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Senators react to call for impeachment; Daines recounts Capitol scene, addresses criticism

Both U.S. senators for Montana are backing away from calls to remove President Donald Trump from office after violent mobs of the president’s supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. Photo: NBC Montana
Both U.S. senators for Montana are backing away from calls to remove President Donald Trump from office after violent mobs of the president’s supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. Photo: NBC Montana
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Both U.S. senators for Montana are backing away from calls to remove President Donald Trump from office after violent mobs of the president’s supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger both called for the president’s removal Thursday.

A spokesperson for Sen. Jon Tester says he doesn’t see a realistic path to removing Trump from office before Inauguration Day. In a statement, a spokesperson said, “For the last four years, the president has sought to divide the country, and yesterday’s insurrection was no different. Senator 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.”

NBC Montana spoke with Sen. Steve Daines by phone Thursday, and we asked about calls to remove the president.

“We're 13 days away from inauguration. This is not the time to keep taking the temperature up. So let's stand together and govern for the next 13 days,” Daines said. “But these calls for impeachment I'm hearing -- I don't think they're helpful, and I think we should allow 13 days to move forward peacefully and prepare for this transition of power that’s going to happen on Jan. 20”

Daines reversed course Wednesday after initially planning to oppose electors from certain states if an election commission wasn’t formed to investigate potential voter fraud. By Wednesday evening, his team sent out a press release saying he would vote to certify.

“Yesterday was never to overturn the election. That's the responsibility to states, not Congress. So there, I think there's just a lot of misunderstanding and representation of what I was wanting to do and see happen yesterday,” Daines said. “I was wrestling with whether I would vote yes or no on that final Arizona roll call vote. Either way, it wasn't going to change the outcome of Arizona. Either way, it wasn’t going to change the outcome of the election. But after watching and seeing the temperature of this country rise into a fever pitch on both sides, I thought it's appropriate to close the debate and just to vote no.”

On Thursday, the Billings Gazette editorial board called for Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale to apologize and recognize the lawful election of President-elect Joe Biden. We asked Daines about this and whether he feels responsibility for what took place Wednesday.

“No, absolutely not. The people that committed the violent acts are the criminals, and they need to be investigated held accountable for their actions. This blame game that's going on is not helping us move forward here as a country. I just reject that that notion. And I did acknowledge that Joe Biden was certified. I don’t know where the Gazette is getting that from. But I did acknowledge that, Maritsa. Joe Biden was certified last night by Congress, and he will be sworn in as our president Jan. 20.”

Earlier in the conversation, Daines described the scene in the Senate chamber leading up to the point Secret Service agents rushed Vice President Mike Pence out of the room.

“I stepped out of the chamber just for a minute to grab a drink. And as I was coming back in, there was a TV screen just outside the chamber where I saw the visuals,” Daines recalled. “I could see all the people surrounding the Capitol. You aren't really aware of that, because you're in the Senate chamber, you're not watching TV, you’re focused on the debate. And I walked back, and I said to one of my colleagues there -- Sen. Lankford who sits next to me from Oklahoma -- I said, ‘James, this place is surrounded. And it's concerning.’ Then it was about, maybe 15 minutes later, you could hear shouting from the Senate floor. It was muffled, it was coming from outside, but you could hear the noise, which meant it was pretty loud.”

Soon after, Daines said a security officer said it was time to go, and everyone walked out like it was a fire drill. He says they went down a hallway to a secure location and stayed there for about five hours. Daines says it was a room with 100 senators interacting informally after the chaplain said a prayer.

“We also discussed that we were not going to let these criminals stop us from getting the work done for the people,” Daines said. When asked about what he felt seeing the images of rioters on the floor of the chamber, he described a sadness.

“They were desecrating, really, the ground zero of freedom for our country. The world looks to the United States as the beacon of freedom and hope. And the world was seeing these images as well,” Daines said. “And so it was heartbreaking to see that. But I'm also reminded that we are the greatest country in the world. We are Americans. We need to come together, we'll move forward for the sake of our country. And by going back to the Senate floor -- think about just a few hours before we returned to the Senate floor and the House returned, where literally there were gunshots fired on the House side, where there was vandalism and desecration occurring on the Senate side by these criminals. Just hours after that had happened, we were back in session and getting the work done for the people. And that was a very important thing that we did yesterday -- is to not let the criminals have their way.”

Daines says we will move forward and to not forget the United States is the greatest country in the world and we need to come together.

“Last night, Congress came together and certified the election of Joe Biden, and he'll be inaugurated on Jan 20. I voted for President Trump. I campaigned hard for President Trump. I wanted to see President Trump win. We need to get to the bottom of some of these election integrity issues. But at the end of the day, last night Congress came together, once again, certified an election. And there'll be a peaceful transition of power on Jan. 20.”

When he brought up election integrity issues, we asked Daines if he still believes the election was stolen after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsay Graham both said on the floor of the Senate Wednesday there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Daines said he’s never said the election was stolen.

We asked about a text message sent Nov. 5 that said, “Dems are stealing the election. Trump needs our support. Give $5 & help us fight back now! -Steve Daines” He said those messages came from the campaign arm and were not his own words.

“In fairness, I don't even see -- when you have the campaign arm of an operation, I don’t even see those things go out. That’s folks who do fundraising for you,” Daines said. “I think we've all become a little too cavalier in believing it's easy to distinguish between campaign fundraising hyperbole from the work of actual governing. You have never, Maritsa, ever heard me say this election was stolen, either in an interview, print, digital, TV, ever, because I've been sure that I've had concerns about election integrity, but you haven't heard me say that -- just to set the record straight.”

Daines continued, “I think it's important that we continue to debunk some of these conspiracy theories that aren’t true. At the same time, give thoughtful gathering of evidence for where there have been irregularities. And some of this idea of widespread voter fraud is perhaps is a separate conversation, but we're doing some digging into just some substantial numbers probably in Georgia, that we're looking at, where there's a lot of evidence of fraud and illegal ballots. The question is it enough to overturn 11,779 votes? I don't know. But there's folks digging on that. You won't change the outcome of the election, but let's learn from it.”

You can see our extended conversation with Sen. Daines below.

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