‘Pattern of unacceptable conduct’: Focus of Chase censure changes
In revamped measure, Chesterfield senator now faces censure for series of controversies
A newly reworded resolution to censure state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County, seeks to place the ardent Trump supporter and gubernatorial hopeful last in seniority “for failure to uphold her oath of office, misuse of office and conduct unbecoming of a senator.” It no longer seeks censure “for fomenting insurrection,” as a previous version read.
The Senate resolution now includes a list of controversies surrounding Chase, including: her conflict with a state Capitol police officer in 2019; her anti-masking stance; statements seen as derogatory toward rape victims, Black people and state Democrats; and “propagating unfounded claims” about the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Chase spoke at the pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C. that preceded the violent insurrection and left the National Mall in the early afternoon, before the breach of the Capitol building. In a social media post, she used the word “patriots” in regard to the rioters and said that pro-Trump rioter and charged that Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt “was brutally murdered by Capitol Police.”
“The inflammatory statements and actions of Senator Amanda F. Chase during her tenure in the Senate of Virginia have created and aggravated tensions, misled constituents and citizens, and obstructed the Senate’s business in service of the commonwealth,” the resolution now reads. “Such behavior … has caused a material effect upon the conduct of her office.”
In eight paragraphs, the resolution outlines Chase’s “pattern of unacceptable conduct,” including her criticism of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s status as vice chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, saying she is “not for all Virginians.” The resolution also mentions Chase’s widely circulated quote, “I don’t do COVID,” implying that the coronavirus is a choice. And it calls Chase out for making “baseless claims of a ‘stolen’ [presidential] election,” without proof and contrary to state election certifications and nationwide court rulings against claims made by President Donald Trump’s campaign.
The censure resolution is likely to be voted on by the full state Senate on Wednesday or Thursday.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. John J. Bell, D-Loudoun County, explained that he adjusted the wording after a discussion with Senate colleagues about their concerns that the original resolution may have treaded on Chase’s freedom of speech, as it criticized her for speaking at the Jan. 6 rally. He also said on the Senate floor Tuesday night that he was continuing to pursue the censure — which would be the first such measure in 35 years if passed — because Chase’s speech last week “fell far short” of an apology and full condemnation of violent actors at the U.S. Capitol. Bell and Chase had previously discussed a deal, in which if she gave an unconditional apology and clarified her comments about the Capitol breach, he would strike the resolution.
Bell added in an interview Tuesday that the changes are likely to gain the measure more votes, including from some Republican senators. Chase, who left the Senate Republican Caucus in 2019, has strained relations with her party. She was kicked out of the Chesterfield County Republican Party after butting heads with the county’s Republican sheriff and criticizing him on social media. In 2020, a Republican senator’s aide formed an anti-Chase political action committee, the Unfit Virginia PAC, to oppose her bid for this year’s GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Chase on Tuesday attempted to get the censure resolution discarded by arguing that the new wording was an attempt by Bell to “come up with another reason to try to embarrass me before the commonwealth of Virginia.” She added that all of her comments, “inflammatory” or not, are protected by the First Amendment and that the substituted resolution is not germane to her Senate duties.
In his role as Senate president, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax ruled that the censure’s new wording was germane and allowed the measure to go forward with the changes. Chase then asked to postpone the vote by one day, giving her more time to build her argument.
Kicking off a brief parliamentary discussion, Bell objected to the delay, as did Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City, who noted that Chase did not speak when the resolution was before the Senate Privileges & Elections committee last week. “I don’t think it disadvantages her that she can make the same spurious argument when we take the matter up,” Norment said.
Arguing in favor of the delay, however, was Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico County, saying it was a typical Senate courtesy to allow a one-day delay at the request of a member.
“While I respect what was said on the floor today, on a personal level, my mother-in-law had open-heart surgery today,” Chase said, her voice choking. “I need to go check on my mother-in-law, and I will not be preparing statements for this tonight.”
Bell agreed to withdraw his objection, as did Norment, who said that he did so out of respect for Bell and “not attributable to tears.” Bell said later it was a “surprise” when Chase mentioned her mother-in-law. “She never mentioned that to me or to anyone else. I reversed, taking her at her word.”
Although Chase has been stripped of all committee assignments due to her departure from the GOP caucus, Bell said that being placed last in seniority would be “a major issue” for Chase “because it’s such a rare thing. What I hope changes is her behavior. The honor of the body is at stake.”