Chase censured for ‘conduct unbecoming of a senator’ in bipartisan vote
Chesterfield County state senator is first to be censured since 1987
With the support of Republicans and Democrats, the Virginia State Senate on Wednesday censured Sen. Amanda Chase, R- Chesterfield County, for “failure to uphold her oath of office, misuse of office and conduct unbecoming of a senator” based on a laundry list of controversies extending over the past two years.
In a 24-9 vote, with six Republicans abstaining, Chase became the first state senator to be censured in Virginia since 1987, when Norfolk Democratic Sen. Peter Balabas was sanctioned for not disclosing a conflict of interest.
The vote also placed Chase last in seniority, a move that is even more rare than censure, although it is unlikely to have much of a material effect on the senator, who has been stripped of all committee assignments over the past two years since leaving the Senate Republican Caucus.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax County, said, “Since taking her oath in 2016, Sen. Amanda Chase has over and over again engaged in behavior unbecoming of a senator. She propagated conspiracy theories; lied to her constituents, followers, and colleagues; praised those who espoused racist and anti-Semitic sentiments; and on many other occasions brought disrepute upon herself, and by extension, the Senate of Virginia. Sen. Amanda Chase’s conduct had to be held accountable, and that’s what we did today.”
The vote came after more than an hour of speeches against Chase — with some of the the most forceful delivered by Chase’s fellow Republicans.
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City, the leader of the Senate Republican Caucus, accused Chase of “absolute hypocrisy” and of violating “personal integrity,” based partly on Chase’s actions over the past few days as she has battled the censure motion.
Despite Chase’s comment last week on the floor that she had not filed a resolution to censure Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, for her attendance at a social justice protest last summer, Norment said he had found out that Chase had attempted to file the resolution twice but had not been allowed to do so because it would have exceeded the limit on the number of bills a senator can file during the short session.
“Violation of personal integrity is totally unacceptable, totally unacceptable,” said Norment, who voted to censure Chase.
“How dare you!” said an indignant Chase, addressing Norment. She then referred to years-old ethical controversies Norment was involved in, as well as criminal charges against Lucas — since dropped — that stemmed from a Portsmouth protest.
“The reason I left the caucus was because of your improprieties. Your affairs, your lies. … Your behavior, sir, does not become a sitting senator,” Chase said. “To the senator from Portsmouth, who was arrested on two felony counts this year, give me a break! You should be on the floor defending me. I was never even charged with a crime. I was never even arrested for a crime.”
Laundry list of controversies
On Tuesday, chief sponsor Sen. John J. Bell, D-Loudoun, added an eight-paragraph list of controversies to support the resolution’s charges. It started with Chase’s 2019 conflict with a state Capitol police officer over parking and also mentioned Chase’s anti-masking stance during the pandemic, as well as a series of comments and social media posts by Chase that have been broadly criticized for denigrating Black people, rape victims and state Democrats. The censure resolution also chastised Chase for “propagating unfounded claims” about the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump supporters. The censure resolution’s revised wording was accepted by a voice vote Tuesday, despite Chase’s objections that the First Amendment covers her right to make such statements, “inflammatory” or not.
Chase continued to deliver the same argument Wednesday, saying her conduct is protected by the Constitution and threatening to sue the state Senate if it went forward with the vote against her.
In an interview Tuesday night, Bell said he made the changes to address other senators’ freedom of speech concerns and expected to receive more votes on the reworded resolution, including some Republican support. Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, said the Senate Democrats Caucus had a “knockdown, drag-out fight” over what warranted censure that resulted in the rewording of the measure. While he supported the censure resolution, Morrissey added that he believes some of the criticisms of Chase listed in the censure are “protected” speech, including Chase’s comment that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.”
The first draft of the resolution, introduced on the first day of the General Assembly, sought Chase’s censure “for fomenting insurrection,” citing her speech and attendance at the Jan. 6 pro-Trump demonstration that preceded the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and her social media posts about it. However, the revised censure resolution dropped the “insurrection” accusation and instead sought to censure and place the gubernatorial hopeful last in seniority “for failure to uphold her oath of office, misuse of office and conduct unbecoming of a senator.”
In comments Wednesday, Chase also called out other senators — including Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania County, and Morrissey — for actions she argued were not becoming of a senator.
“What a double standard,” Chase said with a raised voice. Addressing Morrissey, who has had multiple legal run-ins over the years, including serving three months in jail as a former state delegate for contributing to the delinquency of a minor (stemming from his relationship with a then-17-year-old girl who is now his wife), Chase said that she was always “kind” to Morrissey.
Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, interrupted Chase mid-sentence, saying that she was breaching decorum and called for a brief break. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, serving as president of the Senate, reminded the legislative body of its rules requiring that they observe decorum during debate “and to treat everyone with respect.”
