U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was directly involved with the decisions facing Congress during Wednesday’s riot in Washington, D.C., and also will be a key figure dealing with security in the coming weeks.
As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Blunt has oversight on the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol.
A couple minutes before Vice President Mike Pence was ushered out of the Senate chamber, Blunt received word that “a real problem was developing outside,” he told The Missourian from Washington, D.C., in a phone interview. After hundreds of pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the Capitol, Blunt was among those engaged in making sure Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton knew Congress planned to return that night to finish certifying the election.
With adversaries around the world seeing the breakdown in Washington, Blunt said it was important to show Congress coming together.
“I said it doesn’t have to be cleaned up or pristine, but we have to have cameras that work, lights that work and microphones that work,” he said.
A Capitol Police officer died as a result of injuries sustained in the riot, one woman was fatally shot by police, while three others died of apparent medical emergencies. At least 68 people were arrested.
Wednesday’s event showed people on different sides need to deal with each other more reasonably, Blunt said. Without mentioning President Donald Trump by name, he also called out the president’s promotion of the rally and march to the Capitol.
“When you initiate something like asking people to come to Washington and march on the Capitol, you better understand what that means,” he said.
The event also showed how important it is to follow the Constitution, Blunt said.
“Anytime you begin to drift away from that, you say to all of us that you’re just like every other country in the world, and we are not like every other country in the world,” he said.
Blunt, also chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, has been preparing for security at President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, as well as the days leading up to it.
“I had several different meetings on the topic yesterday, talking with Capitol Police and others,” he said. “I feel good about security. We put up a different type of fencing for the inauguration.”
The inauguration already was going to be a scaled-back event because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Blunt said to expect it to look more like an outdoors and social-distanced State of the Union address than the large events that fill the National Mall.
“I’ve been in charge of the inauguration twice now, and it’s clearly one of our more vulnerable moments, but it’s also one of our examples to the world of how democracy works, with a peaceful transfer of power,” Blunt said.
While Blunt and most Senate Republicans agreed to certify Biden’s electoral votes, fellow Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley was the first senator to say he would object to the results. Since then, Hawley, who was photographed fist pumping toward protesters before they stormed the Capitol, has faced calls for his resignation and has had a book deal canceled.
“It was not just Sen. Hawley, it was Sen. (Ted) Cruz and about half the Republicans in the House,” Blunt said. “It was not a difficult decision for me, because I thought the Constitution was clear, and I think it’s time to move on, frankly, to make our government continue to be the leading force of freedom around the world.”
Blunt said he tried to ensure a plan would be in place for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. He argued for $6 billion to go toward distributing the vaccine and another $15 billion to $20 billion for the vaccine itself.
“You need to have a plan in place well in advance of the time you get the vaccine distributed, and you also have to have a plan to pay for the vaccine,” he said. “I think that plan was not as good as it could have been, partly because the administration was arguing amongst itself on whether they needed the money or not, and they clearly did.”
But Blunt credits the Trump administration for Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership that he said helped get the vaccine developed in a quarter of the time it might have previously taken. He would have preferred the conversation in recent weeks had been about things like that.
“This administration has had lots of successes,” he said.