Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley called Jan. 6, 2021, a “terrible day” and levied her sharpest criticism yet against former president Donald Trump and his false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
“Donald Trump basically said that the election was stolen. He went on and on talking about the election being stolen,” Haley said Wednesday night during the Republican presidential primary debate hosted by CNN. “That election? Trump lost it. Biden won that election. And the idea that [Trump’s] gone and carried this out forever, to the point that he’s going to continue to say these things to scare the American people, are wrong.’
Haley also said that Trump “will have to answer for” the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, when a pro-Trump mob overran the complex seeking to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win. Many rioters that day chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” in the misguided belief — pushed by Trump — that the then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. The attack left five people dead, including a police officer and a woman shot by police. Two other officers who were on duty that day later died by suicide and more than 100 officers were injured.
“He said that January 6 was a beautiful day. I think January 6 was a terrible day, and we should never want to see that happen again,” Haley said. She later reiterated: ‘I think what happened on January 6 was a terrible day, and I think President Trump will have to answer for it.”
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Haley tempered her response by saying there were “discrepancies” in the 2020 elections that “should be concerning,” and noted that she had signed a bill into law as governor of South Carolina requiring voters to present valid identification before voting.
“I think when absentee ballots go out, you should be able to verify signatures,” Haley said. “That’s why I think ballots need to be counted on Election Day and you should get results on Election Day.”
But when asked to clarify whether there was any meaningful difference in how she and Trump viewed the Constitution, Haley stated that Trump had gone too far when he pushed his allies to overturn the 2020 election results.
“The fact that he wanted to change what the states did, the fact that he wanted to overturn the elections in D.C. — those votes happen at the state level,’ she said. ‘You don’t ever allow in D.C. for those votes to be changed at the federal level. States’ rights matter.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), the only other candidate to share the debate stage with Haley Wednesday night, avoided attacking Trump and did not mention the Jan. 6 attack when asked the same question about whether he and the former president viewed the Constitution differently. Throughout his campaign, DeSantis has refrained from criticizing Trump too harshly over the insurrection, going as far as saying that the former president “should have come out more forcefully” to stop the rioters but that he did not think Trump acted with criminal intent.
Both candidates also were asked about an argument Trump’s lawyer made to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday that, as president, he would be immune from criminal prosecution — including if he ordered the military to assassinate a political rival — if he was not first impeached and convicted by the Senate.
“That’s ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous. … We need to use some common sense here,” Haley said, disagreeing with Trump’s legal argument. She also added that the country was “completely divided” after Trump’s presidency and continues to be under Biden.
“What a leader does is they bring out the best in people and get them to see the way forward,” she said. “That’s what we need in our country. We don’t need this chaos anymore. We need someone who’s going to be a new generational leader that brings sanity back to America.”
DeSantis also disagreed with Trump’s legal argument, predicting that the courts would rule against the former president on the issue of sweeping immunity. He also warned that, if Trump was the Republican presidential nominee, Democrats would make the general election a referendum on the Jan. 6 attack and Trump’s legal problems.