WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Maine Sen. Angus King is one of just two Independents in the U.S. Senate, the other being Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Though he caucuses with Democrats, King's status as an Independent gives him unique leeway to call things as he sees them, rather than feel beholden to a large number of fellow party members or Republican President Donald Trump.
King sat down with Jon Wertheim of "60 Minutes" for a feature story that aired Sunday night, and King's independence was a big focus.
"Well, it sort of liberates you, because you don't have to do what the party says," King told Wertheim. "You don't have to worry about the party's major contributors being mad at you. It's a luxury in that sense."
Wertheim said he first spoke with King the day after rioters breached the U.S. Capitol, and the senator had strong words for the role Trump played in the violence.
"The first thing that came to my mind was the old quote from Hosea the Old Testament prophet who said, 'They who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.' And the president's been sowing the wind for three or four months, and yesterday we reaped the whirlwind," King said.
"You blame the president," Wertheim responded.
"I do," King answered. "Words have consequences, and the higher up you are on the hierarchy, the words have more and more consequences. And the president of the United States has the bully pulpit."
King called out the 14 Republican senators who challenged certification of Electoral College votes, particularly Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley. King said he considers Cruz and Hawley to be two of the smartest members of the Senate, which makes their actions "less excusable" because "they knew damn well that what they were doing was wrong, and that it was inimical to the interests of this country."
King said he had uncomfortable conversations with his colleagues who challenged Electoral College votes, saying he told them that they were wrong to do it and that "it was a stunt to engrave their names on the rolls of 'I'm loyal to Donald Trump.'"
"It was a profoundly unpatriotic act in my mind," King said.
King said he doesn't condone the rioters' actions but said that due to Trump's rhetoric, he understands why they did what they did.
"I don't sympathize, I don't support, I don't approve, I don't authorize what they did, but I understand it," King said. "Because they had been told by the president, by the media that they listen to, by talk radio for months going back before the election that -- the whole thing was illegitimate. They couldn't trust the courts, they couldn't trust the Congress, they couldn't trust the media."
Wertheim also visited King in his hometown of Brunswick, leading King to share thoughts on Maine's role in the country and the things he's learned from Maine people. He said he's seen in his own state how many Americans feel that the country—and world—has passed them by.
"You know, in Maine, for example, we've got these small towns in rural Maine that were literally built around paper mills that were great jobs. One of the communities I can think of had 5,000 people working at the mill, and that-- now the mill's all gone," King said. "And these are people that worked hard. They did, they paid their dues. They did what they were supposed to do, and yet the world got pulled out from under them."
"If you're from Maine and you stop on the New Jersey Turnpike for gas, and the car next to you has a Maine plate on it, I guarantee within 30 seconds you can establish someone you know in common," King said. "'Where ya from?' 'Waterville.' 'Know Joe Jabber?' 'He's my cousin.' I mean, that's the way Maine is. People know each other. And there's still a sense of community and caring about each other. "
"What do you attribute that to?" Wertheim asked.
"A little bit of geographic isolation, for one thing," King responded. "If you're in a small town and if you're in a business, repeat business is all there is. You've got to, as we say up here, use people right, or they're not gonna come back. That engenders a sense of community and and relationship, and and sort of reciprocity of good will."
King said Trump voters must be listened to, so as to understand what's happening and why.
"There's a term I've always liked called 'eloquent listening.' They have to be listened to, and we have to try to understand what's going on," he said. "It's cultural and somewhat economic. I mean, it's a very complicated matter, but we can't just dismiss it."
King acknowledged the complexities of moving forward as a nation but said neither party should be motivated by revenge or retribution, calling that mindset unproductive.
"You can't just say, you know, 'No harm, no foul,' and pretend nothing ever happened," he said. "On the other hand, to be motivated by retribution or some element of vengeance or some -- I don't think that's productive."
"How do we import these qualities of Maine, of placid and measured and reasonable Maine?" Wertheim asked. "How do we import that to Washington, D.C.?"
"I think those qualities exist all over America," King answered. "But in many parts of America, and we just have to try to ring the bell of common sense."
In a statement shared with NEWS CENTER Maine Thursday afternoon, King said invoking the 25th Amendment is an unprecedented step and "a grave constitutional responsibility that should not be taken lightly."
"[H]owever," he continued, "given the actions of the President over the last several days and concern about additional impulsive actions that could endanger the country between now and January 20th, I think this step is one that the Vice President and the Cabinet should consider. As they do so, they should weigh not only the current danger to the country but the consequences that may come to bear if they choose inaction.”
King and Democratic Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree join dozens of other members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who have publicly called for Trump's removal in the wake of Wednesday's violent insurrection at the Capitol.