historically, this is accurate.” As we wrap up, Will Bunch, can you discuss this? Philadelphia is very important to you, even the corner where this took place, the shooting this weekend.

WILL BUNCH: Yeah. I mean, it’s a very popular area. You know, imagine the French Quarter or Rush Street in Chicago or Fishman’s Wharf in San Francisco. We’re talking about that type of popular area. So, I mean, we’ve had way too many homicides in Philadelphia for months and months, but this shooting really hit home.

And the thing is, the governor’s race is very important here, because Harrisburg has prevented Philadelphia from imposing commonsense gun laws on a municipal level. You know, the Legislature, the Republican Legislature, has successfully overridden Philadelphia’s ability to write its own gun laws. And Mastriano, as you just heard there, has taken the most extreme possible position on gun rights. He wants to make Pennsylvania what he calls a Second Amendment sanctuary state. And what we saw on South Street Saturday is what a Second Amendment sanctuary state looks like, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Will Bunch, for joining us. Will Bunch is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, national columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. And we will link to your columns.

Next up, we will speak to the head of the California task force calling for reparations for African Americans. Back in 30 seconds.