Utah Rep. Blake Moore’s first 10 days in Congress a baptism under fire

SALT LAKE CITY — To greet Blake Moore with the often trite phrase “How are you?” didn’t seem to be the right way to start a conversation.

The first 10 days in office for Utah’s new 1st District congressman were not only a baptism by fire but a baptism under fire.

The 40-year-old father of three boys was in the House chamber Jan. 6 when armed supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in an experience he could only describe as “harrowing.” He feared for his life, and the lives of his wife and children at home in Utah.

Moore also had a decision to make that day as Congress conducted the usually perfunctory task of counting states’ electoral votes for president. More than a hundred of his Republicans colleagues, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, whom Moore had voted for as speaker, planned to challenge the results in several states that Trump lost. What should he do?

A week later to the day, Moore found himself with another tough and unexpected decision to make — one he called the most painful of his life — as House Democrats sought to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection. Again, what should he do?

So, casually asking him how he was doing like people do when they really don’t expect an answer seemed out of place

“I appreciate you kind of even hesitating to ask that question because it’s been a very emotional, strenuous 10 days. It’s been quite an entry into this new world,” Moore said on the telephone a few hours after the impeachment vote Wednesday.

Through it all, Moore said he discovered something about himself.

“It’s just a lot to take in in a very short amount of time. I was glad to have the clarity that I did,” he said. “I actually look at both of those decisions that I had to make on the Wednesdays . . . And what ultimately came out of it for me was very much an objective framework to use. That’s something I learned about myself.”

That perhaps wonkish realization may serve the former management consultant well in his budding political career.

One of Moore’s first votes in Congress ran counter to the majority of his fellow House Republicans. He did not join the 121 Republicans who voted to exclude Arizona from the presidential election and the 138, including Utah GOP Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens, who voted the same for Pennsylvania in a failed effort to overturn the outcome.

When he voted against the majority in his party on his third day in office, Moore said he realized he could make seemingly hard and unpopular decisions. He said voting to strip electoral votes from a sovereign state is a dangerous precedent, and that he didn’t hear anything to justify it.

Just a week later, now 10 days into his first term, Moore would face another much more agonizing decision.

Voting on whether to impeach the president wasn’t on Moore’s schedule for the week. On Tuesday, he was supposed to speak at the Salt Lake Chamber about the economy. He had planned to spend Wednesday at Hill Air Force Base, a mainstay in his northern Utah district.

Instead, he found himself reading articles of impeachment, sifting through information, talking to colleagues, conferring with his staff and hearing from voters to figure out where he stood.

Moore also found himself making his first speech on the House floor. Noticeably and admittedly nervous, the one-time college quarterback called an audible while arguing against impeachment. He didn’t change his mind but abandoned his prepared remarks midsentence to implore the country to pull itself together.

“As I listened to this debate, it’s no wonder that this nation is divided. We are on an absolute race to the bottom, and I was hoping last week we could have hit rock bottom,” he said in the one-minute speech. “I commit to doing better and I hope that we all can dig in and find a way.”

The decision to vote against impeaching Trump was harder than the one on electoral votes, he said.

“There was a lot of personal connection with this for me,” Moore said.

He saw the rising crowd outside the Capitol through a window in the House chamber. He saw images of rioters occupying the Senate chamber. He heard the mob banging on the barricaded House doors.

Moore said he aches for the people who lost their lives that day and for those who will relive the trauma for years to come.

Even though trapped for a time in the middle of the siege, he said he had to “step out of it and not let that stuff get in the way and make an objective decision.”

Moore said a hasty impeachment would set as dangerous a precedent as a misguided attempted to overturn state-certified elections.

“Impeachment this rushed, this quickly, without any hearing is also a very dangerous precedent to set and impeachment will always be in my time serving a very high bar,” he said.

In a statement following the vote, Moore said: “To my critics — and there will be many — please know that this was the most painful decision I have ever made in my life.”

“You hear all these words like vote your conscience, vote your district. There’s so many different things thrown at you on how you go about making your decision. I was really thrilled to be able to land objectivity, look at all sides. I’m proud of the way I ultimately voted on both situations,” he said, adding he’s prepared to defend his decisions.

That doesn’t mean Moore doesn’t find Trump culpable for the Capitol riot.

“I do think he has responsibility in this,” he said.

Moore signed onto a resolution to censure the president. He also asked to join a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack. Those efforts don’t appear headed anywhere in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

But he didn’t want to weigh in on whether the Senate should convict Trump and ban him from running for office in the future.

“I’m going to let things play out with that,” Moore said.