(WASHINGTON) — Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales is defending his endorsement of former President Donald Trump despite their sharply different views on Jan. 6.
In an interview on Sunday with ABC News “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos, Gonzales was repeatedly pressed on his support for Trump in the 2024 presidential race given that Trump has called participants in the U.S. Capitol attack who have been prosecuted “hostages” and downplayed the riot itself as a “beautiful day.”
Gonzales, a Texas lawmaker, noted that he was in the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and went on to help police respond. He said he could sense the “chaos” before it unfolded.
“There was an anger built in our country then and, three years later, that anger has not stopped,” he said. “There’s this division that continues to get fueled. The easiest thing to do in politics is to blame someone else. I think it’s time for us as Americans to set aside our differences, and [focus on] how do we heal this country and bring it back together?”
Stephanopoulos pointed out that Gonzales’ comments about Jan. 6, including calling those who participated “domestic terrorists,” have long been at odds with the former president.
Gonzales said that Trump “wasn’t responsible” for Jan. 6, arguing instead that the riot broke out because people “no longer believe in the system.”
“I look at it through the lens [of] that was a dark day and I never want to see Jan. 6 happen again, or something like that or riots across our country. How do we calm everybody down? How do we bring this country together?” Gonzales said.
He maintained that the residents of his district, which includes much of Texas’ border with Mexico, “aren’t talking about Jan. 6” and are instead “talking about feeling safe in their homes, they’re talking about putting food on the table, keeping their kids safe in school.”
But given Gonzales’ differences with Trump over Jan. 6, Stephanopoulos asked if he believes as Trump does that the rioters should receive presidential pardons.
“They’re certainly not hostages … They’re certainly not heroes,” Gonzales said. “They broke the law, and we have to obey our laws.”
Gonzales contended, however, that “we never got to the root of why they did that … If we continue to kick the can down the road and not get to the root of the issue of why people are angry, it’s going to create more dangers.”
Stephanopoulos pushed back, saying that the anger of Jan. 6 participants was in part because “they were fed a lot of lies about the election from the man you now support to be president again.”
“Well, they felt as if President [Joe] Biden stole that election, and nothing has changed since then,” Gonzales said.
Stephanopoulos followed up: “Did President Biden steal the election?”
“Of course not,” Gonzales replied. “But Sen. Biden was this bipartisan, deal-making individual that everyone thought they were going to get. President Biden has turned out to be much different.”
“This is the reason why Americans are angry and upset. And unless we tackle that issue, we’re going to see more of the same,” Gonzales said. He suggested there could be future domestic threats: “I worry about 9/11, but I also worry about — think back to the Oklahoma City bombing. I mean, when people are angry, they do desperate things.”
Gonazles said he wanted to see Trump back in office to see a return to Trump’s “successful” policies, including at the southern border.
Gonzales pointed to the current high rates of illegal immigration, which he said have a major impact on his district. Under Trump-era policies, Gonzales said, his district didn’t have as many issues.
“We did not have the border crisis that we have now. We did not have the humanitarian turmoil,” he said. “We did not have the chaos. That’s the No. 1 thing in my district. Our lives are turned upside down, and we just want to get back to normal.”
Ultimately, Gonzales said, “I just want solutions. I think the American public also wants solutions.”
“I’d much rather see leaders come to the table and go, ‘How do we solve problems?"” he added.
Again, Stephanopoulos pushed back.
“If you want to bring people together, if you want to solve these problems, doesn’t the responsibility begin with not endorsing a candidate for president who’s spreading lies about the last election?” he said.
Gonzales suggested that him backing Trump in the upcoming election shouldn’t be over-interpreted.
“This is what I’ve learned about endorsements: You get all their enemies and hardly any of their friends,” he said. “Endorsements are just a piece of paper. But I do endorse — I do endorse President Trump, and I think President Trump’s policies were very successful.”
Gonzales insisted that he didn’t think his stances on Trump were as important to his job in Congress as other duties such as “border security solutions.”
“If everything Donald Trump says and does, you want to put on my back, we’re going to be here all day,” he said.
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