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Iowa Republican members of Congress are up for re-election. Here’s how they talk about the Capitol insurrection one year later.

The January 6 attack on the Capitol raised alarm bells for a think tank studying democracy.
Samuel Corum
Getty Images
It's been a year since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol aimed at overturning the 2020 presidential election results. Iowa's entire congressional delegation voted to certify Joe Biden's victory.

The insurrection at the United States Capitol was one year ago Thursday. Supporters of former President Donald Trump tried to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Republicans in Congress from Iowa have been careful over the last 12 months how they talk about what happened.

Six Iowans have been charged with federal crimes for their role of the storming of the Capitol, and driving Congress from its chambers in an effort to halt the certification of Joe Biden's victory. Iowa State University Political Science Professor David Peterson said a former president provoking his supporters to storm the Capitol was just one just one of the unprecedented events that happened on Jan. 6, 2021.

“The procedural objections to the electoral votes were on a scale that we haven't seen before,” Peterson said. “There have been some challenges in the past, but not this many states or in this sort of concerted effort to essentially throw out the electors and have it get back to the state legislature.”

The mob was eventually cleared and the votes were certified in the early hours of the next morning.

Iowa’s entire congressional delegation, made up of five Republicans and one Democrat, voted to certify Biden’s win. Days later, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley told the Des Moines Register there was very little opportunity for Donald Trump to lead the Republican Party.

Then in October, Grassley stood on a stage in Des Moines with the former president before thousands of Trump supporters and accepted his endorsement.

“If I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart,” Grassley said to a crowd of thousands of Trump-supporters during a campaign-style rally on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Trump continued to push false claims at the rally that the 2020 election was rigged. Reporters asked Grassley a few days later if he supports the rhetoric Trump continues to push.

“He’s a private citizen. He can say anything he wants to,” Grassley told reporters on Oct. 14. “I’m looking to the 2022 election and presenting my case to the people.”

Grassley and his fellow Iowa Republicans in the U.S. House have to think about their re-election. An NPR/Ipsos poll out this week shows fewer than half of Republicans are willing to accept the results of the 2020 election. Trump did really well in Iowa in the 2016 and 2020 general elections.

“If you treat it like the insurrection that it was then that reflects poorly on the Republican Party,” said Cornell College American Politics Professor Megan Goldberg. Goldberg notes both Republican U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannete Miller-Meeks face potentially close races in the newly-drawn districts where they seek re-election.

“What we’ve seen is the development of a highly political and partisan process through the commission that Speaker Pelosi has pushed forward,” Rep. Hinson said while explaining her vote against the bipartisan congressional commission to investigate the insurrection on the Iowa PBS show “Iowa Press.” “I think timing wise, I supported getting to the bottom. I still support getting to the bottom of it.”

“If they can say that it's partisan and delegitimize it, then whatever comes out of it, especially given the prominent role that Iowa citizens played in the insurrection then that's going to sort of avoid damaging the party brand in Iowa,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said the Iowa’s congressional delegation has not been as extreme as some other members of Congress.

ISU Political Scientist David Peterson said statements from Iowa’s congressional Republicans immediately after the events of Jan. 6, 2021 took a morally correct stand for democracy but now they have a choice to make.

“Do they care more about taking positions that strengthen our electoral system and the faith that we as Americans have in the elections or do they choose the electorally expedient position?” Peterson said. “As they've shifted, right, they're shifting that balance, and it seems like they're taking the more electorally expedient positions.”

Not everyone is taking that position.

Former Vice President Mike Pence’s job on Jan. 6 was to count the electoral votes. Pence spoke at an event on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City last November. Someone in the crowd asked him to explain his actions that day.

“The constitution is very clear that elections are to be governed at the state level. Founders actually made that decision at the constitutional convention and the only role of the federal government was to open and count the electoral votes that were sent by the states,” Pence said while speaking to a conservative youth organization. “I understand the disappointment in the election. You might remember I was on the ballot.”

Pence’s appearance in Iowa underlines that all signs point to Iowa still kicking off the 2024 presidential campaign for the Republicans. How the GOP talks in Iowa about what happened one year ago today will play an important role in the national conversation about trust in American elections.

Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.