Seeing Red
Baltimore magazine|April 2021
Does Congressman Andy Harris represent the future or end of the Maryland GOP?

On January 6, as alarmed Americans were still grappling with the afternoon’s shocking images of the Donald Trump-inspired insurrection at the Capitol, a just-evacuated Andy Harris sat down in his House office for a virtual interview with WBAL-TV.

While waiting for word if Congress would reconvene to finish the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory, Maryland’s 1st District representative was calm. Disconcertingly so, given the day’s extraordinary and tragic events. Leaning back in his chair, Harris recounted witnessing Capitol police escorting House leaders “Mr. Hoyer, Speaker Pelosi, Mr. Scalise” off the floor. He matter-of-factly described being told that tear gas had been deployed in the rotunda and members of Congress should be prepared to use the emergency gas masks beneath their seats. He gave hint of a smile as he recalled the mob banging on the chamber door, comparing “the thumping” to the enthusiasm witnessed when a president arrives for a State of the Union. “Obviously, later we heard there was a gunshot, but other than that,” Harris said, “there was no indication that this was a truly violent protest, as violent as one as you would worry about.”

Also disconcerting: While Harris said he didn’t support rioters breaking windows or disobeying lawful police orders, he stressed that he understood their frustration. He repeated Donald Trump’s debunked allegations that credible reports of election fraud had not been investigated and absolved the president of any role in fomenting the Capitol invasion. Instead, Harris—one of the Republicans challenging that day’s generally pro forma affair—placed blame with the summer’s Black Lives Matter protestors, whom he claimed had normalized violent political protest.

It went downhill from there.

After Congress reconvened, Harris got into a shouting match and near-tussle with a Democrat. During a Fox Baltimore interview the next morning, he spread the uncorroborated charge that leftist provocateurs were behind the Capitol assault. A week later, he skipped the House vote on impeachment altogether. A week after that, Capitol police stopped him after a handgun in his possession set off a magnetometer near the House chamber (a situation currently under investigation).

Not a good start to the sixth term of this GOP congressman who has said he will run next year? Not necessarily. Even with some Republican constituents joining Democratic officials in calling for his resignation, Andy Harris isn’t likely to pay a political price for his mounting controversies. The way his district is currently drawn, Harris’ stature in the eyes of his Trump-loving base might have only grown.

“The Democrats have no one to blame but themselves,” quips Richard Vatz, a conservative Towson University political analyst. In other words, to understand the often out-there politics of Andy Harris, you’ve got to understand the gerrymandering that enables him.

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