Senate lawmakers strip Chase of her last committee assignment, advance censure resolution

By: and - January 19, 2021 2:03 pm

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Lawmakers in the Virginia Senate stripped Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, of her last committee assignment Tuesday as Democrats advanced a resolution censuring her for praising rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.

The committee post — a seat on the chamber’s typically sleepy panel on local government — is hardly sought after. But the decision to remove Chase from the panel prompted a half hour of debate as some in the GOP worried about the precedent the decision might set.

“A concern that I have is, I am not certain where the boundaries will be drawn in the future,” said Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City. He had prefaced his comments by observing that he would not “be defending some of the controversial behavior of the senator from Chesterfield.”

But ultimately, only Chase voted against the new committee assignments.

Chase, who describes herself as “Trump in heels” and is running a hard-right campaign for governor, quit the Senate’s GOP caucus last year, citing dissatisfaction with the party’s leadership in the chamber.

That prompted the chamber’s leaders to remove her from three of the four committees on which she sat. But they allowed her to continue to serve on the local government committee.

Democrats revisited that decision Tuesday as they weigh a resolution to formally censure Chase for remarks spreading misinformation about the presidential election and her praise of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol as “patriots.” The censure resolution cleared a Senate committee Tuesday afternoon on a 9-6 vote and now heads to the floor for a vote by the full Senate. Chase did not attend the hearing to defend herself, but Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, said he couldn’t support censuring her due to free speech concerns.

“As much as you don’t like what Senator Chase has said and her actions, I can’t suppress her right to offend,” Reeves said.

Making the case against Chase, Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, said free speech has never been absolute.

“Words have consequences,” he said. “As elected officials our words also have the power to lead others astray.”

During the earlier discussion on committees, Chase unsuccessfully urged the chamber to allow her to keep her seat. “Regardless of how you feel about me as a state senator, I do represent the 11th District,” she said. “And I’m very disturbed you’ll take a sitting senator who was duly elected and remove them from all of their Senate assignments.”

She urged her colleagues to show “love, compassion and mercy.”

While some GOP senators urged the chamber to allow Chase to keep her seat, others were less sympathetic, telling Chase she knew she risked losing her seniority and committee assignments when she chose to leave the Republican caucus.

Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, chastised Chase for putting her personal political ambition over the representation of her district. “That allowed her to go out and say, ‘Look at me, I fight the good old boys,’” he said. “That’s a decision she made.”

The punishment for Chase follows a similar move in the House of Delegates, where Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, stripped three Republican delegates of some committee assignments for urging Vice President Mike Pence to “nullify” Biden’s win in Virginia due to unsubstantiated fraud allegations. Dels. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun and Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania and Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge, lost one committee assignment each.

House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In his first public comments on the matter Tuesday, House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, made no effort to distance his caucus from the controversial letter or condemn it, saying his colleagues were “merely asking for a delay” so that “discrepancies” could be investigated.

“I think what’s more important is the environment in which a letter like that was written, which is one where doubt reigned across the nation,” Gilbert told reporters.

The letter questioned the validity of changes to Virginia voting laws Democrats passed last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. Republicans have filed no lawsuits in Virginia courts claiming fraud or challenging the election results.

Gilbert accused Filler-Corn of taking an uneven approach to disciplining House members, saying she took no action against Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Fairfax, for being involved in social justice protests in D.C. that led to police using tear gas or Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, for confronting Virginia State Police personnel at a protest in his district.

“I saw no retribution there and I likewise saw no public comment from the speaker of the House of Delegates about those issues,” Gilbert said. “If she’s going to punish people for behavior that she views as inconsistent with the expectations of this body, she should treat everybody fairly.”

Kunal Atit, a spokesman for Filler-Corn, called Gilbert’s comments “disappointing.”

“It is our hope that Leader Gilbert will reconsider his support for these dangerous conspiracies that have caused so much harm over these past weeks,” he said.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.

Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.