Noem defends Trump legacy, deflects blame for Capitol mob

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Wednesday defended Donald Trump's legacy as president while refusing to say whether he held any responsibility in goading the mob that attacked the Capitol.

The Republican governor was a close Trump ally and supported his efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election. Shortly after the November election, she called election systems “rigged," despite there being no evidence of widespread fraud.

Other Republicans have said Trump's lie that the election was stolen has tarnished his place in history. But in her first news conference since a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago, Noem said that Trump's policies were “overwhelmingly” good for South Dakota and signaled she wanted to skip over holding anyone responsible for the attack on Congress.

When asked whether Trump had any responsibility for the insurrection, she said, “What happened on January 6 was horrible and should never happen again in this country. What I want to do is look forward and make sure that we continue to have fair and transparent elections that people can trust.”

Amid a reckoning in the GOP over Trump’s actions, Noem has deflected blame from Trump and at times struck a combative tone against Democratic politicians. In the days after the Capitol insurrection, Noem falsely called the two Democrats who won Georgia's Senate elections “communists.”

She defended those remarks Thursday without going into specifics on her reasons for leveling the accusation.

“When we look at that situation with those two individuals we need to look at their history and what they have said and what they’ve chosen not to say," she said.

Both of the Georgia Republicans who ran against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff tried to paint them as socialists, with David Perdue running ads that lobbed a false claim that Ossoff was endorsed by the Communist Party USA. A fact check by The Associated Press debunked that claim.

Noem is seen by some political commentators as a potential heir to Trump at the top of the GOP. Though she has said she will not run for president in 2024, the governor has frequently delved into national hot-button issues. As South Dakota's legislative session gets underway, her legislative priorities this year have hit on abortion rights, history and civics education, privacy for donors to nonprofits and shedding government regulations to attract people to move to the state.

As Trump's 1776 Commission report was anticipated last week, Noem introduced an initiative to remake the state's history and civics curriculums that she said had the goal of convincing students that the United States is the “most unique nation in the history of the world.”

But Noem said Thursday she would not be deciding what goes into the new curriculum covering South Dakota's history, saying that historians would tell “all events” of the state's history.

In one of his first actions, President Joe Biden revoked the 1776 Commission report after it was criticized by historians as political propaganda that papered over the country's legacy of slavery and racism.

While Noem enjoyed close access to the White House during Trump's term, she appeared to be adjusting to life under Biden, whose policies she is likely to decry.

After attending Biden's inauguration Wednesday, Noem said she was “very disappointed” at the president's decision to effectively cancel construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, but that she is hoping to find ways to work with his administration.