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Daines, Rosendale recognize Biden victory in wake of siege

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | January 11, 2021 3:40 PM

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale have recognized Joe Biden as the president-elect after months of casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election. They're also objecting to House Democrats' plan to impeach President Donald Trump a second time following last week's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The Montana Republicans publicly recognized Biden for the first time late last week, after pro-Trump extremists raided the halls of Congress, beat to death a Capitol police officer and sent Daines and other senators fleeing into a secure part of the building, where they sheltered for hours before reemerging to certify Biden's victory.

Daines had said he would object to the certification of Electoral College votes from "certain disputed states," but he reversed course during Wednesday's siege and raised no additional objections after the Senate reconvened. And in interviews with the Daily Inter Lake and other news outlets last week, Daines sought to distance himself from a text message his campaign sent to supporters in early November, which falsely claimed Democrats were "stealing" the election.

Rosendale followed through with his certification objections, but on Friday he recognized Biden anyway, slipping that admission into a statement on Democrats' impeachment plan.

"I oppose impeachment as well as other methods of denying President Trump his lawful term in office," Rosendale said in his statement. "Efforts to impeach or remove the president are media stunts drawn from left-wing fever dreams. Jan. 20 will mark the transfer of power to President-elect Biden."

Gov. Greg Gianforte, who until this month represented Montana in Congress, acknowledged last month that the Electoral College had "voted for Joe Biden as our next president." But that was after Gianforte joined 125 other House Republicans who signed a brief supporting a lawsuit from the Texas attorney general that sought to invalidate millions of votes and hand the election to Trump. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit.

"I've said since December that Joe Biden is going to be our next president," Gianforte said during a call with reporters on Thursday. "That's going to occur on Jan. 20, and that'll be the next step in this process. I think there'll be a peaceful transfer of power."

Daines, Rosendale and Gianforte have declined to fault Trump for helping incite the insurrection at the Capitol. None of them publicly have expressed remorse about their own efforts to cast doubt on the election results.

Daines' campaign sent a text message to supporters on Nov. 5, while ballots were still being counted in Arizona and a handful of other key states. It read: "Dems are stealing the election. Trump needs our support. Give $5 & help us fight back now! -Steve Daines."

In an interview with NBC Montana last Thursday, Daines referred to that message – a lie about a contest for the nation's most powerful office – as "campaign fundraising hyperbole" and said he had not seen the message before his campaign sent it out.

"I've never said the election was stolen," Daines told NBC.

IN AN interview with the Daily Inter Lake on Friday, Daines didn't provide a direct answer when asked why he waited more than two months to address the falsehood spread by his campaign.

"We're trying to deescalate the temperatures that have risen," Daines said when asked about the text message, "as it relates to so many Americans who have grave concerns about fraud in this past election."

Daines said he never sought to overturn the election but wanted to appoint a commission to investigate – or reinvestigate – claims of fraud and send those findings back to the states. Daines said it was never up to Congress or Vice President Mike Pence to flip the election. And while he acknowledged there was no "widespread, systemic fraud," he suggested there could be some "very targeted fraud" that warrants closer scrutiny.

"And I don't think, best I can tell, it would have overturned the election," Daines said. "But I think we could reveal these findings to various states, and let the states take a look at what they might need to do to tighten up some of their election laws here, to improve the integrity and improve trust in the elections."

Daines said he plans to attend Biden's inauguration and hopes to have a good working relationship with the new administration, even if they disagree on most issues.

In a statement Monday, Daines said, "Now is the time to stand united, move forward together and have a peaceful transition of power. Pushing partisan-driven articles of impeachment through Congress days before the inauguration will further divide our country."

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has criticized both Daines and Rosendale for fueling doubts about the election results. In an interview with Montana Public Radio on Thursday, Tester called the Capitol riot "a coup by domestic terrorists.

"That coup attempt was led by the president of the United States and enabled, at least on the Senate side, by 13 senators," Tester said. "And they need to be held accountable."

Regarding Daines' abandoned plan to contest electoral vote certifications, Tester said, "I will tell you that I think Sen. Daines knows better. And I didn't think it was a smart thing to do when he did it, because of what could happen. And it did happen yesterday. I hope that he changes his course and starts doing a better job protecting this country and not his party."

And asked about Rosendale's continued objection to the vote certifications, Tester said, "I'll let his actions speak for themselves. I mean, I think it was poor judgment, but what can I say? I have damn little respect for people who wrap themselves in the flag and then try to burn this country down."

House Democrats plan to vote on articles of impeachment on Wednesday; afterward it would be up to the Senate to convict Trump and remove him from office. Tester has said he would like to see Trump removed from office but doesn't see a way to accomplish that before Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.

"For the last four years, the president has sought to divide the country, and last week’s insurrection was no different," Tester's office said in a statement Monday. "Sen. Tester believes those that attacked our nation’s Capitol – as well as the president and his enablers in Congress – must be held fully responsible for their actions. There need to be consequences to this irresponsible and dangerous behavior."

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4434 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com