Jaime Herrera Beutler is not one to make waves on Capitol Hill. But during Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, she almost created a tsunami.
After she publicly revealed damaging details about Trump’s phone call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Herrera Beutler was nearly ensnared in the Senate trial herself — an episode that later landed her in the GOP leader’s office.
There, during a previously unreported interaction, she got a chance to explain her thinking behind divulging the Trump-McCarthy exchange to reporters, constituents and local officials. And while Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) wouldn’t discuss their private conversation, she stood by her actions surrounding Jan. 6 in a 30-minute interview.
In Herrera Beutler’s view, a member of Congress’ toughest challenge is “when your own team does something you don’t like, and you have to step out and oppose them.”
Herrera Beutler’s stint in the national spotlight hasn’t faded yet. After a 12-year House career spent steering clear of controversy, her high-profile moment of rebellion against a former president who’s still molding the GOP in his image made her into a potential prototype for how to cross Trump and survive in the party. Though Republicans are already lining up to primary her, she’s already shown how to win in a suburban and rural district that became increasingly competitive under Trump.
Still, Herrera Beutler became one of 10 Republicans to vote for impeachment knowing that she might lose her seat over it.
“It would be easy to do this job if everything was hunky-dory and you had total control and it wasn’t so messy,” Herrera Beutler said. “But if I’m going to do this … I want it to count for something.”
And if that means “making sure that our party thrives and continues to defend those ideals that I think are enshrined in the Constitution,” she added, “then it’s worth it. It’s so worth it.”
It remains to be seen whether her impeachment vote and public disclosure of the Trump-McCarthy call — in which, as she relayed it, McCarthy unsuccessfully implored Trump to urge the violent mob to stand down — will hurt Herrera Beutler’s hyper-local brand back home. Herrera Beutler didn’t consider herself a so-called Never Trumper, and in fact voted for him in 2020 after writing in former Speaker Paul Ryan in 2016.
Her response to Jan. 6 may simply further reinforce the independent streak she has become known for on Capitol Hill. The 42-year-old mother of three came to Congress amid the 2010 Tea Party wave that put House Republicans back in power. But unlike some of the flame-throwers in her freshman class, her nature ran toward publicity deflection, and she came to occupy a moderate lane in the Republican conference.
While she preferred to operate behind the scenes, notching bipartisan victories on issues such as maternity care, Herrera Beutler faced pressure to take on a more prominent role in party messaging. Even when she was the only Latina member of the House GOP, though, she didn’t try to climb the leadership ladder.
“I knew there were times I was gonna have to kind of chart my own course,” she said.
That course often ran alongside Trump. Herrera Beutler hailed his tax law as one of the “single biggest benefits” for her district and voted against his first impeachment, when Democrats said Trump abused his power in a phone call to the president of Ukraine.
Yet Herrera Beutler was hardly an unquestioning Trump supporter. Over the course of her career, the congresswoman has voted with Trump just 80 percent of the time, which puts her at the bottom of the pack in the GOP. She never liked Trump’s abrasive style and grew increasingly comfortable speaking out against some of his most controversial policies, including separating migrant families at the border.
That’s why Herrera Beutler’s evolution from low-key to line-crosser on impeachment wasn’t exactly a surprise to many of her colleagues.
“She has a remarkable backbone, and she always tries to do the right thing,” said Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who also voted to impeach. “And I respect the hell out of her.”
Herrera Beutler isn’t worried about whether her actions after the Capitol siege — culminating in a Democratic flirtation with forcing her to testify at Trump’s trial before agreeing to submit her written statement into the record — will define her legacy.
But it certainly could define her next campaign: Trump has already vowed to exact revenge on each of the 10 Republicans who voted to remove him from office, while members of the Clark County Republican Party voted to censure her.
“The number one thing they made the  campaign about, which is ironic to me … was about my willingness to vote for Trump,” Herrera Beutler said. “Fast forward to today and the folks stepping up to run, they’re like, ‘She’s not Trump enough.’”
The blowback she must contend with isn’t limited to Trump and voters in her district. Some GOP colleagues were incensed that she publicly relayed what McCarthy told her about his phone call with Trump during the Capitol siege, where the then-president allegedly sided with rioters.
Then, after a CNN report dredged up some of those details near the end of the Senate trial, Herrera Beutler called on anyone with more information about Trump’s state of mind on Jan. 6 to come forward. Conspiracy theorist Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) promptly dubbed Herrera Beutler “the gift that keeps on giving to the Democrats.”
“It wasn’t something that I had a choice over. … I definitely wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, here’s a way to get my name in the news,’” Herrera Beutler said. “But, you know, sometimes the truth also hurts and you can’t run from it.”
Despite that tension, Herrera Beutler has earned praise from other corners of the GOP and is still considered a valuable asset to the party, which has made electing women and minorities a top priority. Not to mention, Washington’s “jungle” primary system sends the top two candidates to the general election regardless of party, making her path to reelection easier.
Some even think Herrera Beutler’s handling of impeachment could help in her increasingly purple district nestled between Seattle and Portland.
Herrera Beutler “has a unique opportunity to continue to draw more women into the Republican Party,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokesperson for the Winning For Women Action Fund, which aims to boost female GOP candidates.
But she won’t do that by taking the route of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who has become a mainstay on cable news and launched an entire PAC dedicated to taking on the Trump wing of the party. “I am not going to camp here forever,” Herrera Beutler said of the anti-Trump lane.
What she is doing with the profile she gained during the impeachment trial is gauging how to make progress on “things that benefit this district and this nation,” as she put it.
“Maybe part of my role is to help us return to who we are,” Herrera Beutler said. “Right now, when you talk with millennials and younger, I don’t know that they want to join this club. Like, it doesn’t seem like a fun party, right? There’s no room for individual thought.”
Her prescription for how to steer the party away from its obsession with Trump and back toward its conservative roots doesn’t include calling for a shake-up in GOP leadership. Herrera Beutler said she stands by the entire Republican leadership team and would back McCarthy for speaker or minority leader in the next Congress. It’s OK for her leaders to have different views than her, she argued.
But she added: “That’s a two-way street. I’m not going to embrace someone who is dividing the party. And they have to be OK with that, too.”