June 21, 2021

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The call to challenge the Electoral College count has split Senate Republicans – USA TODAY

7 min read

The divide within the Republican Party over the results of the 2020 presidential election deepened last week as a dozen GOP Senators declared they will join their House colleagues in objecting to the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win when Congress meets in a joint session on Wednesday. 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah – the party’s presidential nominee just eight years ago – sharply denounced the growing movement to challenge the election outcome on Saturday as an “egregious ploy” after a group led by Sen. Ted Cruz issued a joint statement saying they would not vote to certify the election until President Donald Trump discredited claims of widespread voter fraud are investigated further.  

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., was the first senator to announce plans to object to the electoral vote count. He received swift criticism from senior Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., about his decision to challenge the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. McConnell had warned Senate Republicans not to join the call to vote against certifying the Electoral College result, reportedly telling his colleagues it “isn’t in the best interest of everybody.”

McConnell is concerned forcing a vote on Biden’s win will leave Republicans, especially those soon up for reelection, in a position where they would have to go on record as either trying to overturn a legitimate election or defying Trump. And many conservatives are concerned that claiming the election is rigged could hurt Republican turnout in the two Georgia runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate. 

But such strategic concerns have not deterred Trump’s congressional supporters from echoing the president’s unsubstantiated claims the election was rigged. They have also been unfazed by the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security’s inability to find any evidence of serious fraud and the fact that Trump’s legal challenges to the election have consistently been thrown out of court. 

“I find it unfathomable that anyone would acquiesce to election theft and voter fraud because they lack the courage to take a difficult vote on the House or Senate floor,” Rep. Mo Brooks, R- Al., told Politico. “Last time I checked, that’s why we were elected to Congress.”

Brooks is leading the effort to vote against the certification of electoral votes and overturn the election in the House. Two Republican House members told CNN that at least 140 House Republicans are expected to object to the certification of the vote. 

When Hawley announced his decision to object to the certification of the 2020 election results in a Dec. 30 statement, he cited state officials’ decisions to expand absentee voting in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. “I cannot vote to certify the electoral college results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws,” he wrote. 

Hawley said that Congress should “investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections. But Congress has so far failed to act.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and 10 additional senators, including Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., announced in a joint statement Saturday that they would join Hawley’s efforts to stop the certification of the 2020 election results.

The senators cited “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law and other voter irregularities” as their reason for voting against the electoral votes on Wednesday, though they did not cite any evidence to support the allegations. Instead, they argued Trump’s allegations should be explored because the president and his allies have cast so much doubt on the process. 

“Whether or not our elected officials or journalists believe it, that deep distrust of our democratic processes will not magically disappear. It should concern us all. And it poses an ongoing threat to the legitimacy of any subsequent administrations,” they wrote. 

Attorney General Barr:No reason to name special counsels to investigate Hunter Biden or election fraud

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, meets with incoming GOP senators for the 116th Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 14, 2018.

Following Hawley’s lead, the senators said they “intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite)” unless an “emergency 10-day audit is completed.”

Their objections are unlikely to overturn the results, since majorities in both the House and Senate would have to agree to exclude them.

Before announcing his intention to challenge the vote in the joint statement, Braun called the objection a “protest vote only, because there’s, in my opinion, zero chance anything can come from it.”

Thune agreed with Braun’s assessment, saying, “In the end, I don’t think it changes anything.” And he downplayed the seriousness of his colleagues’ effort, saying, “with a few exceptions obviously,” Republicans are not “anxious to do this.” 

“Now that we’re locked into doing it, we’ll give air to the objections and people can have their day in court, and we’ll hear everybody out and then we’ll vote,” Thune told The Hill.

But other Republicans were less nonchalant about the potential consequences of challenging the official election result. 

“The egregious ploy to reject electors may enhance the political ambition of some, but dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic,” Romney said in a statement Saturday. “The congressional power to reject electors is reserved for the most extreme and unusual circumstances. These are far from it. More Americans participated in this election than ever before, and they made their choice.” 

Romney said “Trump’s lawyers made their case before scores of courts; in every instance, they failed” and said the argument that a congressional commission could put the doubts about the election to rest is “nonsense.” 

“The American people wisely place greater trust in the federal courts where judges serve for life. Members of Congress who would substitute their own partisan judgement for that of the courts do not enhance public trust, they imperil it,” Romney wrote. 

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also released statements Saturday in response to their colleagues’ joint statement, declaring they will affirm the 2020 presidential election results on Wednesday. 

Toomey called out Hawley and Cruz in his statement, saying that their effort to overturn the election results undermines the “right of the people to elect their own leaders.” 

“The senators justify their intent by observing that there have been many allegations of fraud. But allegations of fraud by a losing campaign cannot justify overturning an election,” Toomey said. “They fail to acknowledge that these allegations have been adjudicated in courtrooms across America and were found to be unsupported by evidence. President Trump’s own Attorney General, Bill Barr, stated ‘we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.’” 

More:A dozen Republican senators plan to object to certification of Biden’s election win over Trump

Taking a less direct route, Murkowski urged her colleagues to recognize that “the courts and state legislatures have all honored their duty to hear legal allegations and have found nothing to warrant overturning the results” and to “join me in maintaining confidence in the Electoral College and our elections so that we ensure we have the continued trust of the American people.” 

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., shared a scathing Facebook post in response to Hawley last week, explaining why he won’t join in objecting to the election results.

Sasse also said that Trump and his allies are “playing with fire” and now “calling on federal officeholders to invalidate millions and millions of votes” after unsuccessfully calling on judges to do so.

“Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage,” Sasse said. “But they’re wrong – and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., another critic of the planned objection to the certification of the 2020 election results, called the effort a “grifting scam” on CNN’s “State of the Union.” 

The plan to challenge the electoral vote count Wednesday is just the latest attempt by some Republicans to try and overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Last week, ep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and several other Republicans filed a lawsuit against Vice President Mike Pence in an attempt to give him the authority in Wednesday’s joint session to overturn the 2020 election results. A judge tossed out the lawsuit.

Last month, over 120 House Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., attempted to overturn the presidential results through another lawsuit. They joined a brief in support of a Texas lawsuit that attempted to invalidate millions of votes in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – all states Biden won. 

The Supreme Court eventually denied the lawsuit, stating in a brief order that Texas hadn’t “demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.” 

The Republican lawmakers’ efforts to flip the election have left their party’s 2012 nominee flabbergasted. 

“I could never have imagined seeing these things in the greatest democracy in the world,” Romney said Saturday. “Has ambition so eclipsed principle?” 

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