After prosecuting Trump, Rep. Eric Swalwell pledges return to bipartisanship
WASHINGTON — East Bay Rep. Eric Swalwell has become a household name known for his criticism of Donald Trump on cable television, via Twitter and during the former president’s two impeachments. But after the second trial’s end, he says he’s ready to reach across the aisle.
“It’s a new chapter personally for me, and I think the end of an accountability chapter for Donald Trump and Congress,” Swalwell said in an interview.
The Dublin Democrat was one of House Democrats’ nine impeachment managers for Trump’s trial in the Senate last week, which concluded on Saturday with a historically bipartisan vote but ultimate acquittal.
Swalwell said he has no regrets about the trial and noted the seven Republicans who joined all Democrats in voting to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6 as the presidential election results were certified.
Swalwell believes the impeachment accomplished two important steps: preventing Trump from inciting another riot and providing accountability for his behavior.
“I feel very good about the case that we put forward, and while we did not technically disqualify him from office, I think he has functionally been disqualified,” Swalwell said.
But on a personal level, he said, the trial provided a break from partisan bickering.
“The trial was a way for me to go back to the 31-year-old prosecutor who ran for Congress and whose career before going to Congress was presenting just the facts to the jury,” Swalwell said. “In a way it was a little bit liberating, in that I think we’re now at the end of Donald Trump’s accountability before the Congress, and I look forward to going back to why I ran for Congress in the first place, which was to get things done with anyone who wants to work with me.”
Swalwell is not known for biting his tongue when it came to criticizing Trump and Republicans. His penchant for stinging tweets even came up during the impeachment trial. As Swalwell laid out the grave threat to senators’ lives on Jan. 6 during the insurrection, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ spokesperson called it “ironic to hear” after Swalwell in 2018 mocked Collins on Twitter over a report of her receiving threats over voting to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Collins nevertheless voted to convict Trump, and Swalwell noted he apologized in 2018, “within, like, hours, recognizing it was insensitive.”
But during the trial, House Democrats made a concerted effort to dispassionately prosecute Trump, separating his actions from other Republicans who made up half of the jury. Swalwell and the other managers, including additional vocal Trump critics like Rep. Ted Lieu of Torrance (Los Angeles County), also stayed quiet in the media during the trial.
With the Trump era behind him, Swalwell said he hopes to get away from a role as a chief critic, arguing his public persona the last four years was more about Trump than partisanship.
“If you look at when I ran for Congress ... I ran against a pretty liberal member of Congress and I promised to work in the great big center,” Swalwell said. “Before Trump, two-thirds of the legislation I sponsored was bipartisan, and it was when he came into office — for me it wasn’t about partisanship, it was that what I had learned as the son of a cop and a prosecutor was tested, just doing the right thing. That’s why I was so vocal about it.”
Whether he succeeds at turning the page, however, remains to be seen. Swalwell has become a lightning rod on the right after gaining a national profile during Trump’s first impeachment over obstruction of justice and abuse of power and during the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Republicans have latched on to unfounded accusations against him to draw false equivalences, and when Swalwell quipped on MSNBC over the weekend that Democrats abandoned efforts to call witnesses because even calling “God herself” wouldn’t change Republicans’ mind, right-wing media and even Russia’s state-owned news agency quickly portrayed it as a controversy.
He acknowledges relationships between Democrats and Republicans have frayed since his first term in Congress in 2013, when he formed a bipartisan caucus of new lawmakers to seek common ground. He also isn’t sure if he can work with Republicans who voted to object to electoral college results in the hours after the deadly insurrection that interrupted proceedings.
"I think for the people that voted to overturn the election, it’s going to be harder and I’m still trying to reconcile how to work with people like that, because they were a part of propagating the big lie,” Swalwell said.
But, he hopes those who voted to certify the results would be open to working together. “We may fail, but we owe it to ourselves as a country to try,” he said.
Swalwell, who pledged to give up his seat in Congress before his ill-fated run for president but then decided to seek re-election after all, laughed when asked if his new chapter would mean less use of Twitter or fewer appearances on cable TV news.
“I’ll call ’em like I see ’em, but again, I saw a lot of my job was to just hold a corrupt president and his enablers accountable,” he said. “That chapter is behind us.”
He said his immediate future includes focusing on his work on the Intelligence Committee and working to combat domestic extremism including white supremacy through the Homeland Security Committee. And it doesn’t include any new campaigns for president.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Lesson learned. I swung at the windmill, the windmill won.”