Republican legislative leaders on Monday turned down multiple opportunities to denounce views that the 2020 election was stolen, refusing multiple times to contradict the claims of pro-Trump extremists, who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, faced questions from reporters related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, as well as questions about the attendance by some GOP lawmakers at a St. Paul rally called “Storm the Capitol” on the same day.
They participated in a virtual event hosted by Forum News Service that featured all four legislative caucus leaders, as well as DFL Gov. Tim Walz.
The leaders in recent days have condemned the violent acts in Washington, D.C. that led to the deaths of several people, including one U.S. Capitol police officer who died from injuries sustained in the attack. On Monday, however, Gazelka refused to denounce claims that the election was fraudulent, illegal or unfair.
“A lot of people feel like it was not a fair election,” Gazelka said, before criticizing Twitter for preventing the circulation of a discredited New York Post story regarding Hunter Biden, the son of President-elect Joe Biden. “Almost 40% of those that voted for President-elect Biden didn’t even know about it, and so that’s the kind of thing that they feel like is not fair.”
In December, 15 Republican lawmakers, including seven state senators, signed onto a letter addressed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, asking him to sue Minnesota. “We believe that Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon knowingly and deliberately conducted an illegal election by virtue of his manipulation of the law,” the letter said, referring to a consent decree approved by a Minnesota judge to extend mail-in ballot deadlines because of the pandemic.
Gazelka also erroneously claimed the election was close; Biden won 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232, about the same margin as Trump’s 2016 victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Biden also received more than 7 million more votes than Trump.
“Anytime you have a very, very, very close election, you’re going to have a lot of frustration,” Gazelka said. “And I think it’s important that we listen, and that is what I’m doing.”
Daudt, for his part, said he did not agree with claims that the election was unfair, but said nonetheless it was important that elected officials pay attention to voters’ concerns. “What we need to do as leaders is recognize that there is a swath of our population that believes that the election maybe wasn’t fair,” he said. “What we need to do is instill confidence back into them that our system is fair and that and that doesn’t mean ignoring their concerns. It means listening to them and finding out why.”
One reason Republican voters may erroneously think the election was stolen: President Donald Trump has spent weeks telling them so.
Walz on Friday told the Reformer that he hoped Republican leaders would step up to forcefully defend the country’s election and grew visibly angry on Monday that Gazelka and Daudt were equivocating. Walz said that when the rally migrated to the governor’s residence, the Minnesota State Patrol for the first time had to relocate his son from the house “as he’s crying looking for his dog, wondering what’s going on.”
Both men falsely said that Democratic leaders had not similarly condemned the riots and looting that racked Minneapolis and St. Paul last summer after the police killing of George Floyd. They also repeatedly criticized the threatening rhetoric of state Rep. John Thompson, who protested at the home of Minneapolis police union president Bob Kroll, beating a piñata effigy of Kroll and his wife, WCCO journalist Liz Collin.
Thompson, who was sworn in for his first term last week, said during the August rally in suburban Hugo, “Come on over here with your ‘Blue Lives Matter’ sign. Blue live ain’t s—, and if people in Hugo don’t support black people, f— Hugo.” He said he’d be content to “let Hugo burn.” DFL legislative leaders later condemned his remarks and canceled a planned fundraiser with Thompson.
Walz threatened to exit the Monday event early, but relented: “I’m incredibly disappointed in this conversation,” he said, saying Republicans are trying to falsely equivocate the summer’s racial injustice protests with the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol.
“All of a sudden we’re going to say both sides do this, but you know, these people are angry because this election was rigged,” Walz said. “The election was not rigged. The election was carried out. I’ve lived through elections where my side lost, and I did not do this.”
Later in the forum, Pioneer Press reporter David Orrick asked Gazelka flatly if he would denounce the lie that the election was stolen.
Gazelka again demurred. “I’m (going to) let you do your job, David. I have made the public statements I’ve put it on my Facebook right after Dec. 6, about what I think happened, and that the process is in place to make sure there’s a peaceful transition of power,” he said. “You’re going to have to do the digging.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, called on her GOP counterparts to take a stand against the violent rhetoric and false claims of a fraudulent election.
“They have this moment where they can decide whether they are the party of QAnon, or they’re the party of Lincoln, and Reagan,” she said. “They have the opportunity to take the leadership stance and totally reject and repudiate people who are calling for casualties, people who are calling for civil war, and people who are falsely claiming that we did not have a free and fair and lawful election in the state of Minnesota.”