Utah’s members of Congress talk about Capitol violence, blame and solutions

Burgess Owens, Chris Stewart voted against electoral results after Capitol stormed.

(Jose Luis Magana | AP photo) Capitol police officers in riot gear push back demonstrators who try to break a door of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

Utah’s members of Congress were doing some thoughtful Monday morning quarterbacking — even though it was Thursday — after a long day and night of rioters storming the U.S. Capitol plus political brawling before lawmakers finally accepted the results of the presidential election.

Some of their takeaways: President Donald Trump is largely to blame for the violence; his sincere followers in Congress may or may not share fault; it’s time for Republicans to recognize and work with Joe Biden as the new president; and everyone needs to find ways to reduce the temperature of politics.

“I am very unhappy with the president, with his remarks to the crowd, for his lack of remarks afterwards — and when remarks were made, they were inadequate,” Rep. John Curtis said in an interview Thursday, after spending hours locked down in his office the day before as crowds rioted at the Capitol.

A tweet he posted late Wednesday was even more forceful: “My anger continues to grow over today’s desecration of the United States Capitol, our nation’s home. What happened was an act of domestic terrorism inspired and encouraged by our President.”

It was similar to what Utah Sen. Romney said in a Senate speech: “What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States.”

Also, freshman Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, said Thursday he was “frustrated and disheartened” with Trump for “disparaging Vice President [Mike] Pence for doing the duty that he was supposed to,” and for posting a video as rioters were storming the Capitol that “started with comments about the election and election fraud. That’s not the time. That’s not what we need out of presidential leadership.”

Still, instead of blaming Trump for the violence, Moore said, “The blame for the violence most acutely needs to be on the individuals that took that” action.

Remove Trump?

While Democratic leaders in Congress and at least one Republican House member — Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. — called Thursday for invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump from office as unfit or even to impeach him again, Curtis said with two weeks left before Joe Biden’s inauguration, it is probably unwise to waste time on it.

“We’re all becoming experts on the 25th Amendment,” he said, adding it could take days or weeks to implement if Trump fights it, as he likely would. “I don’t even see that it’s actually going to be an option, given the fact that the inauguration is two weeks away.”

Similarly, Moore said the main goal is “peaceful transfer of power. And I believe we can get to that point without taking that measure” of invoking the 25th Amendment.

Meanwhile, House Democrats in the Utah Legislature released a statement Thursday hoping that Trump will be punished. “With the strongest words and intent, we condemn the actions of our president and his enablers, and we hope he is held accountable for his actions yesterday. We also condemn the actions of our own state and local officials who have enabled the President.”

Like those Democrats, Romney also said in his Senate speech that Trump’s congressional allies also share some of his blame for violence — but Curtis disagrees.

Romney said, “Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”

Curtis said members who sincerely raised objections to the electoral count shouldn’t be blamed for the violence, although he says at least some were grandstanding.

“But take [Utah Rep.] Chris Stewart. I have more respect for him than almost anybody in Congress. I know from talking to him at length that he was very genuine” in his challenge to electoral counts, Curtis said. “I don’t personally feel like my colleagues bear some of the blame.”

Punish Owens, Stewart?

Stewart and freshman Rep. Burgess Owens were among House Republicans who for days voiced objections to electoral counts, claiming election fraud without citing any proof. But both split in the actual votes, supporting an objection to votes in Pennsylvania but opposing an objection to Arizona’s count.

Curtis, Moore and Romney and Sen. Mike Lee all fought efforts to overturn election results — and Lee even voted a “Hell no” instead of just a “no” on one of the votes. Romney was an outspoken national leader of opposition to the challenges and had been among the first Republicans to recognize Joe Biden as president-elect.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant attacked Owens and Stewart in a tweet on Thursday: “At 3:00 am, @RepBurgessOwens and @RepChrisStewart voted to reject Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. This is AFTER the first breach of the US Capitol since 1812 and in support Donald #Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud. A sad day for America and a sad day for Utah.”

Chase Thomas, executive director of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, called for Owens and Stewart to resign. “Owens and Stewart have chosen to fight against democracy for the sake of their own political ambition. ... They can no longer be trusted to hold the sacred offices to which they were elected. They must resign immediately.”

Meanwhile, Moore explained Thursday why he opposed the electoral challenges.

“I voted for President Trump, and I had looked forward to serving alongside his administration” but “I could not in good conscience endorse federal intervention in state-certified elections,” Moore said. “But I promise that I will fight for every American’s voice to be heard and every voter to have trust in our system.”

How to heal?

On Thursday, Romney posted online some day-after thoughts he wrote for Deseret Magazine.

“I didn’t think it would happen here,” he wrote. “The divisiveness, the resentment, the suspicion, the anger that pervades so many countries seemed foreign to the people I had met during my [presidential] campaigns only a decade or so ago,”

He urged Americans now to take steps to “heal social sickness.”

“When each of us encourages comity, understanding and grace, we heal,” he wrote. “When we disparage, bully or treat others with contempt, we deepen the rift that divides us.”

Similarly, Curtis said in an interview, “Part of my Monday morning quarterbacking is: personally, what can I do to dial it down, to reduce the temperature” in politics, he questioned. “I would hope all of us, particularly in Utah, would take the personal challenge to … change the tone and get back to what we know to be good governance and working together.”

As part of that, Curtis added, “I just really regret this climate that we’re in, where we’re not facing reality” by not accepting the results of the presidential election, “and so I hope that it’s over.”

He said it’s time for Republicans to accept Joe Biden as the incoming president and work with him.

“I think the best thing Republicans can do is not what the Democrats did four years ago, which is spend four years trying to wish it was someone else,” he said. “The best thing we can do is lay out an agenda where we can work with the Democrats to get things done and on the other hand, prepare our best candidate and our message for four years from now.”

Similarly, Moore tweeted on Thursday, “I urge Americans to unite and welcome a peaceful transfer of power.”

Also, Owens tweeted after Wednesday’s violence, “It is time for us to unite and focus on healing our country. I look forward to working with my colleagues to identify solutions that will restore faith in our democracy, and to getting back to the people’s work.”

Others in Utah beyond its congressional delegation were expressing similar day-after thoughts.

For example, the Salt Lake City Council issued a statement saying, “We denounce the violence that occurred yesterday in Washington, D.C. and at our own Capitol. It is time to foster change in the partisanship that divides us. … We plead for you to join us in supporting a peaceful democracy for all.”

Meanwhile, Moore — who has only been in Congress since Sunday — summed up an astounding first few days on the job: “I did not think that my first week would be this eventful.”