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

After ten months of meeting in secret, the House committee that is investigating the attack on Capitol Hill on January 6 will hold its first hearing public on Thursday. The hearing will be the first in a series of eight. It is expected to draw upon approximately 1,000 interviews and depositions. 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.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

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

After 10 months of meeting privately, the House committee that is investigating the January 6th insurrection at Capitol will hold its first public hearing Thursday, primetime, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Democracy Now! will live-stream the proceedings. It will be the first of eight congressional listenings, which are modeled in part after 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. Vice chair of the committee is Congressmember Liz Cheney, one of only two Republicans. She spoke to CBS News.

REP. LIZ CHENEY: The threat — and it’s an ongoing threat. We are not in any situation where Trump would have expressed any regret 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. People need to 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 is called The New York Times reportedFriday, the then-Vice President’s chief of staff warned the Secret Service that there could be a threat against Pence. This was just a day before the 6th of January. 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.”

During this time, a federal grand jury indicted Peter Navarro as a Trump adviser for failing to obey a subpoena dated January 6, 2017 from the House committee. This is Navarro. The Justice Department declined to indict two other former Trump officials, Mark Meadows 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. He is the one in charge.

Will Bunch, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s talk the broadest picture now. What is the significance of these hearings, and what do you think should be done Thursday to bring attention to 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. This has taken so long. 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. People are very concerned about the economy and 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.

So, the real question is: Can the committee tell compelling stories that will keep people engaged and appeal to the persuasible public? We know that between 30 and 40% of the public are hardcore. They will tune out the hearings and buy the Fox spin that these were rigged. 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. These hearings are crucial to building 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. What is the significance of Mastriano’s win? This isn’t just a person that attended the January 6 rebellion. He helped to facilitate many, getting buses so people could go down. Talk about who he is and what he represents.

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 with January 6th. He was also a state legislature. 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. If Mastriano is elected governor in these circumstances, he will be able to appoint the secretary-general, who oversees the election, in Pennsylvania. 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 all about who wins the governor’s election.

AMY GOODMAN:Can you give us a quick comment about the shape of the Senate 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 was just declared the winner in the Republican senatorial primaries.

WILL BUNCH: Yeah. And, Amy, I mean, that’s a fascinating twist. However, the truth is that Mehmet and David McCormick have lived in Pennsylvania for years. This has upset a lot voters here. Both of them were political people who made up new identities to appeal to Donald Trump’s Republican Party element. They were both conservative, but not necessarily conservative. They just took extreme positions on abortion, guns, and other issues to appeal more to the ultra-conservatives.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.

Fetterman does have a slight edge, I think. I want to know more about Fetterman. I mean, it seems like he’s on his way to a full recovery. It’s not a good look that he has ignored his doctor for five long years. 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 ForwardMastriano, in a 2018 video, compared gun control to Nazism.

WILL BUNCH: Right. I mean —

AMY GOODMAN:Let me play it for you.


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


DOUG MASTRIANO:The Second Amendment codifies our God-given right to keep and bear armour. 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 demonstration, a historian with a doctor in historical. In Russia, we saw Lenin doing the same thing. We saw Hitler do the same thing in Germany in the ’30s. Where does it stop? Where can the tyrants cease violating our rights and freedoms? Whose brilliant idea was it to declare schools a gun-free zone? Schools should be strengthened and fortified.

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 your, even the corner where this was shot, 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. Mastriano, as we just heard, has taken the most extreme position possible on gun rights. He wants Pennsylvania to be a Second Amendment sanctuary. We saw Saturday’s South Street demonstration of what a Second Amendment sanctuary is, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN:Well, Will Bunch, I want you to know how much I appreciate your presence. Will Bunch is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and national columnist. The Philadelphia Inquirer. We will link to you columns.

Next, we’ll speak with the head of the California taskforce calling for reparations to African Americans. We will be back in 30 seconds.