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Hawley defends Jan. 6 fist pump

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyNYPD Asian Hate Crimes Task Force chief: Attacks are 'not new' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan MORE (R-Mo.), who led efforts to challenge the 2020 election results in Congress, on Tuesday defended his fist pump to protesters outside of the Capitol on Jan. 6.

A photo that shows Hawley outside of the Capitol with his fist raised to protesters drew widespread scrutiny after a pro-Trump mob later breached the Capitol as then-Vice President Pence and lawmakers were counting the Electoral College results.

"That was as I was entering the House chamber the morning of the 6th," Hawley told The Washington Post Live. "Those were demonstrators who were out there on the plaza, on the far end of the plaza ... standing behind barricades, waving American flags."

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"Some of them were calling, so I gestured toward them," he added. "They had every right to be there. ... When I walked by that particular group of folks were standing there peacefully behind police barricades."

Asked if he regretted his reaction, Hawley said he didn't and called it a "slur" to lump in demonstrators outside of the Capitol with rioters who breached the building later on Jan. 6.

"No, because I don't know which of those protesters if any of them ... participated in the criminal riot," Hawley said.

Hawley, viewed as a potential 2024 White House contender, was the first Republican senator to announce he would formally challenge the election results in Congress, giving House conservatives, who were already publicly on board, the support they needed to force a vote on a challenge for only the third time since 1887.

Hawley's decision sparked frustration from other Republicans in the Senate, where leadership had hoped to avoid a drawn-out fight that they worried would force their members to take votes even though it would not ultimately change the outcome of the presidential election.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Trump signals he's ready to get back in the game Manchin, Murkowski call for bipartisan Voting Rights Act reauthorization MORE (Ky.) also issued a forceful public rebuke on Jan. 6 of attempting to use Congress to try to overturn the election.

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“The Constitution gives Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national Board of Elections on steroids," he said at the time. "The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them all, it would damage our republic forever."

Hawley's decision to move forward with his challenge to Pennsylvania's results even after Congress's counting was suspended for hours due to the attack on the Capitol sparked fierce criticism, including from some of his longtime political allies.

Hawley has defended his decision to challenge the results, framing it as a debate on "election integrity." The courts and election experts have set aside claims from then-President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE and his allies of widespread fraud.

"I promised my constituents I would, I did and I don't regret that all all," Hawley said on Tuesday.

Six in 10 Republicans believe Trump's false claim that the election was "stolen" from him, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll released last month.

Hawley said on Tuesday that he views Biden as legitimately elected, adding, "He's the duly elected president of the United States."