US Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, speaks to the press during a break in the Senate impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. - AFP

WASHINGTON: Josh Hawley is a young Republican senator with eyes on high office, but his objection to the election results and his support for Trump loyalists who went on to ransack the US Capitol leave him accused of having blood on his hands. The confident 41-year-old conservative who is Missouri's junior senator has made no effort to hide his presidential ambitions.

Now his political future hangs in the balance as he faces mounting criticism after becoming the first senator to publicly support efforts to block the electoral votes in swing states that supported Joe Biden for president. On Wednesday morning, Hawley raised a clenched fist at nearby Trump supporters as he walked into the Capitol where lawmakers would begin the final certification of the election.

It was a show of solidarity with-and perhaps an inspiration for-men and women who went on to storm the building in their violent efforts to overturn the election result and keep in Donald Trump power. The gesture could haunt his political career. Barely an hour after the first pump, the US Capitol was overrun in a deadly riot that laid siege to the seat of American democracy.

"Violence is not how you achieve change," a clearly shaken Hawley said later that night on the Senate floor, after police expelled the intruders and secured the building. But the damage had already been done, and for Hawley the dominos fell quickly. Fellow Republican senators denounced him. He lost a book deal. Donors are reportedly irate. And the Republican Party is cleaving in two over Trump's baseless conspiracy theories that Biden's Democrats somehow stole the election.

'A dangerous threat'

Hawley faced stinging rebukes from his state's two main newspapers, including the St. Louis Post Dispatch which slammed his "tardy, cover-his-ass condemnation of the violence" and called on him to resign. "Hawley's presidential aspirations have been flushed down the toilet because of his role in instigating Wednesday's assault on democracy," the paper wrote.

Hawley's hometown newspaper The Kansas City Star was equally damning, saying that the senator "has blood on his hands in Capitol coup attempt." The pile-on turned personal when former US senator John Danforth, a Hawley mentor in Missouri, blasted his "dangerous" effort to erode confidence in the election system. "Supporting Josh and trying so hard to get him elected to the Senate was the worst mistake I ever made in my life," Danforth told the Post-Dispatch.

Hawley is currently the youngest member of the Senate.

A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School who clerked for the US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, he is a passionate speaker and debater who positions himself as a populist voice in the Senate. And he has shown a willingness to buck is party leadership.

In December he became part of the oddest political couple in Washington, joining forces with Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, in an effort to boost the emergency stimulus checks for Americans from $600 to $1,200. As for the election, Hawley never seriously believed the results could be reversed, experts say. It was naked political calculation, a bid to snatch the Trump mantle when the brash businessman and reality star president leaves the Oval Office on January 20.

Another young Republican who almost certainly has presidential aspirations, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, took a different approach than Hawley. He argued against any effort by lawmakers in Washington to challenge individual states' results, and appeared to go after Hawley in a scathing tweet after the riot. "Some senators, for political gain, misled supporters about their ability to challenge the election results," Cotton wrote.

Amid the fallout, publisher Simon & Schuster scrapped publication of a forthcoming book by Hawley, citing "his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy." Hawley clapped back, branding the decision "Orwellian" and saying "I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have." - AFP