It was well past bedtime when Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler caused a stir during the first impeachment of President Donald J. Trump by bringing her 6-year-old daughter to the House floor to witness history and watch her mother vote “no.”
Over the protests of the House sergeant-at-arms, who asked the congresswoman to leave her daughter, Abigail, outside in Statuary Hall in line with a “no kids on the floor” rule, Ms. Herrera Beutler, a Republican who represents a southwestern district in Washington State, took her in anyway.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t have child care,’ ” Ms. Herrera Beutler, 42, said, recounting her confrontation that night in late 2019. “I’m done talking about this.”
If Ms. Herrera Beutler believed the clash was memorable, it was nothing compared with the one she would prompt a little more than a year later, when she became one of only 10 Republicans in Congress to break with their party and vote to impeach Mr. Trump for incitement of insurrection after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
And she could never have imagined her brief turn as a crucial player in the impeachment trial itself.
“My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision,” she said before casting her vote. “I am not choosing a side; I’m choosing truth. It’s the only way to defeat fear.”
The backlash from Republicans was swift and anticipated.
“I knew very well that it didn’t matter what I said; it was going to be misconstrued to people back home,” she said in a recent interview.
The largest Republican women’s club in Washington released a statement condemning her vote, describing her actions as a betrayal and a “personal affront” and vowing to support a challenger in the next election.
Even trusted allies — “people I would leave my children with,” she said — expressed their disappointment, and the friendly fire was painful. But for Ms. Herrera Beutler, the vote against Mr. Trump was not made lightly, and the issues were clear-cut.
“It wasn’t just what he said at the rally, although I think that spoke for itself,” she said. “But it was what he did in the aftermath. Over the three or four hours of actual violent assaults, he doubled down.”
In her statement explaining her decision to impeach, she cited a call that Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, made to Mr. Trump during the assault on Jan. 6, in which the top House Republican begged the president to go on television and “call for an end to the mayhem.” Mr. Trump declined to speak out.
But in the weeks that followed, Ms. Herrera Beutler fleshed out that account in comments to constituents defending her vote, adding details that were more damaging to Mr. Trump. Those included accusations that the president had sided with the rioters during that phone call, telling Mr. McCarthy that the violent mob appeared to care more about the election than he did.
The story generated headlines just as Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial was drawing to a close, leading Ms. Herrera Beutler to make a statement on Feb. 12 reconfirming it and prompting the House impeachment managers to consider calling her as a witness.
Though they quickly abandoned the idea, the episode opened her to attacks by Republicans closely allied with Mr. Trump. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a misinformation-spreading freshman from Georgia who was recently exiled from congressional committees, described her as “The gift that keeps on giving to the Democrats” and added, “The Trump loyal 75 million are watching.”
Ms. Herrera Beutler, who was elected to her sixth term in November, was unbothered by the criticism, and more willing than most in her party to publicly single out its origins.
She said she did not mind the judgment of “fringe-y people” whose whole political identity was tied to Mr. Trump, because “I’ve never been in that camp, and I’m not going to win them back,” she said. “I’m not exactly courting the white supremacy vote.”
Mixing Motherhood and Politics
Ms. Herrera Beutler’s parents, a white mother and a Mexican-American father, made politics part of her life from the start.
Raising her in southwest Washington with her two siblings and three cousins, they home-schooled Ms. Herrera Beutler through ninth grade, in part to keep her close to her Christian faith. As part of the curriculum, the children had to go to the State Capitol every year and march for candidates in local parades.
By the time she was a teenager, she knew she wanted to go into politics.
She graduated from the University of Washington in 2004 and became a legislative aide to Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and in six years, had been elected to Congress herself, a rise described in the local news media as meteoric. When Ms. Herrera Beutler was first elected in 2010 along with a slew of other Republican women, she was 31, and she became the first Hispanic person to represent Washington in Congress.
Before her strong stance against Mr. Trump this year, Ms. Herrera Beutler’s biggest moment in the national news media came in 2013, when she announced that the baby she was expecting, her first, had been diagnosed with Potter Syndrome, a rare — and, at the time, fatal — condition that can develop during pregnancy when there is too little amniotic fluid in the uterus.
