WASHINGTON – Michelle Fischbach's first major vote in Congress sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The newly elected Republican representing western Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District voted not to certify the Electoral College votes of two states. She did so just hours after a mob incited by President Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election stormed into the Capitol, attacking police and attempting to break into the Senate and the House, where Fischbach voted.
"This election was shrouded in allegations of irregularities and fraud too voluminous to ignore," said Fischbach in a statement issued before the attack on the Capitol, calling for a "proper investigation" of unproven fraud claims that have been dismissed by dozens of federal courts. She declined to be interviewed for this story.
Fischbach swept into office riding a wave of support for Trump, toppling longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson. With Trump impeached this week for inciting a deadly mob, and influential allies breaking from the embattled leader, Fischbach is facing a new challenge as one of a shrinking number of Republicans in Congress still sticking with the president.
Already, Fischbach and other members of Congress claiming voter fraud have faced pushback. Some major businesses cut them off from political contributions saying they, like the rioters, attacked democracy. Some groups called for her removal from Congress. Two of her more senior fellow Republicans — Reps. Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber — voted to certify Democrat Joe Biden's victory.
Dean Urdahl, a veteran Republican state representative from Fischbach's district, said her early votes and positioning are in keeping with the beliefs of the voters who elected her. Trump got 64% of the vote in her district.
"The Seventh District went solidly for Trump," said Urdahl, of Grove City. "There are still people in the district with a strong belief that something was wrong. I'm sure she was thinking about that" when she voted to overturn the election.
Fischbach tied herself to Trump during the campaign, and she painted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats as radical socialists. She defeated Peterson, a 30-year incumbent who chaired the Agriculture Committee in a district whose chief economic engine is farming and livestock production and processing.
Urdahl predicted that the "adverse effects" Fischbach will suffer for voting against certifying a Democratic president in a chamber controlled by Democrats will be "short term."
"Two years is an eternity in politics," Urdahl added. "A lot of things going on right now won't be relevant or impactful in two years" when Fischbach stands for re-election.
Fischbach does plan to attend Biden's inauguration next week.
Even as the vast majority in the Republican-led Senate voted to certify Biden's win, Fischbach got political cover from more than 100 other Trump loyalists in the House, including Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who voted as she did.
"I was not surprised by her vote, given her rhetoric over the past couple of years," said University of Minnesota, Morris political scientist Tim Lindberg. "She was on the side of Trump and on the side of disinformation."
Marty Seifert, a former Republican House minority leader from Marshall, said that he, like "most people," believed the Electoral College votes should be certified, not overturned. But Fischbach's certification vote "will be ancient history by the time she stands for re-election."
Fischbach has proved to be a savvy politician deeply enmeshed in Republican politics. The first woman to serve as Minnesota Senate president, Fischbach became the state's lieutenant governor for a year when Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Democrat Tina Smith to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Al Franken, who resigned.
Her next test will be establishing clout in Congress. Freshman legislators have a tough time getting bills passed, said Lara Brown, the professor who runs George Washington University's graduate program in political management. Those who alienate colleagues likely face an even more difficult challenge.
"The quality of the people you attract to work with you goes down as the controversy goes up," Brown said.
Committee assignments have not been announced. If Fischbach fails to get a seat on the Agriculture Committee, it will be the first time in decades that the Seventh District has not been represented on that critical panel.
Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, whose group endorsed Peterson, said if she does get a seat, "we will be doing all we can to get her up to speed on ag issues."
Fischbach will stand for re-election after Minnesota draws new congressional districts based on the 2020 census. No matter the makeup of that district, GWU's Brown said Fischbach's vote irreversibly marries her future to Trump's.
"If Trump is still flying high in two years, she may be able to ride that to another term," Brown said. "But if Trump is indicted or in other kinds of trouble ... her entire reputation — good or bad — will pivot around Trump."
Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432