ELECTION 2020

Iowa GOP leaders acknowledge Biden win

While condemning Capitol riot, they laud Trump agenda

A view on Friday down Pennsylvania Avenue shows the security around Capitol Hill in Washington ahead of the inauguration
A view on Friday down Pennsylvania Avenue shows the security around Capitol Hill in Washington ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Between the still-raging pandemic and threat of violence from supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, Wednesday promises to be one of the most unusual presidential inaugurations in American history. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

DES MOINES — Republican President Donald Trump’s term in office ends Wednesday, exactly two weeks after he sparked a siege on the U.S. Capitol that was motivated by his attempt, joined by his most zealous supporters, to overturn the presidential election results.

“We’re going walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong,” Trump said during a rally in Washington, D.C., just hours before hundreds of his supporters stormed the Capitol.

The attacks left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.

Because those tragic events were fueled by Trump’s repeated and baseless claims of widespread election fraud, and his repeated calls for his supporters to take action, there has been a renewed focus on whether fellow Republican leaders went along with or pushed back at Trump’s unfounded assertions.

Years of nonpartisan research has showed widespread election fraud does not exist in the United States. State elections officials — including many Republicans — provided assurance that this year’s elections were conducted fairly. Trump and his allies had more than 60 court challenges to the election results rejected or thrown out. And on Friday, a federal prosecutor in Pennsylvania closed an investigation into nine discarded ballots the president had touted as proof of election rigging, saying the office found “insufficient evidence to prove criminal intent on the part of the person who discarded the ballots.”

Iowa’s Republican congressional and statewide leaders have addressed the topic of election fraud in recent weeks, but to varying degrees of clarity and vagueness. As Trump departs and President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau asked Iowa Republican for specific responses to the same three questions: whether they acknowledge Biden as the next president; whether they believe the election was free and fair; and whether they regret not doing more to push back at Trump’s baseless claims about election fraud.

The bureau posed the questions to Iowa’s top Republican officials: U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst; U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Randy Feenstra; Gov. Kim Reynolds; and state party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann.

Weeks after the Nov. 3 presidential election results were known to the nation, all seven have acknowledged Biden as the next president.

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Many Republicans, including many of Iowa’s GOP leaders, said Trump — or any other candidate — should be allowed to pursue legal challenges to the election results.

Those Republicans waited until after that lengthy process played out, until the certification of the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect. All of Iowa’s members of the House and Senate voted — after temporarily fleeing the Capitol rioters — to accept the Electoral College results.

During the two-plus months in the meantime, Trump continued to make public and unfounded declarations of election fraud, all while those claims were being repeatedly knocked down in the courts.

“As I said in the weeks and days leading up to the Electoral College certification vote, I owed it to my constituents to consider all the facts and allow the various court cases to play out,” said Feenstra, from western Iowa’s 4th District. “President Trump was well within his rights to explore and challenge any irregularities or illegalities, utilizing the legal processes that are afforded to every presidential candidate.

“Although there were countless claims of election fraud across the country, not a single state sent a different slate of electors to change the outcome of the election — even though they have the constitutional power to do so.”

Grassley said it was better to allow the process to play out rather than have an elected official attempt to provide assurances of the validity of the election results.

“Dismissing challenges without allowing the review process to play out would have only exacerbated concerns about the fairness of this election. It would have deprived campaigns of their rights to seek independent review and would have left too many questions unanswered,” Grassley said.

“After several recounts, recanvasses and more than 70 legal challenges, voters can be confident that Joe Biden won this election fair and square. To ignore this fact is to ignore the many safeguards and independent quality control measures by states and courts across the country,” he said.

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Ernst said while there is some fraud “in nearly every election,” she said she has not been presented with or seen sufficient evidence of fraud that would alter the outcome of the presidential election. A spokesperson for her office pointed to comments she made in a radio interview about one of the Trump team’s more dubious claims: that some election candidates “paid” to rig the elections for themselves.

In her response to the bureau, Ernst noted that she also supports efforts to “ferret out any illegal votes and learn from any irregularities during this election,” and that she supports a Senate Republican proposal to establish a bipartisan commission “to study the integrity and administration of the election.”

No Iowa Republican surveyed expressed regret for supporting Trump’s reelection bid in the aftermath of the U.S. Capitol attacks.

Most condemned the attacks, but many also heralded what they consider accomplishments achieved under Trump.

“I was proud to join an overwhelming majority of Iowans in casting my vote for President Trump in November due to his record of delivering results over the past four years — including historic tax cuts, slashing burdensome regulations, and delivering free and fair trade deals for our farmers,” Feenstra said.

Said Ernst, “Iowans soundly supported and voted for President Trump this November, as they did four years ago. We have accomplished a lot of really important things that directly benefit Iowans’ lives. However, Jan. 6 was a display of very poor leadership on the part of President Trump. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement — I’m furious. From the president down to every individual, we need to tone down the rhetoric and treat everyone, and our institutions, with dignity and respect.”

Hinson said she and her staff have met with Biden’s transition team and “we are working to find common ground to help Iowans.”

“While I do not believe there was fraud on a large enough scale to change the outcome of the election, millions of Americans believe their vote wasn’t counted while illegal ones were. Regardless of if that is true, the lack of faith in our election system is a huge problem for our democracy, and we must work to restore faith in our process and fix the issues we saw play out this year.” she said. “I will continue to advocate for conservative policies that the President championed, including cutting taxes, instituting responsible energy initiatives, defending life, and standing up for the Second Amendment. These policies, and others, really helped hardworking people in Iowa and I will work to expand them in Congress.”

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Said Miller-Meeks, “Every individual, whether a candidate for office or not, is personally responsible for their own comments and conduct. I supported President Trump based on his policies and results for the American people and our country such as cutting taxes and decreasing business regulations. Prior to COVID, those policies created an unparalleled economic boom with expansive job growth and wage increases.”

Kaufmann, who was a staunch and vocal supporter of Trump throughout the president’s term and reelection campaign, drew a line between supporting Trump and supporting the Jan. 6 attack.

“President Trump delivered on the policy promises he made to Iowans — things like negotiating free and fair trade deals like the USMCA, cutting taxes and rolling back burdensome regulations, and bringing peace deals throughout the world,” Kaufmann said. “74 million Americans supported President Trump’s reelection. Having supported President Trump does not mean you support what happened at our nation’s capitol last week.”

Grassley also listed new trade agreements, tax cuts, criminal justice reform, biofuels policy and the confirmation of federal judges as the reasons he does not regret supporting Trump’s reelection bid.

“My job is to help improve the lives and livelihoods of Iowans. It’s about policy, not personality,” Grassley said. “These are just a few of the accomplishments from the last four years that occurred with the help of the Trump administration. I share the view of the other 897,671 Iowans who voted to build on these accomplishments by reelecting President Trump.”

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