WASHINGTON — Michelle Fischbach christened her congressional career by voting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in two swing states, siding with dozens of her Republican colleagues as Donald Trump desperately spread a lie to stay in power.
A year and a half later, she stands by her decision, despite the public clarity that even some Trump associates knew the then-president's claims of widespread voter fraud were false.
"I feel fine," Fischbach said during a rare interview in June. "I'm confident. I feel good about my vote. That's what I told my constituents I was going to do."
Before Congress, Fischbach served in the Minnesota Senate for more than 20 years and made history as the chamber's first female president. After a brief tenure as lieutenant governor, Fischbach went on to defeat 15-term Democratic incumbent Collin Peterson in 2020.
Her first days in office left no doubt that a different political approach for western Minnesota's largely rural Seventh Congressional District had arrived in Washington.
Hours after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, she joined fellow Minnesota GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn and more than 100 other House Republicans in voting against certifying Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
"For myself, and for my like-minded friends, we're outraged," said Jill Abahsain, the DFL-endorsed candidate seeking to challenge Fischbach this fall. "We don't even think she should legally be a representative in Congress when she votes like that."
Since those votes, Fischbach has avoided controversies while immersing herself in some of Capitol Hill's most contentious debates and building recognition within her party as the GOP looks to take back control of the House in this fall's midterms.
"She has the temperament for this work," said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the leading Republican who works with Fischbach on the Rules Committee, a panel critical to the House's legislative process. "She knows what she believes. She knows how to throw a punch, but she doesn't punch below the belt."
From speaking out against bipartisan gun violence legislation and an attempt to cap out-of-pocket insulin costs for insured people to opposing actions stemming from the House Jan. 6 committee's investigation, Fischbach's work on the Rules Committee has put her near the forefront of GOP lawmakers challenging House Democrats' vision for America.
"They're doing a lot of pandering to their base," Fischbach said.
She's not a disrupter like some of her fellow freshman Republican lawmakers, instead more of a loyal partisan in a Washington where charged rhetoric gets attention.
Fischbach "is often at the tip of the spear of the conservative movement against the radical far-left agenda of the Democrats," said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Pennsylvania Republican. "She's relentless, and she doesn't back down."
A conservative stalwart, Fischbach has long been a staunch opponent of abortion. She co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus and her husband, Scott, is executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. During a news conference with fellow House Republicans after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Fischbach praised the court's decision, saying that "every innocent life is precious from conception until natural death."
Both within her district and in Washington, however, Fischbach has had to contend with taking over the congressional seat from a well-known politician. Some congressional Republicans, who applaud Fischbach's work, were clearly fond of Peterson. A conservative Democrat, Peterson had chaired the House Agriculture Committee, which Fischbach now serves on.
"[Peterson] knew what we were going to say before we said it," Scott Swenson, a farmer near Elbow Lake who serves on the board of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, said earlier this year. "It sure is a big learning curve."
Like many other GOP lawmakers in the Democrat-led Congress, Fischbach hasn't had much success when it comes to her legislative and policy pushes. She counts strong rural communities and broadband among her priorities. And if Republicans win back control, she could have an influential impact on the upcoming farm bill.
"[Something] I hear a lot about from the ag community right now is making sure that we have crop insurance and it's not tied to climate change kinds of things," Fischbach said. "And that if we do do anything involved with climate changes that it's incentive-based and not punitive."
While Fischbach touts a rural broadband effort that stalled in the House, she opposed last year's infrastructure law and calls the package "a big mess." That law — a relatively rare largescale bipartisan achievement in the Biden era — was estimated by the White House to mean at least $100 million in Minnesota for broadband coverage and access.
Fischbach broke with most of the state's congressional delegation when she declined to push for earmarks in her district. The process allowing Congress to put money toward specific local projects returned last year after it was banned in 2011. Fellow Republicans Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber secured millions of federal dollars for their communities.
"I was just concerned that we would be putting in the earmarks and not really knowing what or how it was going to go through the procedures and process," Fischbach said.
Some parts of her district instead got help through Minnesota's two Democratic senators.
"Closing the door on any opportunity just limits what can be done on the federal, state and local level," said Dilworth Mayor Chad Olson, whose city got a Senate-led earmark of nearly $1 million for a new fire hall.
As the midterm elections near, the effect of the Jan. 6 attack lingers in the halls of Congress, even as many Republicans refuse to acknowledge it. But within Fischbach's conservative swath of Minnesota, voting against certifying the presidential election isn't expected to hurt her politically as the insurrection fades in relevance for some voters far from Washington.
"While I certainly don't agree with those votes, her district was strongly pro-Trump and perhaps she was trying to 'vote her district,'" former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who picked Fischbach as his running mate during a failed 2018 Republican primary bid to return to the governor's office, said in an e-mail.
Fischbach doesn't seem too worried about her re-election chances as her campaign offers koozies, hats and T-shirts decorated with a coded insult for the current commander-in-chief.
"People bought it," she said. "And they're still buying it."
In recent weeks, hearings held by the House's bipartisan Jan. 6 committee have illustrated the fallout from Trump's falsehoods about the 2020 election.
Fischbach, who has denigrated the committee as a political stunt, hasn't been watching.
"I've got better things to do," she said.