ST. PAUL — State and federal law enforcement agencies on Friday, Jan. 15, said they were gearing up for possible violence at the Minnesota Capitol this weekend and beyond ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.
Though they hadn't uncovered any credible threats, agency heads said they were scaling up their presence at the Capitol complex to protect the First Amendment rights of those set to protest Biden's win.
Inside the Statehouse, a typically tranquil conversation between top lawmakers about legislative priorities turned into a heated debate over lawmakers' roles in perpetuating unfounded claims of widespread election fraud, and how those claims resulted in a violent demonstration at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
And in the nation's only divided Legislature, political differences were again laid bare as lawmakers announced their top concerns for the legislative session. As each majority caucus introduced its first list of bills, it became clear that Republicans who lead the Senate and Democrats who control the House of Representatives weren't on the same page.
Just two weeks into the legislative session, disagreements boiled to the surface in public forums and tense fights between legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz drew questions about whether the key players would be able to work across party lines to write a budget or resolve the state's most pressing issues.
Staunch disagreements about roots of the violence
Legislative leaders and Walz on Monday clashed hard over what motivated the demonstrators in Washington last week to become violent. Democrats pointed to Republicans' false claims of widespread election fraud, while Republicans credited rising political tensions on "both sides," highlighting summertime protests that turned violent in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis.
The Forum News Service event that typically features lawmakers' top policy priorities quickly escalated to an emotional shouting match as Walz revealed that he and his family had been threatened the same day the U.S. Capitol was stormed and his son had to be evacuated from the governor's residence as dozens of demonstrators gathered outside.
The governor voiced frustration about GOP legislative leaders continuing to raise questions about the legitimacy of the election as protesters in the state and around the country used allegations that the election was "stolen" to justify storming the U.S. Capitol and preparing additional demonstrations at state capitols.
“How do we find common ground when we have people who will not say the election was fair?" Walz asked. “Trying to cater to understand why people think this election was flawed is part of the reason they were in this Capitol. And I refuse to partake in that strawman fight or what I consider to be some pretty epic gaslighting going on amongst all of us."
VIEW THE FULL CONVERSATION HERE: WATCH: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, legislative leaders tackle top issues during Forum News Service event
Republican leaders in the virtual news conference affirmed that Biden is the president-elect and condemned political violence or violent rhetoric. But they stopped short of resting blame on President Donald Trump himself or the Republican party for perpetuating false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
Instead, they said the violence was the result of increasingly hot political rhetoric on both sides, and they urged Democratic leaders to listen to protesters' concerns over election security.
“What we need to do as leaders is to recognize that there is a swath of our population that believes that the election maybe wasn’t fair," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. Daudt also noted that though there were some irregularities in Minnesota's election but not enough to invalidate the results here.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said the governor and legislators who've been the subject of protests, some with armed demonstrators, outside their homes, likely wouldn't soon be receptive to the views of those calling for "casualties" or civil war.
“To ask him to turn around and turn the other cheek and hug this person close and say, ‘Why is it that you don’t think we had a free and fair and legal election,’ is completely unrealistic," Hortman said.
Different plans for what comes first
Democrats in the House of Representatives put up their top legislative priorities this week, noting that their focus would be on supporting workers and families still struggling through the pandemic.
During a Zoom news conference, DFL lawmakers said they would aim to pass policies getting additional funds to Minnesotans to cover the cost of housing and food, ensure workers have protections if they contract the illness or need to care for loved ones, increase resources for those in long-term care or living without a shelter and boost spending for schools and child care providers.
“What you see in this package is a focus on helping Minnesotans get what they need to get through COVID-19," Hortman said. "We’re optimistic that soon vaccines will be widely distributed and we will begin to get back to normal but in the meantime, Minnesotans have really intensive needs from housing to child care to health care.”
The slate of policies contrasted with the early plans of Senate Republicans, who hold a majority in that chamber. While the GOP caucus is set to more formally outline is top priorities next week, the first bills put forth by members and highlighted in news releases or conferences sought to reopen businesses closed by state coronavirus executive orders, prevent the governor from closing schools or altering academic schedules and enhance the penalty for attempted murder of a judge, prosecutor, or correctional officer.
Emergency powers up for reconsideration
Walz on Wednesday extended Minnesota's state of emergency to respond to COVID-19 for another 30 days after the plan again got the green light from the state's Executive Council.
The peacetime emergency has allowed the state to quickly scale up testing capacity, activate the Minnesota National Guard and place an eviction on moratoriums since it was first put in place in March. Walz has also been able to require Minnesotans to stay at home except for when performing essential tasks and temporarily shut down sectors of the economy and social gatherings.
Now that the Legislature has resumed regular session, the plan doesn't require lawmakers' support and it didn't automatically come up for a legislative veto.
Lawmakers in the House next week are set to take up a review of the executive orders passed under the emergency declaration to determine what could become more permanent and what can fall away. Leaders in that chamber have said the setting in place a policy bridge could help them move toward ending the governor's emergency powers.
But for now, with a new more transmissible strain of the virus present in Minnesota, they said Walz should have all available tools at his disposal.