Former Republican Rep. Vin Weber reflects on Jan. 6 Capitol attack

Newt Gingrich and Vin Weber
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota U.S. Rep. Vin Weber appear in a live broadcast for Midday with Gary Eichten in 2006.
Mike McGraw | MPR News 2006

One year has passed since a violent mob descended on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Lawmakers staffers and journalists had to scramble to safety. Five people died because of the violence; 140 Capitol police officers were injured.

We wanted to hear from our Republican congressional lawmakers about this day, but they're not willing to talk. So host Cathy Wurzer called a well-known former Republican Minnesota congressman, Vin Weber.

Weber served in the U.S. House, representing parts of western Minnesota, for 12 years. He's now a partner at Mercury Public Affairs, and he's also on the Dean's Advisory Committee at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota.

Below is a transcript of their conversation. The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Listen to their full conversation by clicking the audio player above.

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Where were you a year ago today?

I was in our home in Walker, Minn. But I was glued to the television. I didn't set out to watch Trump's speech at the rally and then the invasion of the Capitol all day long. But I did. Once you start watching, especially if you've been privileged to work in that building — it's something you just couldn't take your eyes off. So I watched it all day long, to considerable dismay.

What was going through your mind?

This had never happened before. I guess you could argue that there are other similar things that have happened — there's been attempts to attack the Capitol — but nothing, in my experience, like this had happened before. And it shouldn't have been allowed to happen. I remember thinking that President Trump was way out of line calling on his supporters to march on the Capitol, even peacefully, because the election was decided and should not have been contested.

For eight years, I chaired an organization called the National Endowment for Democracy. That was a great privilege. And our job at the National Endowment is to promote democracy around the world, particularly in places where it's under fire or in its fledgling years. And our greatest strength has always been to point to the example of American democracy as having worked for the people of America.

So to see it under fire like that, it struck me: This is a negative message not just for the American people. It hurts our efforts to build democracies around the world, which still should be and is the goal of the United States.

A poll published Monday by NPR found a solid majority of Americans think the nation's democracy is in crisis and at risk of failing. How do you rate the health of our democracy right now?

I don't want to be Pollyannaish about it. But you can look at the assaults on our democracy and say, “The good news is we survived all of this.” The president was inaugurated, he is in office, is doing a lot of things I don't agree with as a Republican — but there's no question that he's in office. People are challenging it, and that's unfortunate, but American democracy still functions. And we're going to have an election at the end of this year that's going to be carried off.

We've gotten into a period of time where everybody challenges the legitimacy of the election. A lot of people challenge the legitimacy of the Biden presidency. Few people remember that an even larger percentage of people challenge the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. And of course, when George Bush was elected in 2000, with a minority of the popular vote, many people challenged the validity of his election. So we've had assaults on our democracy.

But the good news is our democracy does continue to work. And I think that's a more positive story than the problems that are challenging. So I rate the health of our democracy: still very strong, but needs to be tended.

We've called Minnesota's current Republican congressional delegation repeatedly asking for interviews on Jan. 6 — requests that have been declined or simply unanswered. Why do you think many Republican lawmakers and officials either deny or whitewash what happened, or deflect or ignore questions?

I can't answer that specifically. I do think that the manner in which the House of Representatives has chosen to address this — and it should be addressed — has turned into a partisan exercise.

The Jan. 6 committee, which is going to produce some report this summer and a final report in the fall before the election, unfortunately has been constituted in a partisan way. The Republicans were denied the opportunity to have the members that they wanted on that committee. That's a bad precedent. And I expect that's why some Republican members of Congress don't want to talk about this. It has become a partisan issue, unfortunately — and in my view, unnecessarily.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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