GOP congressman apologizes to Robert Jeffress for claiming he pushed 'stolen election' claim

Donald Trump, Robert Jeffress
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) is greeted by Pastor Jeffress at the Celebrate Freedom Rally in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 2017. |

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., has issued an apology to Dallas megachurch Pastor Robert Jeffress for falsely claiming that he was among the evangelical leaders who promoted the claim that the 2020 election was "stolen" from President Donald Trump.

Kinzinger, a Republican critic of President Donald Trump who said he would vote to impeach the president, took to Twitter on Tuesday to criticize prominent conservative Christian pastors who he believed promoted the president’s claims of targeted voter fraud impacting the 2020 election. 

According to Newsweek, Kinzinger called on the leaders to "admit their mistakes and lead their flocks out of darkness to truth."

Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas and one of the earliest prominent evangelical supporters of Trump going back to the 2016 Republican primary elections, responded to a now-deleted tweet from Kinzinger accusing him and others, such as Franklin Graham, of spreading the voter fraud claim.

“Adam, you need to get your facts straight,” Jeffress wrote on the platform. “I’ve never once claimed the election was ‘stolen.’ If anyone needs to ‘admit their mistake,’ it’s YOU. Will be awaiting your apology.”

Kinzinger, who has served in the House of Representatives since 2011, responded by issuing an apology, an act that is not often done publicly by politicians. 

“You know sir? You are absolutely correct,” Kinzinger admitted. “You did act honorably, and while my point remains about the Church and the need for pastors to lead, you did not press those stolen election conspiracies. I am sorry for including you in that.”

Jeffress said he appreciated his apology and accepted it. 

“We are praying for you and for all our elected officials,” the pastor assured in a response.  

Jeffress made headlines in November when he wrote a column published by Fox News headlined: “Pastor Robert Jeffress: Biden is president-elect — how should Christians respond?” The op-ed came at a time in which many conservatives were questioning the validity of Biden’s election victory. 

In the op-ed, Jeffress said it appeared Biden would become the 46th president of the United States unless Trump was successful in his “legal challenges to the counting of votes in several states.”

But at the time, Jeffress refuted reports claiming that he declared Biden the president-elect. 

After deleting his original tweet, Kinzinger went on to post another directed at conservative Christian leaders who have backed the president. 

“I believe there is a huge burden now on Christian leaders, especially those who entertained the conspiracies, to lead the flock back into the truth,” Kinzinger wrote later in the day. 

The congressman, 42, has been vocal in his disgust at the Capitol riot last week, which temporarily delayed the counting of electoral votes and led to the deaths of five people. He accused the president of breaking his oath of office by inciting an insurrection.

Those who died include unarmed 35-year-old Air Force veteran Ashely Babbitt who was shot by Capitol police as she attempted to climb through a smashed door pane into the House chamber during the riot while three others died from health emergencies. Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42, who had been on the force since 2008 and was an Iraq War veteran, died on Jan. 7 after he suffered injuries while responding to the breach. Another Capitol police officer who responded to the riot died by suicide on Saturday. It's unknown if the riot and the aftermath contributed to him taking his own life. 

On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence rejected the House’s request to enact the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. 

"I do not believe such a course of action is in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with the Constitution," Pence wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Tuesday. 

"Last week, I did not yield to pressure to exert beyond my constitutional authority to determine the outcome of the election, and I will not now yield to efforts in the House of Representatives to play political games at a time so serious in the life of our nation.”

Many have accused Trump of inciting the riot in Washington, D.C., with words he said at a peaceful rally attended by tens of thousands near the White House before hundreds of fringe supporters stormed the Capitol last Wednesday. 

Although the president told supporters in the speech to “fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he also told them in the same speech to go to the Capitol to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

In an interview with USA Today this week, Franklin Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham who prayed at Trump’s inauguration in 2017, said he doesn’t believe Trump “had any understanding in that moment of what was going to take place.” 

"I don't think it was the president's finest moment," Graham, who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, reportedly said. 

For his part, Jeffress called the storming of the Capitol a “sin against God” in an op-ed published by Fox News. 

“Every American can assemble to protest. This is a God-given right acknowledged and protected by the First Amendment. Peaceful protest is a vital part of our political tradition, and it has long served us well,” he stressed. “What happened on Wednesday when a mob infiltrated the Capitol building was not a protest. It was lawlessness.”

Jeffress warned that too many Americans are succumbing to the “heat of this political moment” and have “fallen into an all-consuming hatred for our fellow Americans” and more importantly, “fellow human beings made in God’s image.”

“This bitterness has clouded our vision, causing us to lose sight of God’s command to love and seek peace,” he wrote. 

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