Election fraud, rioting at the U.S. Capitol, and fear of socialism were all topics of discussion during a telephone town hall meeting conducted by U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., on Thursday.
And as the only U.S. House member from a state whose voters overwhelmingly chose President Donald Trump over Democrat Joe Biden in November, Johnson, a 1995 graduate of T.F. Riggs High School, got quite the earful from angry Trump supporters.
Johnson began the call by discussing the process of certifying the Electoral College votes for president, and noted that he wasn’t going to talk a lot about the violence that interrupted the certification of Biden as president-elect on Wednesday.
He quoted the one sentence in the Constitution’s 12th Amendment: “The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.”
“I was surprised there wasn’t a bigger role for Congress in counting the votes. The certification is just that one sentence, which is where a lot of the frustrations come in. Constitutionally, there’s not a large role for Congress in this. The Senate president is the only one with an action. I am a witness, and not a judge, to the ceremonial act. That ultimately made my job easier,” Johnson said.
In a statement released the same evening, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., also said he did not challenge the Electoral College votes, saying it would be “dangerous and unwise” and flies in the face of the Founding Fathers, who intended for states to have their own electoral processes.
“This is also a states’ rights issue, a constitutionally-protected issue. Asking the federal government to upend state elections would have profound and negative consequences on every American,” Rounds said in a press release. “My decision was based on the Constitution, not political expediency. The reality is that refusing to certify the election results had no viable path to actually changing the outcome of the election.”
Rounds said he agreed to co-sponsor a bill to create a 2020 Bipartisan Advisory Committee that would study the integrity and administration of the 2020 election as well as make recommendations to states about improving their federal election processes.
On a conference call Wednesday evening, U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., condemned the Wednesday rioting and said, “It is important we certify the next president of the United States so that this transfer of power can happen in our country.”
On Johnson’s Thursday call, he was bombarded with questions from frustrated South Dakotans who said he and the other legislators representing the state did not do enough to support Trump’s effort to overturn the election results.
Caller “Kathy” from Sioux Falls wondered about allegations of foreign interference in the election and said until the next president is put in office, there is still time to send the issue back to the states.
Johnson countered that. “I’m sorry, but it’s over. There’s no chance [Trump] will have a second term,” he said.
Not long before the town hall call began, Trump had conceded the presidency to Biden. Johnson said he had made it “very clear” there would be a new administration come Jan. 20. He said that too many politicians have been overselling the prospects of legal challenges to the election for various reasons, namely to gain power or raise money.
“The Constitution is very clear on this: once states submit the certifications, their results are conclusive. We have a president-elect; I don’t have to be happy about it and you don’t have to be happy about it, but I don’t want to mislead you [into thinking Trump won],” Johnson said.
Johnson had to reiterate that message for several other callers asking similar questions.
Caller “Kurt” from Philip said that like most people, he was upset.
“They have evidence [of fraud] and you know it — why wouldn’t Congress stand up and clear this up and investigate? You’ve just pushed it under [the rug]. If this goes through and you let it fly, our nation will be done as a nation and it ain’t right. I think you’re blowing smoke on people’s opinions,” he said to Johnson.
Johnson again countered his statement and said none of it was true. He said every state has a U.S. attorney that was appointed by, and works for, Trump.
“You say there’s widespread fraud — why don’t any of these Trump-appointed people agree with you?” Johnson asked.
“Probably because they’re being paid off, just like you guys and everyone else who doesn’t stand up for this nation,” Kurt alleged of Johnson.
Johnson reiterated that Trump has “redefined” the federal judiciary with more federal judge appointments than any other president. He asked Kurt if he trusted the Democrat-run House of Representatives more than those Trump-appointed attorneys. The caller said no, and repeated that people are upset about the lack of action. Johnson again said the president’s legal team has gone 0-60 on election fraud cases, and another 10 days won’t change anything, and it wouldn’t be constitutional to further challenge the results.
After their debate, Johnson gave Kurt the last word.
“As far as I’m concerned, the government in Washington is going to hell,” Kurt said.
Several callers said they agreed with Kurt and were equally dissatisfied with the election results.
“Kathy” from Rapid City said she was “absolutely concerned about what’s going on” and that she agreed with Kurt that South Dakotans are upset about election fraud. She alleged that voting machines had automatically switched votes for Biden and that it was “unbelievable” he got more votes than President Barack Obama did in either 2008 or 2012.
“This is scaring me. I think I’m going to have to move out of this country. What’s happening today is going to affect future generations. Do you want your children and grandchildren living in a socialist, communist society?” she said.
Johnson again refuted Kurt and Kathy’s claims of fraud, saying in the Constitution the “plain meanings of the words are the plain meanings of the words.”
“I have two choices: am I supposed to witness a ceremonial act or to create a congressional ‘supercourt’ overturning all the courts in states with contested election results? If you choose the second, that would have a chilling impact on the future of the republic,” Johnson said.
He also said that support for Trump in South Dakota this election cycle, while still the solid majority, had waned slightly. Indeed, Trump carried South Dakota by 30 points in 2016, which is about 4 points higher than his winning margin in the state for 2020.
Several people had questions about the identity of the protesters who sieged the U.S. Capitol. They assumed the protesters were all “Antifa and BLM” in disguise.
Kathy from Rapid City alleged Antifa members “bust in” to the Capitol “dressed in Antifa and some in MAGA dressing,” which she said was allowed and planned to happen. She asked why that wasn’t being addressed and said Democrats “are as crooked as they can be.”
“Bob” from Yankton also said that ANTIFA and BLM were in the “mob,” not Trump supporters.
“Trump supporters are always peaceful,” he said.
“Bob” from Rapid City said that the rioters got into the Capitol using the “same method Antifa used,” and he wondered if there was any information released on the arrested people’s political affiliations and if they were “truly” former Trump conservatives.
Johnson said most of the people arrested were not Antifa, and that many — including Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police as she tried to breach the Capitol — of the protesters were Trump supporters and Republican activists.
Another caller, “Jessica,” asked if Johnson would support the use of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, which he said he would not.
“That would do as much to divide the nation [as the riot],” he said. “Millions would characterize that as a coup. It’s incredibly unlikely that it will happen, and calling for it is a political statement rather than practical governance.”
In response to a question from “Nathan” from Rapid City about how Johnson will keep South Dakotans’ hard-earned tax dollars from being “flushed down the liberal toilet,” Johnson said he is working hard to ensure Republicans will take Congress back in two years. He also reminded callers that Republicans didn’t lose any of their seats in the House of Representatives.
“Had Tuesday gone better, Republicans would hold the Senate. Republicans are taking it back in two years,” he said in reference to the Democrats winning both U.S. Senate seats on the Georgia ballot, thus, giving them the majority.
The final question came from “Mark” in Hill City and was not centered around Wednesday’s events. He asked if Johnson believes there will be a positive trajectory in moving conservative ideas forward in Congress.
Johnson said he is concerned about the future of conservatism, but he believes in it “through and through.”
“Both sides have gotten so angry and adopted an ends justify the means approach. Conservatism is most successful when it focuses on the positive,” he said.
Johnson cited President Ronald Reagan’s ability to “change hearts and minds” as an example of what it means to move conservatism forward, and said the future looks good for those on the right as long as they stay focused on problem solving and adhering to the Constitution.