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Daines: 'There's Dangerous Rhetoric From All Sides'

Steve Daines stands outside the U.S. Capitol building.
Screenshot from a video of Steve Daines at the U.S. Capitol, October 5, 2018.

Montana's Republican Senator Steve Daines says calls for resignations and the impeachment of President Donald Trump aren’t helping the country heal after a mob of pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol last week.

YPR News’ Kevin Trevellyan spoke Friday with the Senator about how he views the mob and the aftermath.

Kevin Trevellyan: First, like to say that I'm glad to hear that you and your staff are safe. Do you mind just walking me through what happened at the Capitol? Where were you when the mob reached the building?

Steve Daines: Yeah, well, it was certainly a very dark day for democracy and for our country and, i grieve with the families of those um, who lost loved ones, uh, particularly Officer [Brian] Sicknick and especially, in as well as those who were injured. But I was in the Senate chamber. We were moving through the process of certifying the election with the electoral vote, uh, certification. Vice President Pence was presiding over the Senate. Suddenly, one of the Secret Service agents came into the door of the Senate and motioned to the Vice President, it's time to go, and they took the Vice President away. And you could hear a kind of muffled voice, protest voices, you know, shouting and commotion, but it was, it was quite a ways out, they weren't in the building then. You could hear it. And, I mean, we all knew something was going on. You could look on your phone and see the images. But it wasn't long after that when the security teams interrupted the proceedings and worked to secure all the doors in the United States Senate. And there's the first level of the Senate and of course, there's the gallery. And there's doors on both. And so they locked down the Senate. They told us all to stay there as well as our staff members. And there were members of the press that were all held there. We waited there probably for a half hour or so, it might've been less than that. I don't really remember. And then, there was a couple of security agents open the doors up, says, ‘Let's go, let's go, let's go. Come on, we’re going this way.’ And so they evacuated the Senate. Reminded me of a fire drill. Everybody was remaining calm but moving quickly. That was both senators and staff. And we were taken down a hallway there and then down some steps into some tunnels that are part of the capital complex. And then we were taken to a secure location in the Capitol complex. And I remember one of the first things that we did is, after members were phoning their loved ones, after we were phoning to make sure our staff were okay, anybody that has staff members on the Hill. Chaplain Barry Black offered a prayer and Republicans, Democrats, with heads bowed together as he prayed for a resolution of the violence, for the safety of those on the Hill. And then there was a discussion not long after that about perhaps moving senators to a remote location. And both the --

Kevin Trevellyan: And sorry, Senator, I'm going to interrupt you there. I know your time is limited and I want to cover some ground. So I'm going to ask another question. I apologize, I'd like to talk to you about this all day. We're hearing words like ‘coup’ and ‘insurrection’ to describe the mob's actions at the Capitol. I'm just curious: How do you categorize those events?

Steve Daines: Well, they were criminals. No if, and or buts. These are, these are criminals, and it doesn't matter what particular political persuasion one has, I don't care what color hat they have or what flag they're flying. They were criminals and we must hold those criminals accountable for their deplorable actions. These criminals do not reflect Americans or the vast majority of Trump supporters who stand against, against violence. And I am thankful for the Capitol police, for Secret Services, for the FBI who did the very best job they could to keep us safe and I’m grateful for them. But these are criminals and I hope they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Kevin Trevellyan: Do you think the language used by president Trump and some Republicans, including from your campaign, about stealing the election, do you think that language fueled the attack on the Capitol?

Steve Daines: The individuals that did this, they came, I think they came to Washington D.C. with the notion of being, of creating criminal acts. And so there's dangerous rhetoric from all sides and I condemn all of it. It doesn't reflect who we are as Americans. I reject extremism from either side, left or right. And the vast majority of Trump supporters, the vast majority of Montanans, they don't support this. And now’s the point in time where we've got to take the temperature down. And I'm concerned about the rhetoric I'm hearing today. Calls for resignation of members, calls for the resignation of the president, calls for impeachment. There's 12 days left in President Trump's term. Now is the time to take the temperature down, to deescalate. In 12 days, President-elect Biden will be sworn into office.

Kevin Trevellyan: And your point's well taken Senator but I'd just like to return to some of the campaign materials in particular. I have a campaign email from you that solicits donations by saying, quote, "Democrats are desperate to steal this election" unquote, and the email includes your pen signature at the bottom. I'm just wondering whether you think some of that rhetoric possibly has a role in, in sewing distrust in the electoral process, which is, I think, kind of the contention of these people who storm the Capitol.

Steve Daines: Well, um, we've all become, I think too cavalier in believing that it's very easy to distinguish between campaign fundraising hyperbole from the work of actually governing. You know, the reality is there were dark money groups bragging about changing election laws in a belief that could gain 1 percent to win battleground states. And that's why we need some election reforms, not only to protect our elections from real fraud, but also to protect our elections against the perception of fraud. And when we were talking about putting together a commission, and by the way, that commission needs to be put in place going forward, regardless of the fact that we didn't get agreement to get that done this week. We need to move forward to put that commission in place because it's important to restore trust for the American people in the electoral system and to separate out some of the, the truth from the fiction. There’s fiction out there about what happened in this election but there's also facts. And transparency and bringing that to light and debunking the fiction and elevating the truth and the facts, and then allowing the states to act on that, is what I think needs to happen, because when you look at the polling numbers, 31 percent of Independent voters think the election was rigged. Nearly two thirds of Republican voters thought it was rigged. Nearly 20 percent of Democrat voters thought it was, quote, rigged. That's a sad fact, and let's get the facts out and debunk that.

