WASHINGTON – Americans who watched Thursday night’s congressional hearing on the Jan. 6 insurrection heard then-President Donald Trump’s attorney general dismiss his claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, calling it, well, cattle dung. They learned that when Trump heard rioters chanting “hang Mike Pence,” he replied that maybe his vice president “deserves it” for refusing to play along with his plot to stay in office. And they saw harrowing footage of the melee in the Capitol, where a police officer recalled getting knocked unconscious and later slipping on the spilled blood of her colleagues.
But it is as though some top Republicans in New York didn’t see or hear any of that.
The woman who would be the Southtowns’ congresswoman lives near Utica, but she wants you to know that will soon change, and that she knows Buffalo and points south and a thing or two about being a hometown Republican representative in the Trump era.
Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Utica-area Republican who’s running to represent a redrawn district stretching from rural Niagara County to the Watertown area, issued a statement dismissing the work of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
“It is partisan performance art produced by the mainstream media to defame President Trump, attack his supporters, divide the American people and advance the federal takeover of our elections,” Tenney said.
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And while Tenney described the hearing as “a sham,” Rep. Elise Stefanik of the North Country, the House’s third-ranking Republican, did several television interviews on friendly right-wing outlets where she called the investigation into the riot a “partisan witch hunt.”
Stefanik’s election means lawmakers from New York will serve parallel roles on both sides of the aisle in the House.
In other words, Tenney and Stefanik are continuing to do what many Republicans have done in the aftermath of an unprecedented attack by Americans on the nation’s Capitol, and an unprecedented attempt by an American president to stay in office after losing an election. In essence, they tried to change the subject.
The Buffalo News contacted both Tenney’s office and Stefanik’s with several questions about the hearing, but neither responded. That meant the two lawmakers missed out on reacting to some of the hearing’s most dramatic moments, such as:
• Then-Attorney General William P. Barr’s dismissal of Trump’s election fraud claims as “complete nonsense” – and the response of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who testified on video, saying: “I respect Attorney General Barr. So I accepted what he was saying.”
• Rep. Liz Cheney’s statement that when Trump heard protesters chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” the president said: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.”
• Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards’ description of being knocked out in the riot and her later comment: “I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”
• Cheney’s preview of the investigation’s findings, in which she said: “You will see that Donald Trump and his advisers knew that he had, in fact, lost the election. But despite this, President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to convince huge portions of the U.S. population that fraud had stolen the election.”
As Amherst resident Thomas F. Sibick remains in custody on charges connected to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the officer he is accused of assaulting told a congressional committee of the brutal beating he suffered that day.
In statements and appearances on right-wing media outlets, Tenney and Stefanik focused on none of that, instead emphasizing other issues.
“The American people are deeply concerned about the historic and unprecedented failures of Joe Biden’s Administration, from skyrocketing costs, soaring fuel prices, rising crime, and the erosion of our Constitutional rights,” Tenney said in a statement. “Tonight’s event was a distraction from these very real issues facing our nation.”
And on NewsMax, Tenney lit into Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman who serves as one of two Republicans on the panel and the committee’s vice chair.
Tenney accused Cheney of “Trump derangement syndrome,” adding: “She is currying favor with the Democrats because she has an obsession with Donald Trump.”
Meanwhile, Stefanik appeared on Fox News, Fox Business, NewsMax and Steve Bannon’s War Room to offer her alternate take on the hearing.
“This committee is illegitimate,” Stefanik said on NewsMax’s “Spicer & Co.” “It’s illegitimate because for the first time in the history of Congress, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi shred 232 years of precedent by not allowing the minority party, the Republicans, to appoint members of Congress” to the panel.
Then again, the committee that’s investigating the insurrection exists only because congressional Republicans rejected legislation calling for an independent commission to do the job. Both Tenney and Stefanik opposed that proposal, but Rep. Chris Jacobs, an Orchard Park Republican who’s leaving Congress at the end of his current term, supported it.
Jacobs’ spokesman did not respond to a request for comment for this story, and the congressman did not post any reaction to the hearing on his website or on social media.
But Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, offered a blunt reaction on Twitter.
“Clearly, substantial evidence exists of an attempted coup,” Higgins said. “Donald Trump & others responsible must have their actions fully exposed & be held accountable.”
Rus and Jul Thompson, well-known right-wing activists, told The Buffalo News on Monday that agents discussed the deadly events in Washington during a two-hour session.
Meanwhile, Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican on the panel, lashed into lawmakers who continue to support Trump.
“I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain,” Cheney said at the hearing.
And on Twitter, Kinzinger offered a cutting critique of Stefanik’s Newsmax performance.
“Man. I’d hate to be on your side of the insurrection right now,” he said. “Today was just a taste. Truth always wins.”