The day she received the diagnosis, including an anatomy scan showing that the baby had no kidneys, was “the worst 24 hours of my life,” Ms. Herrera Beutler recalled, adding that she felt “like a tomb.” She went public to share the burden and try to find some kind of treatment, deliberately giving interviews to outlets like People Magazine in hopes of reaching the widest and most apolitical audience possible.
Ms. Herrera Beutler got responses from parents all over the world, and found a doctor at Johns Hopkins University who injected saline into her amniotic cavity. It worked. Abigail, named for Abigail Adams, was born at 29 weeks, had a monthslong stay in the neonatal intensive care unit and then received dialysis for two years, before she was able to receive a kidney transplant from her father, Daniel Beutler.
Abigail is now a thriving 7-year-old, whom her mother describes as “relentless.” Ms. Herrera Beutler has had two more children, Ethan in 2016 and Isana in 2019, and Mr. Beutler stays home with them.
Her experience with a medically fragile child has colored her legislative agenda.
In 2014, she formed the bipartisan maternity care caucus with Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Democrat of California. Together, they successfully pressured the Food and Drug Administration to allow manufacturers to add folic acid to corn masa flour, in the interest of cutting down on birth defects in Hispanic families, and they passed the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018, which included a grant program for rural obstetric networks.
“I’m thrilled to have her as a partner. I think she’s an incredible legislator,” said Ms. Roybal-Allard, who said she saw Ms. Herrera Beutler as a role model for other politicians, and mothers as well.
Ms. Herrera Beutler has very publicly integrated motherhood into her working life, wearing her baby at local events and onto the House floor to cast votes.
She was only the ninth woman to give birth while serving in Congress, at a time when young mothers in politics were just beginning to be accepted by the public, said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia.
“Things really began to change with Sarah Palin in 2008,” said Ms. Lawless, referring to when Ms. Palin became the Republican nominee for vice president with a 5-month-old on her hip and her children on the campaign trail. “We began to chip away at the idea that women with young children were not well-suited to legislate or lead.”
Political polarization has also helped reduce the stigma against young mothers, Ms. Lawless said, because at this point, the most important thing next to your name is an “R” or a “D,” not whether you have small children.
What the Impeachment Vote Could Cost Her
Still, Ms. Herrera Beutler is not a typical Republican by today’s standards. She is in a different political position than some of the other Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump, because Washington is a bright-blue state, and her district is purple.
She also has less to fear from a primary challenge from the far right, because Washington’s top-two or “jungle” primary system allows voters to pick the top two candidates from any party, sparing her a head-to-head contest with a Trump-aligned candidate.
Though local Republican Party officials have vowed to punish her impeachment vote by supporting a more conservative candidate, she has also received praise from a Republican former secretary of Washington, and from the largest Republican donor in her district, David Nierenberg.
“It’s another demonstration of tremendous principle and personal courage,” Mr. Nierenberg said in an interview with Oregon Public Radio.
Olivia Perez-Cubas, the spokeswoman for Winning for Women Action Fund, a super PAC for electing Republican women, said candidates like Ms. Herrera Beutler could help bring back into the party some women who were turned off by Mr. Trump.
“I think she’s a real leader for this party and I’m excited to see what she’s got in store,” Ms. Perez-Cubas said. “As the left moves more to the left, it’s important for the Republican Party to explain to more women why, on grounds of policy, they should be voting for Republicans.”
Though Ms. Herrera Beutler has worked across the aisle, her policy views are socially and fiscally conservative. She has an A+ rating from the anti-abortion rights organization Susan B. Anthony List. She has always voted against the Affordable Care Act. She joined every other Republican in voting ‘no’ on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic aid bill.
And though Ms. Herrera Beutler derided Ms. Taylor Greene for spreading “insane” and “dangerous” ideas, she sided with all but 11 members of her party last month in voting against kicking the Georgian off her committees, warning that doing so would create a damaging precedent that would only perpetuate a continuing cycle of partisan warfare.
“Republicans brought me to the dance,” Ms. Herrera Beutler said, noting that she had been a top target for Democrats for the past two election cycles. “It’s so funny, because people are like, ‘women, minorities, young moms — we love them.’ Unless you’re Republican, in which case the Democrats are going to come for your hide.”
And Ms. Herrera Beutler said she was ready for them.
“They’ve been trying to stamp me out now for at least the last four years,” she said. “I am like, ‘What, are you intimidated?’”
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