LANSING — Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, opened the floor session of the Michigan Senate on Wednesday morning with a prayer. He spoke of seeking unity, working together and looking to God when people “get off track.”
But immediately after delivering the invocation, microphones in the Senate chamber caught the highest ranking Republican elected official in the state standing by the sentiment of recent statements he made that aspects of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol were a “hoax” and “staged.”
“I frankly don’t take back any of the points I was trying to make,” Shirkey said, speaking with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. Portions of his comments were difficult to hear, with other lawmakers chatting in the background, but Shirkey appeared to indicate he may regret some of the specific words he chose that were captured in a video recently posted.
The two lawmakers were discussing comments where Shirkey made a series of false and derogatory statements while speaking with representatives from the Hillsdale County Republican Party about former President Donald Trump, the insurrection and many other topics.
“That wasn’t Trump people. That’s been a hoax from day one,” Shirkey says in the video, posted to YouTube by one of the Hillsdale GOP members. “It was all staged,” he adds.
There is substantial evidence that people who participated in the insurrection were known Trump supporters, including Michael Foy, the man from Wixom who is charged with hitting police with a hockey stick during the breach while wearing a Trump flag. Foy had previously attended a rally of Trump supporters in Detroit on Nov. 6 outside the TCF Center where Detroit’s absentee ballots were counted.
Hundreds have been charged or are expected to be charged in the attack on the Capitol, with many indicating they attacked the building because that’s what they thought Trump wanted them to do.
The U.S. House subsequently voted to impeach Trump, determining he incited the riot. The U.S. Senate is weighing whether to convict the former president.
In the lengthy video, Shirkey also said he had considered challenging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to a fistfight on the Capitol lawn and that he “spanked” her on legislative negotiations.
While a Shirkey spokeswoman issued an apology attributed to the Senate leader late Tuesday, the lawmaker declined to discuss his comments with the Free Press on Wednesday morning as he left a fundraiser held for his political action committee in Lansing.
Gilchrist lambasted Shirkey in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
“While (Shirkey) made a half-hearted attempt to address his inexcusable language and behavior last night, and an even weaker attempt during a prayer in today’s Senate session, his comments toward me on the Senate floor this morning tell a different story. It is clear that his so-called apology was not heartfelt, nor did it come from a place of humility and understanding. Rather, it was an empty gesture made for political expediency, and one that the people of Michigan can see right through,” Gilchrist said.
“It’s time for Republican leaders in the Legislature — including Senate Republican leadership and House Speaker (Jason) Wentworth — to publicly denounce these types of conspiracies and divisive, violent rhetoric.”
As lieutenant governor, Gilchrist typically presides over Senate sessions. With Shirkey set to give the day’s opening prayer, the two spoke near the speaker’s lectern before the session began. While Senate microphones sometimes are not on at this point, they were on Wednesday and captured portions of their conversation.
Gilchrist indicated he would be speaking with members of the media later in the day and said he wanted to give Shirkey a heads up. Shirkey thanked him before starting to discuss his comments.
After saying he stood by the sentiment of his comments, he started to talk about the “hoax.” He appeared to clarify that the attack on the Capitol happened, but questioned who instigated the riot.
“The assignment of cause, it was planned months, weeks and months in advance by somebody that … unfortunately is getting blamed for it,” Shirkey said, adding the FBI is investigating and will ultimately determine “who was behind it.”
“Some of Trump’s people got caught up in the mob and did things that they shouldn’t have done. The assignment of cause was really what I was talking about,” Shirkey also said.
Before ending the chat, Shirkey called the encounter with the Hillsdale County GOP a “hijacking” and added, “I don’t back off very easy.”
The county GOP censured Shirkey last week, saying they believe he has not done enough to stand up to the governor on COVID-19 pandemic orders.
Shirkey did not speak during the remainder of the session and left without taking questions from the media.
In a statement late Wednesday, Wentworth, R-Farwell, distanced himself from Shirkey and his comments while again condemning the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“As I said then and reiterate today: It was a tragic moment in our history that was un-American and was a blot on the beauty of this democracy and our nation,” Wentworth said.
“Majority Leader Shirkey’s comments are his own and don’t reflect my feelings or beliefs. It’s disappointing that this situation is detracting from the important work we are doing every day.”
During the Senate session, Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, and minority floor leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, blasted Shirkey for his comments.
“Forgiveness requires genuine apologies. It demands acknowledgement of specific wrongdoing,” Chang said, clearly referencing Shirkey’s statement issued Tuesday night.
Ananich said the comments made him embarrassed to be a member of the Senate.
Shirkey, 66, is in his second Senate term, the limit under state law. He recently told the Detroit News he has no plans to run for governor in 2022.
But he could change his mind, or otherwise use his political action committee to support any number of candidates or causes. The Free Press reached out to all six of the “gold sponsors” of Shirkey’s fundraiser, seemingly the donors who contributed the most money to the event on Wednesday.
Jimmy Greene, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, one of those sponsors, was at the fundraiser. He told the Free Press Shirkey has always supported his industry but said he disagreed with the lawmaker’s comments about the insurrection and that the statements “could have been certainly handled better.”
“There’s no question that there is a credibility gap,” Greene said.
“Those statements for me are most unfortunate and I don’t agree with them by any stretch, so it makes it a little bit of a challenge to talk about public policy issues when these kinds of things are in front of it.”
The other gold sponsors for the fundraiser were Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy, the Michigan Society of Anesthesiologists and the lobbying firms GCSI and Midwest Strategy Group. None immediately responded to requests for comment.
A Blue Cross spokesperson told the Associated Press, “We are deeply disappointed & strongly disagree with Sen. Mike Shirkey’s comments about the riot at the Capitol … as well as his inappropriate language about the governor.” The fundraiser was arranged before the company was aware of the senator’s comments, according to the AP.