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State delegation blames Trump for mob

by Frank E. Lockwood | January 8, 2021 at 7:05 a.m.
Arkansas' congressional delegation is shown in these file photos. Top row, from left: U.S. Sens. John Boozman, and Tom Cotton and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford. Bottom row, from left: U.S. Reps. French Hill, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., accused President Donald Trump on Thursday of fanning the flames that led to bloodshed in the halls of Congress and a riot on Capitol Hill.

"All of this could have been prevented, and all of this should have been prevented," the lawmaker from Rogers said.

Trump's election-related falsehoods had deadly consequences, he said.

"The president was stoking the crowd with a whole lot of promises and expectations that just simply were not true," he said.

Once they had been roused, Trump unleashed them on the legislative branch, Womack said.

Many of those who answered the president's call were outside the mainstream, Womack suggested.

"I think these are people that have very extreme views that are willing to follow the lead of somebody who basically doesn't have the regard for the Constitution, or the rule of law, where it comes to protecting their grip on power," he said.

As their ranks swelled, news came that Vice President Mike Pence would not attempt to overturn the election results, Womack said.

"I think that created an ignition spark in a very combustible atmosphere that led to that group descending on the Capitol," Womack said. "It was a perfect storm."

With rioters ransacking the U.S. Capitol and gunfire reported, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, hurried into the House Minority Leader's restroom Wednesday, locked the door and listened for two hours as looters ransacked the building.

The door, safely bolted, kept the mob at bay, Westerman said. Several pro-Trump trespassers attempted to enter and were thwarted, he added.

Once the House reconvened Wednesday, the four-term congressman returned to the chamber and voted to award Arizona's 11 electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Based on the facts that had been presented, Arizona state officials were entitled to determine the winner of an Arizona election, Westerman determined.

While most House Republicans attempted to overturn the state's certified election results, Arkansas delegation members generally sided with Arizona's Republican governor, Douglas A. Ducey, and with the Democratic ticket favored by a plurality of Grand Canyon State voters.

Overall, 121 Republican congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro, voted to reject Arizona's election returns. Eighty-three Republicans, including Westerman, Womack and U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock accepted the official results.

U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Rogers, and Tom Cotton, R-Little Rock, and dozens of their Republican colleagues, reached a similar conclusion.

Before Wednesday, an assault on the Capitol would have been unimaginable, Westerman said.

Instead of a peace, there was bloodshed, he noted.

"It was a deadly riot. There was death and destruction, and it was a horrible thing to happen," Westerman said.

Westerman, a White House ally over the past four years, fears Trump's postelection actions may overshadow his pre-election accomplishments: A strong pre-covid-19 economy, record employment, Middle Eastern peace agreements and Operation Warp Speed.

"It's really a fantastic legacy of achievement, and I think it's been greatly tarnished by the actions after the election, and that's unfortunate," Westerman added.

Hill watched the insurrection from the Longworth House Office Building.

Once the rioters had been repelled, he went to the rotunda to thank law enforcement officials for their bravery and to view the vandalism with his own eyes.

Ultimately, he remained at the Capitol until shortly before the joint session's 3:45 a.m. conclusion.

Trump's postelection claims, particularly after his Dec. 14 Electoral College defeat, had been "misleading to the American people," Hill said.

Trump supporters were convinced that "Mike Pence and the United States House and Senate were going to change the election outcome, which was never a possibility, never contemplated to be a possibility, was not constitutional," Hill said. "That rhetoric breeds confusion, inaccuracy and is misleading and, I think, hurtful of American's citizens' expectations."

Disappointment did not inevitably lead to violence, he noted. Ultimately, members of the mob chose to break the law.

The passions that were unleashed this week aren't unique to this time or this place, Hill said. The drafters of the Constitution created a system of checks and balances that aimed to ensure peaceful transfers of power, he said.

"What we saw yesterday is essentially our framer's worst nightmare," he added.

Wednesday's riot, Womack said, was "just as un-American and unpatriotic as anything I've ever seen."

"Part of the problem was the Capitol Police had made a bunch of mistakes. They didn't expand the perimeter. ... They didn't have enough manpower. They didn't have the D.C. [National] Guard there," Womack said. "They were ill-prepared for an angry crowd.

"I was told that the Capitol Police leadership told the hierarchy that they did not need the D.C. Guard there. That they had this handled. And, boy, that turned out to be a real shortcoming."

The damage wasn't limited to the Capitol grounds, he noted.

"It was bad. The world was watching. It was embarrassing to our country," Hill said.

"Frankly, I'm surprised it wasn't even more deadly," he said.

Boozman said lawmakers must take steps to improve the system.

"It is important that we do look back and see exactly what happened and how we got ourselves in that situation," he said.

"We will definitely have a change in security," he said. "I don't think anybody intentionally did anything wrong. We just simply weren't prepared."

With better leadership from Trump, the outcome could have been different, Boozman said.

"I think he made a really tragic mistake in the way that he handled it," the senator said.

"It was a huge mistake" for Trump to urge his followers "to march on the Capitol," Boozman said.

"The vast majority of people that were there voicing protests were there for the right reason," he said. But there were others with no regard for "the norms of society or laws or traditions," and they "created a very dangerous situation."

Asked if Trump bears some of the responsibility for what followed, Boozman said: "Yes. No question."

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