By Briana Bierschbach
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she is seeing fresh signs that the violent insurrection in Washington last week was a "tipping point" in a nation that has been deeply polarized under Donald Trump's presidency.
"You have the public horrified that a police officer dies, horrified that the people's house was taken over by mobsters and vandals and thugs," she said in a Star Tribune interview Saturday. "This was completely out of control. This isn't the country that they love. This isn't patriotism — this is the opposite."
Even before the breach, Klobuchar said there were signals that people were starting to "reject the Trump philosophy."
Democrats had won one U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia when the Electoral College proceedings started on Wednesday. By the end of the day, they had prevailed in both, taking over the majority in the chamber. Early polls in the state suggested a majority of voters had rejected Trump's unsubstantiated message about widespread voter fraud.
Klobuchar even found herself in the midst of a historic moment early Thursday morning as Vice President Mike Pence turned to her on the Senate floor and offered his closed fist.
He had just read the Electoral College vote tally in favor of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, hours after the mob incited by his president violently breached the Capitol, vowing to upend the democratic process and sending lawmakers into lockdown. After the Capitol was secured, they returned to finish the task. The Republican vice president and Democratic senator were some of the few members left in the Senate as the process was wrapping up around 3 a.m.
Klobuchar reached up and returned the gesture, bumping his fist with hers.
"We disagree on basically everything," Klobuchar said. "But we upheld our democracy, we did our jobs. No matter how this day started, this is how it ended."
Washington remains on edge as the embattled president faces the threat of an impeachment vote as early as Monday and as the city prepares for a scaled-down inauguration of President-elect Biden. Over the weekend, Trump supporters held rallies at state capitals across the country, including about 150 who gathered in St. Paul.
But Klobuchar sees a growing number of signs that calmer times are ahead.
Even as a number of vocal Republican lawmakers planned to object to the certification of the election results in key states, a significant group of GOP congressional members quietly upheld the results, said Klobuchar, who'd spent weeks behind the scenes trying to build bipartisan support.
That group got larger after the breach, which claimed five lives, including a Capitol policeman. Longtime Trump allies such as Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham rose to support the certification process. "I prayed Joe Biden would lose. He won. He's the legitimate president of the United States," Graham said in his floor speech.
In a stunning moment during the lockdown, Klobuchar watched a room of senators from both parties fall silent as Biden appeared on television and called for the riots to end.
"At the end people clapped," Klobuchar said. "It was really dramatic because the president was smoldering away in the White House and Biden was addressing the nation."
Minnesota's senior senator was central to the process of certifying the Electoral College vote, as the lead Democrat who will soon ascend to chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee. Behind the scenes, she was one of the key players pushing to make sure it resumed after the Capitol was cleared.
"I stood up and said, 'We have to go back, we have to go back,' " Klobuchar said. "We have to get this done, we can't let them own our room, but we also can't let them stop the electoral counting."
Even though the results are certified, she acknowledges that Trump still has a "hard core base" that will continue to doubt Biden's victory. The next week and a half until the inauguration is certain to be tense, with some conservatives protesting a move to impeach Trump for a second time or remove him from office by the 25th Amendment.
But Klobuchar hopes the inauguration of the new president, the confirmation of his Cabinet members and more work to combat the coronavirus pandemic will start to bring people together.
She is one of a handful of lawmakers in Congress who will be leading joint hearings on how the breach happened and how to make sure it never happens again, a task that is critical as the inauguration approaches.
"It has to be safe," she said. "For the world to see."
In all the horror that unfolded on Wednesday, Klobuchar said it still ended the way it was supposed to, with a smattering of applause, a certification of an election — and a quiet fist bump.
"That moment was about a peaceful transition of power," she said. "The whole day was about that."