SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said Monday he stands by his statement that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, after Trump called his fellow Republican a “jerk” for his comments.
Rounds said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by Trump’s attack.
Since his loss, Trump has made repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, even as courts, audits and recounts have repeatedly confirmed the results as free and fair.
“This isn’t new information,” Rounds said in a statement. “If we’re being honest, there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would have altered the results of the election.”
Rounds had said in an interview Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week” that Republicans need to move forward and focus on winning elections, and added that people “can believe and they can have confidence that those elections are fair … and that is in every single state that we looked at.”
Rounds was also asked whether it was possible that Congress would pass legislation to block Trump from running again for president on the grounds that he betrayed his oath by supporting the Jan. 6 insurrection. Rounds responded that the courts, not Congress, are the appropriate place to answer such questions but said Trump should not be shielded from the court system.
While many Republican senators agree with Rounds, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the South Dakotan’s comments were still somewhat extraordinary in an environment where most GOP politicians have shied from openly criticizing Trump.
The former president’s hold on the party was clear last week, when Republicans stayed away from Washington and declined to join Democrats in commemorating the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection – the worst attack on the Capitol in more than two centuries.
Trump said Monday that Rounds was only speaking out because he was easily reelected in 2020 with Trump’s endorsement — “so now he thinks he has time, and those are the only ones, the weak, who will break away,” Trump said. “I will never endorse this jerk again,” he added.
Rounds noted that former Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory “and acted with integrity.”
“It’s time for the rest of us to do the same,” he said.
Rounds’ comments come days after his Republican Senate colleague, John Thune, announced that he would run for reelection after mulling retirement. Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a top candidate to succeed McConnell, has also drawn Trump’s criticism for saying he believes Biden won the presidential election.
Ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Thune said that any attempt to overturn the legitimate results would “go down like a shot dog” in the Senate.
Thune was correct — more than 90 senators voted against two separate objections to the results in the hours after Trump’s supporters violently broke into the Capitol in protest. While both Rounds and Thune voted to certify Biden’s win, neither voted to impeach Trump in the weeks afterward.
On Monday, Thune said “welcome to the club” when asked about Rounds’ statement in response to Trump. Echoing McConnell, Thune said Republicans need to be focusing on the future not the past, and important policy issues like the economy and national security.
“There’s just a whole lot of things that we need to be talking about to win and earn the support of the American people in 2022,” Thune said.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed from Washington.