HELENA — Montana U.S. Sen Jon Tester said pro-Trump protesters who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday have “cheapened this country” in the eyes of the world and made us “weaker domestically as a country.”
The only Democratic member of Montana’s congressional delegation also had harsh words for Republicans who’ve promoted the false notion that the presidential election was marred by fraud.
“To those of my colleagues who invited this chaos onto our country, I would just say you have inflicted grave harm on our democracy for your own political gain,” he told MTN News in an interview from Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon. “And, the fact is, they’ve enabled violence to enter the front doors of our United States Capitol.”
Late Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Steve Daines said he’s reversing course and will vote to certify the electoral votes giving Democrat Joe Biden a victory over President Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Earlier this week, Daines and U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., said they would be supporting fellow Republicans who raised formal objections Wednesday to certain states’ electoral presidential votes, citing allegations of “widespread” fraud and “irregularities” in the presidential voting.
In a statement Wednesday, Daines said he “will not let today’s violence deter Congress from certifying the election.”
Earlier Wednesday, Daines and Rosendale sent out notes on Twitter condemning the day’s violence at the Capitol.
The Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation – Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale – sent out notes on Twitter condemning the day’s violence at the Capitol.
But they did not respond to offers from MTN News to be interviewed, or answer any questions.
The objections are expected to be rejected and Biden officially declared the winner of the 2020 president election, defeating President Trump by a 306-232 count of electoral votes. Congress returned to the Capitol late Wednesday evening to continue to certification process.
That process had just begun Wednesday when pro-Trump protesters in Washington, D.C., stormed the Capitol and entered the Senate chambers and House offices, with some breaking windows in the building.
Other top Montana Republicans issued statements Wednesday condemning the violence.
Gov. Greg Gianforte said on Twitter: “The violent actions we are seeing today at our nation’s Capitol are an affront to our democracy and have no place in America.”
The Republican leadership of the Montana Legislature issued a joint statement, saying violence “is not an acceptable response to political differences.”
“Already this week, we’ve had multiple peaceful demonstrations here at the state Capitol in Helena,” they said. “We encourage Montanans to continue serving as an example for the nation during these times of intense division.”
Pro-Trump protesters gathered outside the state Capitol in Helena on Monday, the opening day of the 2021 Legislature, and also on Wednesday.
Republicans control the state House by a 67-33 margin and the Senate by 31-19.
Tester sat down for an 11-minute interview with MTN News late Wednesday afternoon, from an undisclosed location in Washington, D.C.
He said he was in his Senate office building, not far from the Capitol, composing remarks he planned to make during the debate on the presidential-vote objections, when the protesters stormed the Capitol.
Security advised him and his staff to move to a different location, he said.
Protests are the mark of a healthy democracy, Tester said, but when it devolves into violence, it can’t be tolerated.
“When you’re breaking windows or using wrecking bars to break down windows or open doors, there is no place for that, especially not in the United States Capitol,” he said.
He also noted that Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that the election has been certified and the votes counted, and that it’s time for a peaceful transfer of power to take place.
“I think it’s really important that people out there understand, that some elections you win some elections you lose,” Tester said. “And part of what’s made this country great is the peaceful transfer of power, and the ability to debate one another and come up with compromises and common ground with people who don’t see the world in the same way. That’s what’s made this country great from the beginning.”
Tester said he’s ready to go back to the Capitol to confirm Biden’s victory.
“I think we need to go back in as soon as the Capitol is deemed safe, whatever hour of the day or night that is, and we need to continue the job that we started,” he said.
Leaders of the Montana Legislature’s Democratic minority also issued statements Wednesday afternoon.
Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, called it a “dark day for our country” and called on all Republican leaders to “immediately put an end to the baseless claims and dangerous rhetoric that got us here today.”
Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said her caucus was watching the events “with heavy hearts,” and concern for the country’s faith in the democratic process.
“This is a critical moment for our country,” she said. “We will do everything we can to lead by example – and we ask all of our partners in public service to do the same.”