The low-profile Washington congresswoman with the nerve to escalate the fight of her political career against one of the biggest brawlers in the ring — Donald Trump — hails from a town called Battle Ground.
And it may be in places like Battle Ground, Clark County, with incumbents like U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, where Republicans vie for the direction of their party amid deep divisions left in the wake of the twice-impeached Trump.
Herrera Beutler, who since 2011 has represented Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, lit the national news cycle afire Friday night when she shared an account of a purported exchange between the former president and GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as a violent mob ransacked the Capitol.
The account briefly upended Trump’s second impeachment trial as Democrats scrambled to call her as a witness. Herrera Beutler said in a statement that McCarthy had relayed to her that when he reached the president by phone during the Jan. 6 attack and asked Trump “to publicly and forcefully call off the riot,” the president initially repeated a falsehood that anti-fascists were responsible.
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters,” she continued. “That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said, ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’ ”
But in her statement via Twitter — as befits the Trump era — the 42-year-old lawmaker went even further: She challenged members of a Republican Party that largely supports Trump, or keeps their discontent bottled up inside.
“To the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time,” wrote Herrera Beutler.
In the end, nobody appeared to heed her call. Meanwhile, House Democrats Saturday quickly backtracked from calling the congresswoman as a witness, instead entering her statement into the record.
In an email, Herrera Beutler spokesperson Craig Wheeler wrote that the congresswoman offered the information that she had to Congress for the trial, “and she would have testified under oath.”
By Saturday afternoon the Senate had acquitted Trump on the charge of incitement, even as the 57 votes to convict the former president (short of the necessary 67) represented the most bipartisan roll call of the four such trials in U.S. history. Seven Republicans joined the Democrats.
A world away from Seattle’s relative affluence and high-tech, college-degree workforce, the 3rd Congressional District stretches across seven counties of largely rural Southwest Washington.
It touches the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River Gorge; the population center of Clark County is sandwiched in between. Drive the district’s length and you’ll find fishing, timber and tourism, the city of Vancouver, and cattle, wheat and wind turbines.
The district is relatively competitive but leans Republican. Herrera Beutler bested her Democratic challenger in 2018 with 53%. Voters last November reelected her by an even wider margin.
But Republicans are not thrilled. Last month, the Washington State Republican Party’s central committee condemned the impeachment of Trump in a 111-to-2 vote. That resolution expressed “particular disappointment” in Herrera Beutler and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, who both voted to impeach.
The Clark County Women’s Republican Club around that time called Herrera Beutler’s vote a “personal affront to the 70 million plus Americans who voted for our President” and pledged to “recruit and elect a conservative candidate” to challenge her.
On Saturday, Clark County Republican Party Chair Joel Mattila said, “The reaction that I’m seeing from local Republicans … is that she’s only digging her hole deeper.”
“Unless we get more information that we don’t already have,” Mattila added, “I think that it’s more than certain she’s going to have a primary opponent.”
Republicans in Southwest Washington supported Trump, said state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and “what they believe is OK, well, he was defeated, let it go, let us move on.”
“I think what the congresswoman’s chosen to do is not popular with this part of the state,” said Walsh, whose district shares a lot of territory with Herrera Beutler’s. “That again makes me wonder, why double down or triple down on this position?”
While she doesn’t play the role of a combative partisan on the TV news channels, Herrera Beutler — who is the first Hispanic member to represent Washington at the federal level — has never had a problem breaking with her own party.
She was one of the few Republican elected officials to say she didn’t vote for Trump in 2016.
And even her recounting of the McCarthy-Trump phone call wasn’t a one-off remark launched into the twittersphere. Herrera Beutler said she has shared her account personally with GOP officials and constituents in recent weeks in her district. Both the Centralia Chronicle and The Daily News of Longview previously reported on her account.
Former Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed remembers being at a function with Herrera Beutler more than a decade ago when she was a state representative. A group of conservatives was pressuring her to oppose a piece of legislation that involved social services, said Reed, a fellow Republican.
“She stepped right up to them, and said it’s the right thing to do,” recounted Reed.
As for the blowback Herrera Beutler is receiving now, “I think she’s going to take some pounding in terms of people attacking her,” said Reed. “And I think she’s up for it and will be able to handle it.”
Trump’s impeachment isn’t even the first time Clark County Republicans have disapproved of her.
In 2015, the county party considered censuring the congresswoman over what some considered an insufficiently conservative voting record, according to reports in The (Vancouver) Columbian.
The Washington State Republican Party came to Herrera Beutler’s defense at the time. The censure attempt — which would have banned her from speaking at county GOP events — ultimately fizzled.
If she runs again in 2022, Reed said he’s optimistic Herrera Beutler can win, adding that enough voters are likely to reward her independence.
“The people admire that,” he said, “and they appreciate the integrity of it.”
The congresswoman also drew praise from an unlikely corner: her hard-fighting Democratic challenger from the last two election cycles.
In a tweet of her own, Carolyn Long praised Herrera Beutler for both her impeachment vote and “for speaking out about President Trump’s behavior” on Jan. 6.
“Failing to hold Trump accountable for his part, especially and including during the actual event when he disregarded House Speaker McCarthy’s call for assistance, would set a disastrous precedent for the future,” Long added later. “Good for her.”