Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) strode into the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon with his lips pursed and his fist raised in solidarity with the Trump supporters amassing outside. Three hours later, when the dust had settled on the group’s acts of insurrection, Hawley’s critics saw his proud fist pump as evidence of unclean hands.
“Assault on democracy: Sen. Josh Hawley has blood on his hands in Capitol coup attempt,” read the headline of an editorial in the Kansas City Star, the largest newspaper in Hawley’s home state.
After the chaos that overtook the Capitol on Wednesday, Hawley was swiftly singled out for condemnation over what critics said was his supporting role in President Trump’s efforts to undermine democracy. The mob’s attempt to prevent Congress from tallying electoral votes certifying Joe Biden’s Nov. 3 win rankled lawmakers, including some Trump loyalists, and left four people dead: one from gunfire and three from medical emergencies.
A spokesperson for Hawley did not respond directly to the criticisms raised in the editorial but pointed to remarks he made when Congress reconvened Wednesday night — in which the senator thanked police, condemned the use of violence as a tool for change and continued to assail the integrity of the November election.
The blowback to Hawley’s support for Trump’s baseless election fraud claims had started before the Wednesday mayhem at the Capitol. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, another major paper from Hawley’s home state, on Monday blasted him as “shameless” for using his ultimately doomed bid to oppose the election results as a way to endear himself to Trump supporters.
“Hawley plans a maneuver on the Senate floor Wednesday to stomp on democracy and throw millions of American votes into the waste bin just to satisfy his selfish political ambitions,” read the editorial, which excoriated him as a “phony” and a “disgrace.”
“This is a man who will say and do anything to advance his personal political agenda.”
Hawley, a 41-year-old first-term senator, has consistently aligned himself with Trump and adopted much of the president’s rhetoric against such perceived threats as the far-left antifa movement, socialism and election fraud. After Trump refused to accept his defeat in November, Hawley was the first senator to announce that he would oppose Biden’s electoral college win.
The Star’s editorial declared that these deliberate and consistent choices made Hawley the person most responsible for Wednesday’s chaos, after Trump himself. The editorial also took a dim view of Hawley’s motivations, arguing that he knowingly supported bogus fraud claims for political gain.
Boosting the president’s election grievances has made Hawley popular among Trump’s supporters. Outside the Capitol on Wednesday, they greeted him enthusiastically, according to photographer Francis Chung, who captured the photo of Hawley’s fist-pump.
“He’s acknowledging the crowd and giving various gestures, such as, you know, fist pumps, waves, thumbs up, shows of solidarity and support, I guess you could call it, Chung said in an interview with Missouri station KSDK in St. Louis. “And the crowd was also reacting back to him in a favorable fashion.”
Three hours after Chung snapped the photo, Hawley emerged from lockdown to decry the violence. Trump supporters, fueled by the president’s rhetoric, had ransacked congressional offices, defaced the Capitol building and fought with Capitol Police officers, who fatally shot a 35-year-old California woman.
The aftermath chastened some of Hawley’s Republican colleagues who had started the day planning to join him in opposing electoral votes from contested states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, fresh off her defeat in the Georgia runoffs on Tuesday, said she could no longer “in good conscience” object to approving the electoral votes. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) struck a folksy tone as he told his colleagues, “Count me out; enough is enough.”
Most notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected the president’s claims outright, telling fellow senators that in overturning an election based on “mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”
“We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again,” McConnell said. “Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”
Hawley’s apparent scramble for power once read as ambitious to the very same Star editorial board, which endorsed him as the “clear choice” in the 2018 Republican Senate primary.
Back then, he was seen as a promising young political talent, lauded for his “keen intellect” and debate skills; after two years of moving in lockstep with Trump, Hawley is now just viewed as complicit.