‘A badge of shame’: Virginia Senate votes to censure Amanda Chase

By: - January 27, 2021 4:37 pm

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, speaks at a “Stop the Steal” rally outside of the Virginia Department of Elections on Nov. 7, 2020. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

After stinging personal critiques from Republicans and Democrats alike, Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, was censured by the Virginia Senate Wednesday, a formal rebuke that came after she repeated baseless election fraud claims and spoke in support of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Several senators said they wished the censure vote, the first since 1987, didn’t have to happen. But they said it became unavoidable due to Chase’s loose grip on the truth, lack of respect for her colleagues and the institution and a pattern of inflammatory behavior.

“The need to protect the honor of this body is what compelled me to proceed,” said Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who sponsored the resolution censuring Chase.

Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who sponsored a resolution censuring Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, speaks during the floor session of the Virginia Senate inside the Science Museum in Richmond, VA Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. After much debate, the resolution passed, 21-9, with several members not voting. (Pool photo by Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch).

The vote for censure was 24-9, with three Republicans joining the chamber’s 21 Democrats. Nine Republicans, including Chase, voted against censure. Six Republicans did not vote.

In an at-times heated floor debate, Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, said some had suggested to him that Chase, who is battling many in her own party as she seeks the GOP nomination for governor, would wear the censure as a badge of honor. It should be seen, he said, as a “badge of shame.”

“So much promise, so much ability has been wasted on ambition and a sense of entitlement,” said Stanley, who, despite his floor speech, did not vote on the censure resolution.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, who has served in the body since 1980, said he had never seen a state senator cause as much trouble as Chase.

“No one has even come remotely close,” he said.

Elected as a Republican in 2015, Chase’s alienation from her GOP colleagues had already led her to leave the Republican caucus in 2019. The Senate stripped her of her last committee assignment last week.

Some of Chase’s former Republican colleagues seemed to question her mental state during Wednesday’s debate. Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford, said he saw her behavior has “a bit of a call for help.”

“I really hope that the senator from Chesterfield has the opportunity to get the help that’s needed,” Newman said.

The censure is a mostly symbolic gesture of disapproval and won’t affect Chase’s ability to continue to serve in the Senate. However, it strips of her seniority, which makes her lowest in the chamber when it comes to perks like seating and office space.

Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, addresses the Senate during debate on a resolution censuring Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, during the floor session of the Virginia Senate inside the Science Museum in Richmond, VA Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Stanley said that he was not voting either way and walked out of the chamber after his speech. (Pool photo by Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The resolution listed a series of Chase incidents that amounted to “conduct unbecoming of a Senator,” including a 2019 incident in which she berated a police officer over a parking spot, using her social media page to drum up outrage against her colleagues, suggesting members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus could not represent all Virginians, and calling the Democratic Party treasonous and “racist to its core.”

But it was her rationalizations for the mob attack on the Capitol that prompted the Democratic-led Senate to act.

Speaking in her own defense, Chase’s tone alternated between defiant and apologetic. Her colleagues had already given her a chance to avoid censure by apologizing and clarifying her remarks on the floor. But after a speech she gave last week fell short of those expectations, the censure vote moved forward.

Chase began her remarks by lashing out at other senators for their perceived misdeeds, accusing the body of employing “double standards” to selectively mete out punishment.

“You have the audacity to stand on the floor of this Senate and condemn me?” she said. “How dare you.”

She then denounced hate groups and anyone who broke the law during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, a shift from previous comments in which she called the mob “patriots.” Chase had also offered up particular praise for Ashli Babbit, a supporter of former President Donald Trump who was fatally shot as she tried to push her way through a broken door into a secure area of the Capitol.

Chase said she was sorry she had “hurt a lot of your feelings in this room” and asked why her colleagues had not spoken to her personally if they had been offended by her conduct.

She then threatened to sue the Senate if the censure went through.

“If the Senate chooses to humiliate me, to irreparably damage my reputation… I will not be without remedy to clear my name,” Chase said.

Chase suggested Wednesday’s proceedings were highly unusual because she hadn’t been accused of a crime or official misconduct and was being punished for “politically protected free speech.”

Some of her colleagues also seemed to wrestle with the question of when outlandish political rhetoric crosses the line into something worthy of formal censure. No Republicans spoke up in Chase’s defense. Several said they wouldn’t cast a vote either way lest a no vote be seen as a sign of approval.

Saslaw said that, in his view, a non-vote was still a vote against censure.

“You’re just not putting it up on the board,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, standing, gave a fiery address in support of a resolution censuring Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, during the floor session of the Virginia Senate inside the Science Museum in Richmond, VA Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. The Senate later passed the resolution, 21-9, with several senators not voting. (Pool photo by Bob Brown, Richmond Times-Dispatch).

The three Republicans who voted to censure Chase were Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, and Sens. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania and Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier.

In a news release, the Senate Republican Caucus said its members were “guided by their consciences” on the censure vote, while adding GOP senators are “united in their disappointment in Senator Chase and their disdain for her actions.”

“While we remain hopeful today’s action discourages the frequent disruptions and distractions fomented by Senator Chase, the experience of our caucus suggests otherwise,” Senate GOP leaders said. “We sincerely hope this is the exceptional circumstance where Senator Chase exceeds our expectations.”

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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.