SYRACUSE — As a federal prosecutor who put organized crime members in jail, Congressman John Katko got his fair share of threats.
“I thought I had lot of threats as a prosecutor,” said Katko in a farewell appearance at Syracuse University Monday afternoon. “I had far more threats as a member of Congress. That’s hard to believe in today’s age, but that’s the reality.”
Katko, who represents the 24th District, was one of just 10 GOP House members to vote with Democrats to impeach former President Donald Trump over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. That decision, which the Republican from the Syracuse suburb of Camillus said he does not regret, resulted in outrage among Trump loyalists across the country, who trolled him on social media. Some branded him a traitor.
Katko said a local Republican official said he’d rather vote for a Democrat because of his vote to impeach, which the congressman found alarming.
Grant Reeher, professor of political science and director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute, which hosted the event, said the congressman “demonstrated a personal dignity and respect for the institutions and democracy.”
That’s something many of his fellow Republicans in Congress have failed to do, Katko said.
He said that privately, many Republicans agreed with him that Trump deserved impeachment for his role in inciting the rioters who broke into the Capitol, but that they didn’t have the courage to do the right thing because it might threaten their chances of reelection.
“That was very disturbing to me because they’re in it for the wrong reasons,” he said.
Katko said those Republicans are willing to “compromise everything to stay there. … When you start voting to save your job, it’s time to get out.”
The moderate Republican said he knew he would get backlash for his vote to impeach. Katko also supported the creation of the Jan. 6 committee investigating what Trump and colleagues allegedly did to thwart the transfer of power after he lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden. Katko said he had a “sense of calm” prior to his vote to impeach, but also a “sense of foreboding” for the safety of his wife and children.
The congressman is finishing up his fourth and final term, and he is proud of his bipartisan efforts, noting all the bills he introduced — 100 of them passed — had a Democratic sponsor; in fact, Katko said he wouldn’t introduce a bill unless he had one. He has been rated as the most or one of the most bipartisan members of the House several times.
Some of the bills he was most proud to support include the infrastructure bill and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act, which resulted in what Katko called the biggest economic development project in Central New York since the Erie Canal: the $100 billion Micron computer chips manufacturing operation in Onondaga County.
“We worked in a bipartisan manner to get it done,” he said.
Katko said he “got my teeth kicked in” by fellow Republicans because of his support of the infrastructure bill.
He is hopeful that the division that has marked Washington for so many years is a moment in history, but said it will take a president willing to work with both sides. Katko said he had hoped Biden would be that person, but it has not happened.
Katko, who fielded questions from Reeher and later audience members, said he’s humbled to have served Central New York in Congress.
“I got a lump in my throat every day I walked in there,” he said. “And every single day I walked around and I’d say, ‘How the heck did I get there? How did this happen?’ ”
Katko was asked what he’ll miss the least about the job.
“A lot of my colleagues,” Katko responded.
Katko said he is looking at one more career after leaving Congress, but did not reveal what that next job will be. He also thanked his staff for their support over his eight years, saying he’s the “lead singer in a very good band.”