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Montana's congressional delegation condemns Jan. 6 violence, but disagrees on how to move forward

A year after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Montana’s congressional delegation agrees that acts of violence should be condemned. But they disagree on how to characterize what happened and how to move forward.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester spoke with Montana Public Radio on Jan. 7, 2021, one day after pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“I watched with total disbelief these terrorists on the floor of the United States Senate, a very sacred place for me personally, and watched them on the floor of the House, and watched them trample through the halls of the Capitol, and asked myself, oh, what the hell has this country become,'" he said.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines was on the Senate floor on Jan. 6.

"Security agents open the doors up, and says, ‘Let's go, let's go, let's go. Come on, we’re going this way,'" he told Yellowstone Public Radio then. "And so they evacuated the Senate.

"It reminded me of a fire drill. Everybody was remaining calm but moving quickly. And then we were taken to a secure location in the Capitol complex.”

More than 700 people have been arrested for their part in the attack on the Capitol, which was fueled by disinformation and a lie that Republican former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Rioters broke windows and doors, stole personal property, made threats and assaulted law enforcement. Several people died in connection to the insurrection, including at least seven police officers and people in the crowd.

Daines, Tester and Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale say those who committed acts of violence need to be held accountable. But they disagree on how to accomplish that goal, and on the severity of what occurred.

The events of Jan. 6 are often referred to as an insurrection, or a violent uprising against an authority or government. Tester has gone so far as to call it an attempted coup, and says using that terminology is important.

“We got a lot of folks out there that downplay what happened on the 6th," he told Montana Public Radio ahead of anniversary of the incident. "And the 6th was something that we need to take seriously, because it’s not something that’s conducive to a democracy functioning appropriately.”

A year later, Daines does not call the attack on the Capitol an insurrection.

“This was a protest. Remember, there were tens of thousands of people who were making their voice heard that day," Daines said. "You had a group of individuals who broke the law when they broke into the Senate, into the House, the Capitol; when they assaulted members of law enforcement.

"But it was not an insurrection.”

Daines says criminal prosecution should continue for those involved who have been charged. But he says the U.S. House investigation into what caused the events should end.

“I’m very concerned that Nancy Pelosi is choosing to politicize this issue that further divides our country," he said.

Daines says an earlier bipartisan investigation conducted by the U.S. Senate accomplished its goal of giving recommendations to prevent the events of Jan. 6 from happening again.

Tester disagrees and says more needs to be done to learn about the information given to law enforcement on Jan. 6 and why it took so long for the National Guard to respond.

“I think the investigation the Senate did was pretty milquetoast, quite frankly," Tester said. "There's a lot of things we don’t know that happened on Jan. 6 that hopefully the House will find out."

On Jan. 6, 2021, Montana’s lone U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale returned to the House after the mob was cleared of the building. He joined nearly 150 other Republicans in voting to object to election results. The objections pivoted around baseless allegations of election fraud.

Rosendale also voted against the House investigation. He declined an interview with MTPR, but said through a spokesperson that instead of focusing on security concerns, the House investigation is focused on "recommending criminal charges be brought against political opponents." He said it’s time to move on from what happened.

The House committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 attack first met last summer and continues to call on people to testify about their involvement in the events or the political movement that fueled it.

Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.