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'A Good First Step': Senators File Ethics Complaint Over Cruz and Hawley's Role in Capitol Insurrection

The move by a group of Democrats comes as demands are building for the two Republicans to be ousted from the Senate over the deadly attack.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) during a joint session of Congress to ratify the 2020 presidential election at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) during a joint session of Congress to ratify the 2020 presidential election at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid mounting calls for Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri to resign or be expelled from the chamber, a group of Democrats filed an ethics complaint on Thursday requesting an investigation into the two senators' roles in inciting a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called on the Senate Ethics Committee "to carry out a thorough and fair investigation and consider any appropriate consequences based on the committee's findings."

Addressed to Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), the committee's chair and vice chair, the complaint (pdf) notes that when Cruz and Hawley "announced they would object to the counting of state-certified electors on January 6, 2021, they amplified claims of election fraud that had resulted in threats of violence against state and local officials around the country."

The complaint further notes that Cruz and Hawley's objections "were part of an ongoing effort" by former President Donald Trump and his allies "to obstruct the counting of electoral votes that would confirm his defeat." After an inflammatory January 6 speech that ultimately led to Trump's historic second impeachment, a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol, forcing those present to flee for their lives and delaying for several hours the certification of President Joe Biden's November victory.

Although, in the wake of the Capitol attack, Trump's Cabinet ignored demands for removing him via the 25th Amendment and lawmakers acted too late to oust him with a Senate trial—which Trump still faces and could result in him being barred from ever seeking elected office again—there have also been building calls for Cruz and Hawley to face consequences for inciting the violence with election lies.

Even after the Capitol was secured and lawmakers returned to certify Biden's win, "Cruz and Hawley continued to amplify the claims of fraud that they likely knew to be baseless and that had led to violence earlier that day," the complaint points out. "Violent action provoked by false fraud claims remains a persistent threat."

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"The Senate has a duty to determine whether the actions of Sens. Cruz and Hawley constitute 'improper conduct' or other violations of the Senate code of ethics," the Democrats argued. "Only then will this body restore public trust."

The government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) tweeted in response that "an ethics investigation is a good first step."

CREW also called Lankford to recuse from any such investigation, "given his involvement in the events that led to the insurrection, as well as due to his connections to Cruz and Hawley." The vice chair was part of Cruz's coalition of 11 Republicans who vowed to reject the Electoral College tallies without a congressional probe and also "pushed debunked claims of illegal votes and of dead people voting."

"These actions undermined confidence in the free and fair election," CREW said in a statement Thursday. "Undermining that public confidence may well have helped incite the mob that carried out an armed insurrection attempting to hold up the transfer of power. Sen. Lankford must not be allowed to weigh in on any investigation of his colleagues' conduct when his own behavior may have contributed to the issue at hand."

While the investigation request was welcomed by some critics of the senators, author and political analyst Anand Giridharadas said in an interview on MSNBC that aired hours before the complaint was announced that Democrats—now in control of both the White House and Congress—lack the "sense of fight" necessary to take on the GOP.

"I actually think there is a huge problem in this country of only the bad guys having fight in them," said Giridharadas. "You don't actually want a society in which only the people who want to do harm understand themselves to be in a battle."

As an example, Giridharadas pointed to Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-Ill.), who had also appeared on MSNBC early Thursday. Durbin refused to demand the expulsion of Republican lawmakers who incited the insurrection, instead saying that any disciplinary action would be "initiated by the ethics committee."

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