Editor’s note: A Nov. 18, 2020 poll by Reuters/Ipsos found 31 percent of Independents said they “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” to the statement, “I am concerned the election is rigged.” Similarly, 17 percent of Democrats responded “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree,” and 67 percent of Republicans. PolitiFact reviewed statements similar to Daines' made by Sen. Ted Cruz, and called Cruz's reference of the poll "misleading."

Kevin Trevellyan: Right. And I have just one more question on this, then I'll move on to another topic. You mentioned the kind of reality of campaign hyperbole. I'm just curious whether you think that everyday supporters, who did receive your campaign, text messages and emails about the election being stolen, do you think that everyday folks kind of understand that something may be fundraising hyperbole?

Steve Daines: Well, I think it's something for everybody to take away as, uh, looking at the way campaigns are managed, is just, I think both sides and you can look at whether it's Democrats or Republicans, or Independent parties, I think have become too cavalier in believing it's easy to distinguish between campaign fundraising and hyperbole, I think, versus the work of governing. I think that's something that both sides should take to heart.

Kevin Trevellyan: And moving on, you had announced that you intended to challenge electoral votes from Arizona unless election results were audited. Can you talk about why you decided to change your mind and then certify those votes?

Steve Daines: Well, remember the challenges, we’d call the objection and that allows us to have the two hour debate. I never want to put myself in between the electors of the state and their voters. And that is what Congress would have done if they would have rejected some of the electors. That's not the role of Congress in that certification process. The role of Congress here is to make sure the electors are duly chosen and certified by the States. But it was never about overturning an election. Never. That’s, the states make that decision. If we were to elevate that to the Congress, that'd be a very dangerous thing for what our founding fathers, uh, founded this country on, [inaudible] the states to have primacy there. This notion somehow that Vice President Pence could overturn the election, that's flat out false. He can't. That's not his role. His role is to preside over that body. So what we were trying to do was to get the two hour debate, which we did and we were able to make those points on the need for a commission to restore electoral integrity. But, I wanted to make sure we had a moment of unity, particularly coming off of the horrible events of Wednesday. So when it came time to actually vote, actually vote on that objection, I voted no. And that was an important moment here to work, to take the temperature down.

Kevin Trevellyan: And when the mob did start breaking into the Capitol, do you think President Trump did enough to stop it?

Steve Daines: Well, I saw a statement that he made, um, to, uh, rejecting the violence and so forth and that's something that all of us joined in making a statement as quickly as possible to, to demand the violence, were to stop there. There's going to be a significant audit and, um, and reviewing what happened minute by minute, on Wednesday because, I think there's going to be a new, a new way of thinking about security for the capital. I'm sad to say that, but we have to condemn all the violence, but then we also need to look for ways here to ensure it, what we saw happen here on Wednesday never happens again.

Kevin Trevellyan: And on that point, looking forward, are you worried about more violence surrounding the presidential inauguration later this month?

Steve Daines: Well, I just hope that both sides turn the rhetoric down, take the temperature down. And these calls for resignations, it's not helping. And, I'll tell you, I will tell you this. I hope that President Trump will reconsider him going to the inauguration. I think it'd be a good thing if President Trump were there. You look at the history of our country over 230 years, we have had a peaceful transfer of transfer of power in every election. And that's something that other countries look at us, they're envious of the fact that the most powerful person in the world, which is the president of the United States, we can have a peaceful transition of power. And I hope and pray that will happen again on January 20. We're 12 days away and I think both sides of the, you take down the temperature and move away from this rhetoric in this finger pointing at the moment. There'll be time here to fully investigate what happened on January 6. We need to have investigations of, on the security procedures on what caused this, but the bottom line, this is criminal activity. There've been people killed in hurt and so we need to have a bipartisan investigation. In fact, I'm right now working with, just before I start speaking with you, I'm working with a Democrat colleague, Brian Schatz, Senator from Hawaii. We spent time together as we were, in Washington D.C. after the horrible events of the 6th, and we're going to work together to be looking at what we need to do here, for example, to better secure the Capitol. That's the kind of things we should be working on, but these calls for, for resignations, for impeachment when there's only 12 days left in the President's term? I don't think that helps the country. I think it hurts it further.

Katie Schoettler, Daines’ communications director: Hey Kevin, we're going to have to wrap up here.

Kevin Trevellyan: Okay. Time for one more?

Katie Schoettler: Wrap it up quickly, please.

Steve Daines: Let's do one more.

Kevin Trevellyan: I appreciate it. You've mentioned a couple of times, you know, the need to take the temperature down. I'm just curious what exactly that may look like and whether you think any of your own rhetoric maybe needs to change, whether it's from your office, your campaign or you personally?

Steve Daines: Well over the course of the next 12 days, first of all, I think I'd like to see these demands for impeachment, for resignations of senators, of House members, of censorship they're asking about. That's just taking the temperature up and I think this is the time to send a message of unity, coming together, not in any way to diminish the seriousness of what happened on January 6th. But we're about to have a transfer of power following an election. President-elect Biden's electoral votes have been certified. We got that work done, even though these criminals tried to stop that process, we rejected it. We waited until the Capitol complex was clear. We came back late that night. We worked into the wee hours of the next morning. And we got it done. So I just hope that both sides will take the temperature down the next 12 days and send a message of unity. Hey, there's going to be spirited debate about the issues throughout the course of the next year. But over the course of the next 12 days, let's take the temperature down and come together as a nation.

Kevin Trevellyan: Well, Senator I really appreciate the time. Thanks for speaking with us today.

Steve Daines: You bet. Thank you.