HELENA — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester wasn’t at the U.S. Capitol when pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the building last Jan. 6, in their attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election of Joe Biden as president.
But he was watching the event unfold on TV, from his Senate office a few blocks away, as he’d been preparing a speech to oppose his colleagues who planned to vote against the certification.
“When the rioters went up the steps, I started screaming at my staff, ‘We’ve got to figure a way to get those guys out of the Capitol, out of the chamber,’” he told MTN News in an interview Wednesday. “But then I thought to myself, no, they’ll be fine, the police will hold them off.”
Then he saw people breaching doors, windows “and everything else,” and feared for the safety of the people he’d worked with for many years – “my friends.”
“But the police were able to get them out, and get them safely into another room in the chamber, which I believe was a feat of brilliance by the Capitol police,” Tester said.
Montana’s other U.S. senator, Steve Daines, was in the Senate chamber in the Capitol, and said he could hear shouting from the hallways, of demonstrators and law enforcement.
“It was a moment you never forget, when we were quickly escorted out of the U.S. Senate chambers by protective forces and taken to a safe location,” he said. “It was a sad day for our country.”
All three members of Montana’s congressional delegation – Tester, a Democrat, and Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale, both Republicans – said they condemn the violence that occurred that day a year ago, and that those responsible should be held accountable.
But when it comes to 2020 election, subsequent changes in voting laws and investigating the insurrection, they dramatically differ, often breaking down along party lines.
Rosendale also was among House Republicans who voted against certifying the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania – two states that Biden won by narrow margins.
Daines had said before the Jan. 6 riot that he intended to vote against certifying Biden’s victory, but after the attacks, changed his mind and did not oppose the certification.
Rosendale, who declined to be interviewed, said through a spokesman that the U.S. House investigation of the Jan. 6 riot and its causes is a “partisan witch hunt.” Both he and Daines said Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is choosing to “politicize” the events in an effort to smear Republicans.
Daines noted that Pelosi rejected several GOP members chosen by Republican leadership to be on the committee, and instead picked two Republicans who’ve been critical of then-President Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 events.
Rosendale believes the country needs to “move past” the events of Jan. 6 and confront issues like “soaring inflation, unconstitutional COVID-19 vaccine mandates, supply-chain issues, surging crime, the invasion at our Southern border,” his spokesman said.
Daines also noted that two Senate committees investigated the Jan. 6 attack last spring, producing a 100-page report that made dozens of recommendations on Capitol security and law-enforcement response to threats.
But that report did not examine any root causes of the insurrection or the role played by Trump or the White House – and Daines joined Senate Republicans in blocking creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to more thoroughly investigate the events of last Jan. 6.
Tester said he fully supports further investigation of the insurrection and its causes.
“I still don’t know why the support for the police took so long to get here,” he said. “I still don’t know why we were so outmanned, the police were so outmanned that day. …
“I see an insurrection that happened on Jan. 6 last year that gives China and Russia an incredible tool to use against us. And I can tell you that I’ve always wondered – why did it take three hours for the National Guard to get here? Who was in charge? Why weren’t phone calls made?”
He also said he’s troubled by Republicans who continue to push the lie that voter fraud was rampant in the 2020 presidential election, and use that lie to justify passing laws making it harder for people to vote.
“I think we took a giant step backwards, with a lot of state legislatures, Montana included, by taking away the ability, or at least making it tougher for a lot of folks in our state, to be able to vote,” Tester said. “And I think free and fair elections are fundamental for democracy and we ought not be standing back and letting that happen. Because that long-term will further divide this country and further put our democracy at risk.”
Daines said he supports the voting-security changes made by Montana Republicans at the Legislature last year, such as tighter restrictions on voter ID needed to vote.
“We need to continue to ensure that states are putting measures in place, like Montana has done, with requiring voter ID to vote, because we need to make it harder to cheat and easier to vote,” he said. “This is the part of the equation that we need to continue to work on, to restore the confidence of the American people in the election system.”