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 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's 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. 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 that 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 also have 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-Ala., 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 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 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."
Cruz, R-Texas, and 10 other 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 effort to stop the certification of the election results.
The senators cited "unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law and other voter irregularities" as their reasoning, 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.
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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, because 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.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: "My colleagues will have the opportunity to make this case, and I will listen closely. But they have a high bar to clear."
Other Republicans were more vocal about the potential consequences of challenging the election.
"The 2020 election is over," a bipartisan group of 10 senators declared in a joint statement Sunday. "All challenges through recounts and appeals have been exhausted. At this point, further attempts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential election are contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans’ confidence in the already determined election results."
The group, comprised of Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mark Warner, D-Va., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Angus King, I-Maine, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the "voters have spoken" and "Congress must now fulfill its responsibility to certify the election results."
And Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Richard Shelby of Alabama told reporters on Sunday they would not support an effort to object to the electoral count.
"I think it’s a solemn responsibility to accept these electoral college votes that have been certified by governors, secretaries of states all across the country," Capito said. "I just think this is an ill-fated journey."
On Saturday, Romney denounced the "egregious ploy to reject electors," saying it "may enhance the political ambition of some, but dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic."
"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," he said. "Trump’s lawyers made their case before scores of courts; in every instance, they failed."
He said the argument that a congressional commission could put 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.
Murkowski and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also released statements Saturday declaring they would affirm the 2020 presidential election results Wednesday.
Toomey called out Hawley and Cruz in his statement, saying their effort 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.’"
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."
Sasse said Trump and his allies were "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, called the effort a "grifting scam" on CNN’s "State of the Union."
The challenge is just the latest attempt by some Republicans to try to overturn the election.
Last week, Rep. 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 election results. A judge tossed out the lawsuit.
Last month, more than 120 House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, sought to challenge the election 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?"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republican divide deepens over Trump's challenge to 2020 election