Minnesota's Republican legislative leaders on Monday would not denounce the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, but instead said those who have concerns about the fairness of the election should have their voices heard.
During a virtual legislative forum with legislative caucus leaders hosted by the Forum News Service on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, refused to contradict claims made and perpetuated by President Donald Trump that the election was rigged despite being asked directly by reporters if they thought the election was fair.
These false claims caused Trump supporters to gather at the Minnesota State Capitol for a "Storm the Capitol" rally, which some House Republicans attended, and to storm the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, as Congress certified the electoral college results from the 2020 election.
Gazelka: Election not fair because not enough people knew about Hunter Biden
"A lot of people feel like it was not a fair election," Gazelka said when asked if the election was conducted fairly, saying about 40% of those who voted for President-elect Joe Biden didn't know about a New York Post report featuring a number of dubious claims about his son Hunter Biden. "So that's the kind of thing that they feel like is not fair."
He went on to say, “Any time you have a very, very, very close election, you’re going to have a lot of frustration. And I think it’s important that we listen."
The election was not close. President-elect Joe Biden received more than 81 million votes to secure 306 electoral college votes in the 2020 election. President Donald Trump received more than 74 million votes to secure 232 electoral college votes.
The margins of Biden's victory in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, which helped Biden reach 270 Electoral Votes, were greater than in 2016 when they proved crucial in Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton.
Daudt, who said he didn't agree with claims that the election was unfair in Minnesota, also expressed the need to listen to people who are concerned about the election, saying there's a "swath of our population" that believes it wasn't fair, stressing that legislative leaders need to come together to "instill confidence" in Minnesotans that the state's election system is fair.
"That doesn't mean ignoring their concerns. It means listening to them and finding out why," Daudt said.
Belief among Trump supporters that the election was "rigged" has come after months in Trump himself has said it would be prior to the election, and was after his loss. Despite this, no credible evidence has been presented to show widespread fraud on a level that would overturn Biden's win, resulting in more than 60 failed attempts to block election certifications and overturn results in U.S. courts.
Multiple times Monday, Minnesota's Republican leaders stressed the importance of peoples' right to protest and condemned the violence at the Capitol.
They also added that DFL leaders must condemn violence when it happens, citing the Minneapolis riots and threatening rhetoric now-Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, used during a protest outside Minneapolis Police Union President Bob Kroll's home while he was a candidate.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, pointed out that she appeared on MPR News with Daudt when she denounced what Thompson said and did. DFL leaders and lawmakers regularly condemned the violence and damage wrought during the May riots, and most expressed support calls for change at Minneapolis Police Department.
Gazelka and Daudt again acknowledged President-elect Biden as the next president and said the electoral college process did its job, but their failure to denounce unproven claims that the election was stolen or rigged led Gov. Tim Walz to say he was logging off the virtual forum early.
"I'm incredibly disappointed in this conversation," Walz said, visibly frustrated by where the conversation had gone, adding that Republicans were trying to equivocate the racial injustice protests following the killing of George Floyd with the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol and the attempted overthrow of Democratic institutions.
"The election has been decided. It was free and fair," Walz said. "Just because you're angry with the result of it isn't an excuse for what's happening."
Threats prompts State Patrol to evacuate Walz's son
Violent rhetoric – threats toward the governor and his family, legislators and judges – during the "Storm the Capitol" rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, resulted in the first evacuation ever of the governor's residence. Walz said the State Patrol entered the living room of the residence and removed his 14-year-old son to a safe location as he was crying looking for his dog and wondering what was going on.
Meanwhile, Walz said he'd been hopeful that Minnesota lawmakers would come together after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and tackle important issues facing Minnesotans at the state Legislature, but now he questions how they're supposed to agree on things like a two-year budget if they can't agree that the election was fair.
“Trying to cater to understand why people … think this election was flawed is part of the reason they were in that Capitol, and I refuse to partake in that strawman fight or what I consider to be some pretty epic gaslighting going on amongst all of us,” Walz said before logging off.
In a statement on Monday, House Speaker Hortman and House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, called on the six House Republicans who attended the "Storm the Capitol" rally at the state Capitol on Wednesday to denounce the threats and violent rhetoric or otherwise be held accountable.
They did not say how the lawmakers would be held accountable. However, during the forum, Hortman said they will investigate what members said and did at the rally to determine whether it crossed the line from free speech into unlawful expression and is worthy of prosecution, just like what was done following the protests and riots in the Twin Cities over the summer.
Gazelka and Daudt did not say the lawmakers who attended the rally in St. Paul should be punished, with Daudt noting there is no indication that members incited violence, which he said would be unacceptable.