Billings Gazette: Montana delegation stays safe during mob assault, condemn violation

by Tom Lutey

As Trump supporters launched a seditious occupation of Congress on Wednesday, Montana’s congressional delegation fled to safety.

Staff for U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester confirmed the lawmakers were safe, following a Trump-supporting mob breaching of the U.S. Senate and House and killing one person.

For more than eight hours, Rep. Matt Rosendale’s staff did not respond to texts, emails or phone calls, but Rosendale’s Twitter account did post that he was safe.

As the House again met to certify the election, Rosendale said in an email that he wouldn’t be recognizing election results from some states.

Rosendale had earlier tweeted about the “tyranny” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, but his account had been inactive two hours into the meltdown. When he confirmed his safety on Twitter, Rosendale also thanked the police for keeping him safe. He said he didn’t condone violence.

Trump’s supporters effectively disrupted the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win over Trump in the 2020 election.

Trump is relying on disproven election conspiracy theories while attempting to overturn his election loss to Biden.

The message of the mob, that 2020 election fraud was real, is in line with statements made by Rosendale and Daines in the days leading up to the certification of the 2020 presidential election. The mob alleged voter fraud and waived “stop the steal” placards.

Both Rosendale and Daines had said there were credible voter fraud allegations before Wednesday, though neither identified a single instance despite being asked to. Both had planned to oppose the election results of states Trump lost. As the proceedings began in the Senate, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, implored senators to certify an election that wasn’t close and not foment division over bogus conspiracy theories. Not doing so, McConnell said, would send Democracy into a death spiral.

Daines was expected to speak in the opposition to certifying the electoral votes of some states. Reading through state’s results alphabetically, the Senate only got as far as Arizona before the chaos outside spilled into the building.

On Twitter, as the Trump mob smashed windows to enter the building, Daines said “I condemn any kind of violence and intimidation. This is unacceptable.”

Six hours after the riot began, Daines issued this statement in full:

“Today is a sad day for our country. The destruction and violence we saw at our Capitol today is an assault on our democracy, our Constitution and the rule of law, and must not be tolerated. As Americans, we believe in the right to peaceful protest. We must rise above the violence. We must stand together. We will not let today’s violence deter Congress from certifying the election. We must restore confidence in our electoral process. We must, and we will, have a peaceful and orderly transition of power.”

Daines made no indication whether he would continue to oppose electors from Arizona or other swing states Trump lost, or insist on investigating already disproven claims of election fraud.

Earlier on Wednesday, before the certification process was to start, Tester told the Billings Chamber of Commerce that challenges to the election promised by a minority of Republicans were unconstitutional and dangerous.

“As far as political games, I can tell you that this is one of the worst days I have spent in Washington D.C. in the last 14 years,” Tester said via video conference. “Why? Because what’s going on right now goes directly against our Constitution. The votes have been counted. They’ve been tallied. They’ve been confirmed by the state. They’ve all been done in a nonpartisan, bipartisan way. And what is going on right now is dangerous to our democracy, is dangerous to our nation, and I think it will hurt this nation, including Montana for years to come.”

After the riot began, Tester issued a statement condemning the attack: “The election is over and the time for baseless objections that do nothing but undermine our Constitution is over, too. Now is the time for both sides to come together to solve the pressing problems facing our nation, not rip it apart.”

Several observers warned leading up to Wednesday’s chaos that Republicans giving credibility to disproven claims of voter fraud knew better, but were dangerously pandering to Trump voters.

“They know this is bullshit. They all know this, whether it’s Rosendale, whether it’s (Ted) Cruz, whether it’s (Josh) Hawley. They all know it’s bullshit,” said Reed Galen of the Lincoln Project, a Republican group that opposed Trump’s reelection. “Why do they do this? Because they understand there are two wings of the Republican Party. There’s the ever-shrinking and rapidly-shrinking establishment part of the party, of which I was a proud member for many years, going back to when I was a kid. And, there’s the authoritarian Trumpy wing.

“They have decided in their own ways, through their actions, that the authoritarian Trumpy wing is ascendant and likely to be dominant for the foreseeable future. Therefore, they’re going to choose this easy path to the dark side, which is to go through all this rigmarole.”

Trump’s attempt to flip the election has received strong support from Montana’s top ticket Republicans who for weeks fomented doubts about the legitimacy of the vote.

Last month, then-Attorney General Tim Fox, on Montana’s behalf, joined a Texas lawsuit attempting to overturn election results in four key states Trump lost. The gist of the failed lawsuit was that voting changes, such as mail ballots, made during the pandemic weren’t done through legislatures and were therefore illegal. It was one of several failed lawsuits making similar claims. Montana’s owns mail election rules were done under order of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, to the objection of Republicans who said mail elections put the GOP at a disadvantage. Republicans swept Montana’s statewide and federal elections under the rules.

In Congress, Greg Gianforte joined 100 Republican lawmakers who asked that four swing states Trump lost not be allowed to participate in the Electoral College. Montana’s only U.S Representative at the time, Gianforte is now governor.

Weeks after the election, Daines insisted the presidency still wasn’t settled.

At every step, the state’s top Republican politicians suggested there was something wrong with the election and that Trump hadn’t lost, despite votes being counted and recounted, and dozens of pro-Trump lawsuits being found meritless by courts.