GENESEO — Before the people of the 133rd Assembly District voted her into office in 2018, Marjorie Byrnes spent her professional life working to uphold the rule of law — first as a prosecutor with the Monroe County District Attorney Office, then as a Rochester City Court Judge and, most recently, as court attorney for former Livingston County Judge Dennis Cohen.
It was with as sense of dread, therefore, that Byrnes watched on television as supporters of President Donald J. Trump staged a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, bringing the country’s government to a prolonged halt just as Congress was in the midst of a joint session to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
“It was just a gut punch,” said Byrnes, a Republican, during a phone interview Thursday. “I looked at what was going on on CNN and it’s like I just took a stomp to the gut. It’s just, in my brain, it was the antithesis of democracy and it really did hurt … I went home sick to my stomach that this was going on in our country.”
Byrnes stopped short of laying blame for the insurrection at Trump’s feet — “I don’t feel comfortable in venturing an opinion on that. I just don’t have an answer,” she said — but did acknowledge his rhetoric over the past several weeks likely contributed to the volume of Trump supporters who traveled to Washington Wednesday for Congress’s joint session.
Following the events of Wednesday, a growing number of elected officials — both Democrats and Republicans — have called for Trump’s removal from office through impeachment or the 25th Amendment, which provides for a president’s removal if a majority of the cabinet and the vice president agree he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the presidency.
Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Charles Schumer, who is expected to become Senate Majority Leader with Democrats’ two recent Senate victories in Georgia, announced Thursday they support the president’s removal for inciting the insurrection that ultimately occurred with his past comments about the election — including at a Save America Rally earlier Wednesday.
At that rally, Trump repeated baseless claims of widespread election fraud, said he would “never concede” and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol building.
“We’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” Trump said. “Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, you have to be strong.”
If members of Trump’s cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence fail to remove Trump through the 25th Amendment, both Pelosi and Schumer said Congress should reconvene to remove the president through impeachment.
Byrnes stopped short of calling for Trump’s removal. Instead, she expressed hope in a written statement from the president, tweeted out by White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino at 3:49 a.m. Thursday, in which Trump acknowledged there would be an “orderly transition on Jan. 20.”
“He (Trump) acknowledged today that there would be a peaceful transition of power, he has recognized that Mr. Biden is the president-elect and will be president on the 20th and hopefully all of these issues will be removed with that statement and we can go forward as a nation,” said Byrnes.
In his statement, Trump also falsely claimed the election was fraudulent and described his “first term” as the greatest in presidential history.
George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, declined an interview request Thursday. In written comments provided in response to questions submitted by the Livingston County News, the Republican state senator characterized the events at the Capitol building as “a protest where some people decided to take horrible, violent actions.”
“Resorting to violence and destruction is never the answer,” said Borrello. “We have seen countless examples of it across the nation over the past several months. Lives have been lost, property destroyed, including small businesses, along with people’s dreams.”
In order to help healing the country and bring people together, Borrello said elected officials must address the concerns of the broad spectrum of people he said feel disenfranchised, “not just over the election, but over so many issues that we face in this nation.”
“We must restore confidence in our system so that people feel it is honest and that it serves everyone equally,” Borrello continued. “My role will be to continue to serve the people of the 57th Senate District and speak on their behalf in Albany. I will do my best to ensure their voices are heard and that they too feel that we can achieve a better system here in New York.”
Borrello did not respond to questions about whether Trump should be removed from office, if he believed the 2020 election was fraudulent and, if he did, what evidence he’d reviewed that convinced him it was fraudulent.
State Sen. Rob Ortt, who leads the Senate’s GOP minority, called for unity.
“As public officials, we are elected to solve problems,” he said. “We are at a critical moment in our state and nation, and it’s more important than ever for leaders at every level to help heal the division sowed by political extremes on both sides and focus on addressing the critical issues facing the American people, including public health and economic recovery.”
Other reactions weren’t as accommodating.
Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-East Aurora, represents the 147th District which includes Wyoming County. He was dubious toward Schumer’s call to invoke the 25th Amendment, to put it mildly.
He advocated telling Schumer to wait, because the same measure would be used to remove Biden and install Harris.
“I have zero respect for ‘Brain-dead’ leftist Chuck,” DiPietro said.
He was also skeptical of a Daily News question asking what lawmakers were going to do to try to bring greater unity to the nation.
“Unity,” DiPietro asked. “Are you kidding? For over four years your media have lied and attacked this president 24/7. Lied! Now you want unity? Many Americans including myself ... Biden is not my president.”
The office of Congressman Chris Jacobs, whose 27th Congressional District includes the four GLOW region counties, did not respond to interview requests Thursday.
Jacobs drew criticism after voting along with dozens of his fellow Republican House members to reject presidential electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania. Jacobs’ votes marked an about face from past comments saying he would not interfere with election results in other states would contradict the principles of federalism and states’ rights.
Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan (R-C-I, Elma) issued the following statement:
“While we defend peaceful protests as a cornerstone of our democracy, violence and attacks on our institutions can never be tolerated. There is no place for such fear, intimidation and vandalism,” he said. “I call on my colleagues at all levels of government to respect the rule of law and defend the Constitution. We need to serve the American people with respect and civility and work together for the good of our country. There is much to do. We can, and must, do better.”
State Sen. Edward Rath III, R-61st District, said, “The brutality we saw yesterday that unfolded inside our nation’s capital (Wednesday) is unacceptable and deeply disturbing. While the right to peacefully protest is part of the foundation of our country, what we saw yesterday cannot and will not be tolerated. We must have respect for each other, no matter what political party, and we must have respect for our law enforcement and the rule of law.”
State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, has said there needs to be a peaceful transition of power.
“I think President Trump and President-elect Biden need to become very, very visible and united and deliver the same advice in terms of healing, respect for law and order and condemning in the highest possible way, any and all violence in this country,” he said. “I don’t care if they appear together before the inauguration or whether they’re on the same stage together, but they need to have the same message ... They need to set politics aside, they need to set the election aside and they need to be united in their message of peace and goodwill in this country in a non-violent way.”
On the issue of the 25th Amendment being invoked in Washington, Hawley said, “I have not been contacted by anyone who thought that would be an appropriate course of action with 13 days left in his (Trump’s) term. The Senate isn’t even in session. I hope the president would come forward and indicate his abhorrence with the activities that took place yesterday (at the Capitol).”
Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said she was “shocked that our citizens felt they could change the outcome of an action of American constitutional action through violence.” “We are a country of laws. Democracy must be respected and upheld,” she said. “I oppose the actions this mob took at our Capital yesterday. Our democracy must stand firm.”
As to who should be blamed for Wednesday’s incidents, Stein said, “Individuals who participated, led and created loss of lives are responsible for their actions.
“In our country, we have the ability and responsibility to discuss, debate and determine outcomes. As a country we must find the path to respect for others and differing opinions,” Stein said. “Voting matters. People speak through their vote. Our leaders on the federal, state and local levels have to listen, hear and be open to healing for our success of the United States of America. We will remember this day in sadness, yet it also brings reflection on our actions as leaders to ensure we hear and listen to all those we represent. Peaceful protests are a right, violence and harm to others is not.”
The Genesee County Conservative Party Wednesday night denounced the violence in Washington that afternoon.
“While we understand the right to peacefully protest, we do not condone trespassing onto the Capitol, putting police officers’ lives at risk, and destroying and stealing property. Political violence is never the answer,” the party said. “We strongly support the First Amendment and the ability to speak your mind, peacefully assemble, and protest. We encourage all Americans to stand up for their constitutional rights, voice their opinions and demand change.
“Our prayers go out to the family of the woman killed today, our law enforcement personnel and most of all, for all of America,” party members said.
The way to make change is to get involved with your local elections, make your voice heard, hold our politicians accountable, and most of all, vote, the Conservative Party said.