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Hawley Faces Backlash Over Challenge To Electoral Vote

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri is among those allies of President Trump facing political backlash over the riot at the U.S. Capitol this week. Hawley was the first senator to announce plans to object to the Electoral College results. He was photographed raising a fist in support of the pro-Trump mob outside the Capitol.

Joining us from Missouri in St. Louis is St. Louis Public Radio's Jaclyn Driscoll, who's been following reaction in the state. And, Jaclyn, Trump won Missouri with 57% of the vote. So what does this backlash look like?

JACLYN DRISCOLL, BYLINE: Well, over the past 24 hours, Hawley has really received an avalanche of criticism, certainly from outside of his party. We obviously expected that from Democrats in this political climate. But he's also getting it from within his party right here in Missouri, as you mentioned, where it has become overwhelmingly conservative. But I recently spoke with a Republican representative, Shamed Dogan. He's from Ballwin, and he had some really strong words about the senator.

SHAMED DOGAN: For him to still stand up after seeing a woman lose her life and to not even mention that woman losing her life yesterday during his speeches, Josh Hawley just - I mean, he's lost any respect I had for him.

DRISCOLL: And even some of his very loyal supporters - Hawley's very loyal supporters, like former U.S. Senator Jack Danforth - he's come out recently and said that supporting Hawley was, quote, "the worst mistake he's ever made in his life." He called Hawley an embarrassment for stoking the flames of what turned into a violent and deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol as we all saw on Wednesday. Major donors are pulling their support. More U.S. lawmakers - again, as I mentioned, expected from Democrats, but even Republicans like Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who said that Hawley was doing something that was just not great when he incited violence at the Capitol. The Student Bar Association at the University of Missouri Law School - they have actually asked Hawley to resign. They say that just by him being a former professor there, it severely damaged the reputation of the institution.

Hawley did put out a statement after his decision to object on the Senate floor defending his decision. He said that, quote, "I will never apologize for giving voice to the millions of Missourians and Americans who have concerns about the integrity of our election." But Hawley has not responded to our request for comment.

CORNISH: Garnering some attention, publisher Simon & Schuster decided not to publish Hawley's planned upcoming book. How did the company explain its decision?

DRISCOLL: Right. So the publisher did put out a statement, basically citing what they called the disturbing and deadly insurrection in Washington, D.C. They said, as a publisher, it's their mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints. But in their statement, they said, at the same time, they take their responsibility as public citizens very seriously. And they said that they cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became, quote, "a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom."

Obviously, that drew swift and quick criticism from Hawley. He says that he plans to take the publisher to court. He claims it's a breach of contract. Obviously, I'm not a lawyer. I'm a reporter. So we will need to see the contract to get that determination - if he has any legal ground there. But he's also claiming that this is a First Amendment issue. He - Senator Hawley is a constitutional scholar, a graduate of Yale, and he most certainly knows that that is not the case. The First Amendment is about the government restricting free speech and not forcing a private company to publish his book.

CORNISH: For his supporters, he has at times been seen as a potential leader in the party. Are you hearing from them at all?

DRISCOLL: Yeah. So he does have a lot of support within his party. As quick as some were to distance themselves or condemn Senator Hawley's behavior, there are also several who are sticking with this far-right movement. Here in Missouri, we had a representative skip his swearing-in ceremony to attend the rally, and now they are leaning into the conspiracy theories that it was not Trump supporters who had stormed the Capitol.

CORNISH: That's Jaclyn Driscoll, the state House and politics reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.

Thank you.

DRISCOLL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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