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Jan. 8, 2021, 3:03 p.m. EST

Josh Hawley rebuked by fellow Republicans and home-state newspapers — and even his political mentor

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Associated Press

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — A Republican colleague rebuked him on the Senate floor. A home-state newspaper editorial board declared he has “blood on his hands.” But for Josh Hawley, the Missouri senator who staged an Electoral College challenge that became the focus of a violent siege of the Capitol, the words of his political mentor were the most personal.

“Supporting Josh Hawley … was the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life,” former Missouri Sen. John Danforth told the Associated Press on Thursday. “He has consciously appealed to the worst. He has attempted to drive us apart and he has undermined public belief in our democracy. And that’s great damage.”

Aside from President Donald Trump, who had riled up supporters with a lengthy speech at the Ellipse just before they stormed the Capitol — Trump had said he would be there with them — no politician has been more publicly blamed for Wednesday’s unprecedented assault on American democracy than Hawley. The 41-year-old first-term senator, a second-tier player through much of the Trump era, has rapidly emerged as a strident Trump ally, and may be among the most tarnished by the events of Jan. 6 for years to come.

“There will be political fallout for his actions,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. “The initial decision to oppose the will of the people was downright wrong. The post-insurrection calculation to continue the charade is fallacious and dangerous.”

Hawley, who defeated Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2018, was once celebrated by the Republican establishment as a rising star. Born in Arkansas and raised in the Kansas City area, the Stanford- and Yale-educated lawyer was young, ambitious and savvy. It surprised some when he was first to announce he would endorse false claims of fraud and take up Trump’s cause, forcing House and Senate votes that would inevitably fail and in no way alter the election’s outcome.

Support of the challenge to the electoral vote count was seen as keeping in good stead with Trump’s supporters, who have come to dominate the Republican base.

The move instantly raised his national profile. Soon Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, leading about 10 other senators, joined Hawley in the effort — notably not winning over Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska or Tom Cotton of Arkansas, two other young Republicans viewed as harboring presidential ambitions.

See: Sasse says Trump and fellow Senate Republican Hawley are engaging in ‘dangerous ploy’ in seeking to obstruct certification of Biden win

Plus: Tom Cotton surprises political observers by opposing Hawley and Cruz efforts in Senate to reject Electoral College results

As he walked into the Capitol on Wednesday, Hawley cheered on pro-Trump protesters gathering outside the building with a thumbs up and fist pump.

But Hawley’s scheme fell apart almost before it got going. As the Senate began debate after Cruz and Rep. Paul Gosar objected to Arizona’s electoral result, pro-Trump mobs barreled into the Capitol and interrupted proceedings. By the time the Senate reconvened, after one woman was shot and killed by police and parts of the Capitol ransacked, support in the Senate for challenging the results had all but evaporated.

Dozens of courts, state elections officials and even Trump’s former attorney general have said there was no evidence of widespread election fraud. Still, Hawley asked his Senate colleagues “to address the concerns of so many millions of Americans” by investigating the 2020 vote.

See: William Barr says Trump betrayed his office with his conduct Wednesday

Also: McConnell suggests fellow Republicans are using ginned-up doubts about election to justify objections to certifying its outcome

Hawley faced instant rebuke from his own party. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah blasted those who objected to finalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s election.

Accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, and with Hawley seated nearby, 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.”

“That will be their legacy,” he added.

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