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A year after risking his career on Jan. 6, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri prospers politically

Sen. Josh Hawley speaking to attendees at the 2021 Missouri Lincoln Days in Kansas City in June.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Josh Hawley speaking to attendees at Missouri Lincoln Days in Kansas City in June 2021.

The once relatively unknown lawmaker voted against certifying Joe Biden as President on Jan. 6, 2021. A year later, Josh Hawley's poll numbers are high in Missouri and he’s raising millions from people in his home state and around the country.

It was one of the indelible images from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection: Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, glancing back at demonstrators gathered outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C. with his fist raised in support.

The photograph of Hawley was taken before some of the demonstrators stormed the Capitol building ahead of the vote to certify Joe Biden as President, forcing lawmakers and others into hiding.

While many emerged shaken by the day’s events, Hawley stood firm: He was among only eight senators who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 victory over Donald Trump.

Before January 6, Hawley had been a fast-rising politician known mostly in Missouri, having reached the Senate at age 39.

After Jan. 6, Hawley was thrust into notoriety, having become one of the insurrection’s symbols.

Large companies said they would stop donating to politicians like Hawley who sought to overturn election results. The political action committee for Hallmark, the Kansas City-based greeting card company, asked for its money back from Hawley.

Missouri’s two largest newspapers, The Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, called on Hawley to resign.

U.S. Sen. John Danforth, whom Hawley had credited as a political mentor, repudiated his protege.

But a year later, the events of Jan. 6 appear to have little effect on Hawley’s political standing in Missouri.

His approval rating was higher in July — 52% — than it was the year before, according to a poll by Saint Louis University and YouGov. Kenneth Warren, the associate director of the poll, said Hawley’s numbers dipped in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6 but have since recovered.

“His exact role being played has been forgotten, or forgiven,” Warren said. “Probably mostly forgotten.”

And while corporate support for Hawley has slowed, his fundraising remains prodigious, even though he is not up for re-election until 2024. In 2021, Hawley raised more than $7 million by Sept. 30, most of it small contributions from individual donors.

Josh Hawley speaking to attendees at the 2021 Missouri Lincoln Days in Kansas City in June.
Carlos Moreno
Josh Hawley speaking to attendees at the 2021 Missouri Lincoln Days in Kansas City in June.

By contrast, Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who is up for re-election later this year, raised just more than $1.78 million over the same period.

‘Nothing to see here’

As political polarization grows in the United States, politicians associated with Jan. 6 appear to face few ramifications from voters.

“I think what happened with last January to Josh is kind of what’s happened to a lot of individuals who have been associated with the insurrection and that is not much,” said Terry Smith, a political science professor at Columbia College in Missouri. “Many of them are not being held to account and it’s kind of, nothing to see here, life goes on.”

Hawley has condemned the attack on the Capitol, but stands by his vote against certifying Biden’s victory, despite no evidence of pervasive voter fraud. And as the one-year mark of the insurrection approached, Hawley this week sought to recast what Jan. 6 means.

“The most surprising outcome — and the day’s true legacy — was the Left’s attempt to use the Capitol unrest to foster a permanent climate of fear and repression,” Hawley wrote in an op-ed piece this week.

Most members of Congress and the Senate from Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, a collective delegation dominated by Republicans, are not keen on discussing Jan. 6 and the 2020 election results.

The Midwest Newsroom reached out to 26 members of Congress and the Senate from the four states to ask about their reflections of Jan. 6, whether there’s been accountability for what happened that day, and whether they would acknowledge that Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

Most declined to comment or did not respond.

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, an Iowa Democrat, said Biden won in 2020.

“It was a free and fair election,” she said in a statement to the Midwest Newsroom.

She said the “what, where and when” of Jan. 6 are known, but that the questions of “who, how and why” have yet to be fully answered.

“If we do not fully understand the answers to those fundamental questions, we will not be fully equipped to see the warning signs of another attempt to overturn a free and fair election or violently overthrow our Constitutional government,” Axne said.

‘What happened that day was wrong’

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, has acknowledged what some of his colleagues won’t.

“I would say Joe Biden won the election,” Bacon said in an interview.

Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska is one of 13 House Republicans who voted for the roughly $1 trillion bill, $2.5 billion of which is slated for his state's roads.
Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska is one of 13 House Republicans who voted for the roughly $1 trillion bill, $2.5 billion of which is slated for his state's roads.

Bacon, who represents a congressional district that Biden won in 2020, said Republicans should not downplay what happened on Jan. 6.

“I think we have some, I think it’s more of a minority, who try to diminish what happened that day,” Bacon said. “Truly, to call it ‘tourists,’ that’s not right. I just want to be honest: What happened that day was wrong.”

At the same time, he said those on the political left have overemphasized the meaning of Jan. 6.

“The other side has tried to politicize this to an extent that’s unrealistic,” Bacon said. “I mean, the government was not close to being toppled.”

Bacon, who voted in support of Biden’s infrastructure bill, has drawn former President Trump’s ire. Trump, who still wields significant influence in the Republican Party, released a statement this weekinviting someone to run against Bacon in the GOP primary later this year.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat, called Jan. 6 “one of the darkest days in our nation’s history.” Davids supports the work of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

“The American people deserve to know who was involved in the planning and execution of the attack,” Davids said in an email. “We need full accountability.”

Davids also said Biden won the election.

A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat, pointed to her own Dec. 27 tweet. It said the one-year anniversary of the Capitol attack should be commemorated with the passage of a resolution she introduced last year that called for the investigation and expulsion of any members of Congress who sought to overturn 2020 election results or incited violence at the Capitol.

The resolution was referred to a House committee last March but has had no official action or hearings since then.

Bush’s resolution has 54 co-sponsors, but none from Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska or Kansas.

The Midwest Newsroom is an investigative journalism collaboration including KCUR, St. Louis Public RadioIowa Public RadioNebraska Public Media and NPR.

Steve Vockrodt is the former investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.
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