The Virginia Senate censured Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, on Wednesday for “conduct unbecoming” of a senator, citing a history of public clashes that began with her berating a Virginia Capitol Police officer over a parking spot two years ago and culminated with her support for political rallies that preceded an assault on the U.S. Capitol three weeks ago that left five dead.
Chase, a self-styled political maverick who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, denounced the censure — the first by the Senate in 34 years — as a “political hit job” and vowed to sue the Senate for violating her constitutional right to free speech.
“If the Senate chooses to humiliate me and irreparably damage my reputation by issuing a censure for the conduct charged ... I will not be without remedy to clear my name,” she said in a letter that she had sent her colleagues earlier and then read on the Senate floor.
The two-hour debate ended with a 24-9 vote to adopt a resolution of censure. Just three Republicans voted for it, although a half-dozen GOP senators did not vote. At least two senators who denounced her behavior in stinging floor speeches declined to either support or oppose her censure.
“This is an ugly day for the Senate of Virginia,” said Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg. He said he deplored Chase’s behavior but voted against censure because he said the Senate had failed to follow its rules by not formally investigating each instance of misconduct alleged in the resolution.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax agreed that the resolution “was not properly before the body,” after a parliamentary inquiry by Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, but the Senate overrode his ruling by a 21-vote margin.
Fairfax also admonished members of the Senate to refrain from personal attacks after Chase lashed out at her critics one by one, denouncing them for conduct that she claimed was worse than the behavior cited for her censure.
“The double standards and the hypocrisy to hold certain senators more accountable than others is egregious,” she said.
‘Right vs. wrong’
The resolution had been introduced by Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He initially charged Chase with fomenting insurrection for her public support of the “Stop the Steal” rallies in Washington that led to the storming of the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, as Congress prepared to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Bell revised the resolution this week to allay Republican concerns about censuring free speech, adding a litany of Chase’s controversial behavior that has drawn bipartisan scorn, as well as her remarks calling members of the pro-Trump crowd on Jan. 6 “patriots who love their country” and “not rioters and looters.”
“This is not about Democrats and Republicans. ... It’s an issue of right versus wrong,” Bell said.
Bell said he had offered to withdraw the resolution if Chase apologized for her comments and denounced the participants in the assault on the Capitol, but said her attempt to do so on Friday “fell far short.”
Chase tried again on Wednesday by saying she was sorry she had “hurt a lot of your feelings in this room,” and condemning those who had committed violence and promoted white supremacist and anti-Semitic causes in the assault on the Capitol.
“The patriots I was referring to were the ones I was standing with before all of the mayhem took place,” she said. “Whether you agree with their reasons for being there, these were peace-loving people who disagreed with the results of the election.”
The vitriolic debate revealed deep fissures in the Republican Party that are playing out in a widening battle for the GOP nomination for governor. Republicans are seeking to end a 12-year drought in elections for statewide office in Virginia under the shadow of Trump’s continuing hold on the party.
Chase was a rookie in elective politics five years ago when she upset Sen. Steve Martin, a 27-year Republican veteran, and has now fully embraced the political message and tactics of Trump in her gubernatorial bid. She touted herself on the Senate floor as the front-runner in what is now a five-person race for the party nomination.
Senate GOP’s rebuke
The Senate Republican Caucus, which she quit 14 months ago, made clear on Wednesday that she is not a member of the caucus or the Chesterfield Republican Party, after being expelled for publicly opposing its nominee in a local race two years ago.
“Senator Chase’s selfishness and constant need for media attention, with which the Senate Republican Caucus is keenly familiar, brought us to the situation in which the Senate found itself [on Wednesday],” Senate GOP leaders said in a public statement after the censure vote.
Chase said she left the Republican Caucus after the party lost its Senate majority in November 2019 but re-elected Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, as minority leader.
She denounced Norment on the Senate floor on Wednesday, saying his own conduct had prompted her departure from the caucus.
Norment, who helped lead the push for an immediate vote on the resolution and was one of three Republicans to vote for it, accused Chase of lying to the Senate and double-dealing with her party colleagues.
“This is not a First Amendment issue for me,” he said. “It’s about hypocrisy and integrity.”
Norment said that Chase had lied to the Senate when she said last week that she had chosen not to introduce a resolution to censure Senate Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, over a Black Lives Matter protest in Portsmouth that culminated in serious injury to a protester after the crowd toppled a Confederate monument. Lucas was charged with two felonies, but the city prosecutor dropped the charges.
But Norment noted that Chase had tried twice to file a censure resolution against Lucas on Jan. 20. The Senate Clerk’s office had denied the requests because Chase already had exceeded the limit of 12 bills or resolutions that a senator could introduce in the legislative session.
Norment said Chase also had sought last week to rejoin the Republican caucus, days after all Senate Republicans joined Democrats in supporting new committee assignments that stripped her of her last remaining committee seat.
The next day, in a speech on the Senate floor meant to defuse the push for censure, Chase offered what Norment called “an appalling non-apology.” He noted that Chase later threatened, like Trump, to form a Patriot Party and caucus to challenge mainstream Republicans.
“The hypocrisy and lack of personal integrity is totally unacceptable,” Norment said.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, both denounced Chase’s behavior, especially her 2019 confrontation with the Virginia Capitol Police officer in which she berated and cursed the officer, according to the police report. Chase later suggested that the officer, an African American woman, had reacted to her perception of the senator’s “white privilege” in trying to park in a restricted area next to Capitol Square.
Stanley deplored what he called Chase’s sense of entitlement and bemoaned her self-imposed isolation among her colleagues after a promising start to her Senate career, but Chase responded: “I do not feel entitled ... I’m just confident.”
Obenshain and Stanley said they would not vote, rather than oppose the resolution.
“I will not give a vote that might be construed as an affirmation of her actions, her total unfamiliarity with the truth and the boorish behavior that is included in the resolution,” Obenshain said.
Democrats weren’t impressed by the explanation of why they and four other senators — including Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover — who were present did not vote.
“You’re voting against censure,” Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, told them. “You’re just not putting it up on the board.”