Chase resumed with a more chastened tone, saying that she was disappointed in her colleagues who “never once” came to her privately to discuss their grievances as they occurred. She said that she prays and added that “my heart is right with the Lord.”
Chase then specifically denounced white supremacists among the people who breached the U.S. Capitol. “I don’t support any of those groups. I don’t support any groups that support hate,” Chase said. She also condemned everyone “who broke the law” during the siege and said they should be arrested.
It was a change in tone for Chase, who, after the Jan. 6 insurrection, used the the word “patriots” in regard to the rioters in a post on her official Facebook page and said that pro-Trump rioter and Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt had been “brutally murdered by Capitol Police.”
‘A call for help’
Before Wednesday’s censure vote, several Republican senators took to the floor and condemned their colleague but ultimately abstained from voting. Some said that although they didn’t support the resolution on freedom of speech or procedural grounds, they also didn’t want to show support for Chase by voting against censure.
“She has long ago exhausted any remaining reservoir of trust and credibility with most of her colleagues, if not all of her colleagues,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg. “And I am not sure, that at this point in time, she can claim a single member of the General Assembly — not just [in] the Senate, but the House of Delegates and the Senate — as an ally.”
Obenshain also decried the senator’s “narcissistic behavior” and “total unfamiliarity with truth,” while indicating that he would abstain from voting. Under different circumstances, Obenshain said, he likely would have voted against the resolution on First Amendment grounds but would not do so because he did not want to endorse Chase’s “antics.”
Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., R-Franklin County, decried Chase’s “sense of entitlement,” as well as “greed and ambition.” Although he did not support the resolution, he added, “I will not vote ‘no’ because it is a reward for bad behavior.”
Others said they hoped Chase would seek help, including Sen. Stephen Newman, R-Bedford County, who suggested that Chase’s behavior both inside and outside of the Senate “represents a call for help.” Newman objected to the process of the resolution, which was changed significantly on Tuesday in substitute text, but that the charges — focusing on Chase’s overall behavior during the past two years — should have all been debated in committee before coming to a final floor vote.
In a statement issued by the Senate Republican Caucus after the vote, party leaders said it was “disheartening” to spend time in the Senate on the censure instead of business affecting the state. “Sen. 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 today.” Although GOP senators voted differently — three supporting the resolution, nine voting against and six abstaining — “all … are united in their disappointment in Sen. Chase and their disdain for her actions,” the statement said.
‘Politically motivated hit job’
The censure resolution shifted focus Tuesday to Chase’s overall behavior over the past two years, instead of only on her conduct Jan. 6, when she spoke at a rally on the National Mall hours before the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol, which led to five deaths. Chase left the area around the Capitol before the takeover and departed Washington, D.C., shortly after. But in a Facebook post that evening, she wrote, “These were not rioters and looters; these were Patriots who love their country and do not want to see our great republic turn into a socialist country.”
In a news release from her campaign Wednesday, Chase threatened to sue the Senate if it moved forward with the censure, calling the entire process “a politically motivated hit job.”
She says she’s being targeted because she is “the Republican frontrunner in the race for governor” and has outraised former House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, who entered the gubernatorial race in November. Chase was the first GOP hopeful to declare her candidacy, announcing in February 2020.
As of Dec. 31, 2020, Chase had raised $668,982 and Cox had raised $393,631, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, and her balance at the end of the year was $229,745, while Cox had $341,896 on hand. The field of five Republican candidates are competing for the nomination that will be decided by convention May 1.
On Jan. 22, in an effort to avoid censure, Chase made an apology to the Senate in a speech on the floor, saying, “If I have offended any one of you in this room because I am very passionate about the Constitution, I apologize.”
Bell had offered to strike the resolution if Chase made a full apology and condemned violent actors in the Capitol siege, but he and other Democrats felt Chase’s speech “fell far short” of what they required. In her speech, Chase continued to defend her conduct and also criticized a public radio journalist whom she said misattributed a quote to her.
Later Friday, as the resolution went forward, Chase returned to her defiant stance, tweeting that she would “wear [the censure] like a badge of honor.” On her Twitter account, she hurled criticism at Lucas for taking part in a social justice protest last June in which a Confederate statue was taken down by demonstrators hours after the president pro tempore had left the area; and Norment, who was embroiled in ethics controversies several years ago but was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing after a federal investigation in 2015.
“Sen. Norment, it’s not good to throw rocks in glass houses,” Chase tweeted Tuesday night, adding that he, too, should be censured.
In her campaign’s announcement Wednesday, Chase said the censure was “nothing more than a failed attempt to tarnish my good name, reputation and solid conservative record. We are going to fight this unprecedented political hit job and prevail.”