WASHINGTON — Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who led the effort in the Senate to contest President Biden’s election victory, said he does not regret raising his fist to a pro-Trump mob gathered outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 ahead of the insurrection.

“I waved to them, gave them the thumbs-up, pumped my fist to them and thanked them for being there, and they had every right to do that,” Hawley said during an interview Tuesday with Washington Post Live.

The senator said he did not regret greeting the mob that way, arguing that many of them were there to peacefully protest, not storm the Capitol. In the attack, hundreds invaded the Capitol, vandalizing the building and occupying it for hours. The insurrection left five dead, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer who died of a stroke the day after he was injured, and more than 100 officers were hurt.

“I don’t know which of those protesters, if any of them, those demonstrators, participated in the criminal riot,” Hawley said. “And I think it’s a slur on the thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of people who came to the Capitol that day to demonstrate peacefully to lump them in with the criminal rioters and say, ‘Oh, you’re all basically the same.’ “

Hawley was among the Republicans who still voted against certifying Biden’s election win when Congress resumed voting in the evening after the riot. He maintains that he wasn’t going to allow the “lawless criminal mob” to affect his plans to raise “concerns about election integrity.”

Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that widespread fraud resulted in a rigged election, a falsehood rejected by his own Justice Department and former Attorney General William Barr.

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Hawley said he raised the objection specifically over Pennsylvania’s results because of changes in voting laws that he believed were unlawful. Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 but lost it to Biden in 2020.

When Post reporter Cat Zakrzewski pushed back that Pennsylvania courts found those arguments had no merit and tried to move on, Hawley said, “Don’t try to censor, cancel, and silence me here.”

“Senator, we’re hosting you here,” Zakrzewski responded.

Despite his contention that he was right to question the results, Hawley said, as he has in previous interviews, that Biden is the “duly elected president of the United States” and urged Republicans to “take their stand through the democratic process.”

Hawley also defended his recent vote against a bill to combat the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic. He was the only senator to oppose it.

He said his opposition to the bill was that he believed it gave the federal government too much power “to define offensive speech and to track it and to monitor it and collect it.”

“The civil libertarian in me just recoils at that,” he said.

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The bill in part directs the Justice Department to expedite a probe of the increase in hate crimes believed to be related to the insistence by Trump and other Republicans in linking the coronavirus to China and the Chinese people.

Hawley also spoke about the direction of the Republican Party, which he suggested still very much belongs to Trump. Asked about the pending decision from Facebook on whether to allow Trump back on the platform, Hawley said Trump’s influence over the party doesn’t depend on his social media.

“My view is, is that the former president — he’s a very significant force in the party as it is, and that’s going to be true no matter what,” Hawley said.

Hawley, who is viewed as a likely contender for president in 2024, said he wasn’t “planning to run” and would not run in the GOP presidential primaries if Trump runs again.