Ted Cruz and other Republican senators oppose certifying election results

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Martin Pengelly and Miranda Bryant in New York
·6 min read
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<span>Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and nine other Republican US senators or senators-elect said on Saturday they will reject presidential electors from states where Donald Trump has contested his defeat by Joe Biden, “unless and until [an] emergency 10-day audit” of such results is completed.

Related: Republican plan to challenge election signals ‘cult of Trump’ will live on in Biden era

The move – welcomed by Vice President Mike Pence – is largely symbolic and unlikely to overturn the presidential election. Nonetheless, it adds to a sense of deepening crisis affecting US democracy.

Trump has refused to concede, though Biden won more than 7m more votes nationally and took the electoral college by 306-232, a margin Trump called a landslide when he won it over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The Trump campaign has lost the vast majority of more than 50 lawsuits it has mounted in battleground states, alleging electoral fraud, and before the supreme court. On Saturday night, Trump urged his Twitter followers to “be a part of history” and join a protest march in Washington DC against the election result on Wednesday.

On Friday, a federal judge dismissed a suit lodged by a House Republican which attempted to give Pence, who will preside over the certification of the electoral college result on Wednesday, the power to overturn it. An appeal was rejected Saturday night.

Nonetheless, the senators and senators-elect who issued a statement on Saturday followed Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri in committing to challenging the result.

Objections are also expected from a majority of House Republicans. Objections must be debated and voted on but as Democrats control the House and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other senior Republicans have voiced opposition, the attempt to disenfranchise a majority of Americans seems doomed to fail.

Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, said in a statement on Saturday that the vice president welcomed the effort to raise objections “to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people on January 6th”.

On Saturday, Utah Senator Mitt Romney described as “nonsense”, the idea that a congressional audit would restore trust in the election, saying the American people trusted federals judges more than Congress.

In a statement, he said: “The egregious ploy to reject electors may enhance the political ambition of some, but dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic … President Trump’s lawyers made their case before scores of courts; in every instance, they failed.”

On Saturday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she would vote to certify the results, writing: “The oath I took at my swearing-in was to support and defend the constitution of the United States, and that is exactly what I will do.” Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a state where Trump has sued, said he would “vigorously defend our form of government by opposing this effort to disenfranchise millions of voters in my state and others”.

But Cruz and Johnson were joined by Senators James Lankford (Oklahoma), Steve Daines (Montana), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) and Mike Braun (Indiana). Senators-elect Cynthia Lummis (Wyoming), Roger Marshall (Kansas), Bill Hagerty (Tennessee) and Tommy Tuberville (Alabama) also signed on.

“The election of 2020,” they said, “like the election of 2016, was hard fought and, in many swing states, narrowly decided. The 2020 election, however, featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.”

No hard evidence for such claims has been presented. Federal officials including former attorney general William Barr and Christopher Krebs, a cyber security chief fired by Trump, have said the election was secure.

Biden spokesman Michael Gwin said: “This stunt won’t change the fact that President-elect Biden will be sworn in on January 20th, and these baseless claims have already been examined and dismissed by Trump’s own attorney general, dozens of courts, and election officials from both parties.”

Regardless, the senators said Congress “should immediately appoint an electoral commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.”

The senators made reference to the contested election of 1876, which ended in the appointment of such a commission.

“We should follow that precedent,” they said.

Most well-informed observers would suggest otherwise, given that process put an end to post-civil war Reconstruction and led to the institution of racist Jim Crow laws across the formerly slave-owning south.

In August, the Pulitzer-winning historian Eric Foner told the Guardian: “The election of 1876 would not have been disputed at all if there hadn’t been massive violence in the south to prevent black people from voting and voter suppression like we have today. Now, voter suppression is mostly legal.”

Presciently, given baseless claims that voting under a pandemic was abused by Democrats, he added: “Today, I can certainly see the Trump people challenging these mail-in ballots: ‘They’re all fraudulent, they shouldn’t be counted.’ Challenging people’s voting.”

Cruz, like Hawley, is prominent among Republicans expected to run for president in 2024, and thus eager to appeal to supporters loyal to Trump. On Saturday, Christine Pelosi, daughter of House speaker Nancy Pelosi and a member of the Democratic National Committee, referred to the bitter 2016 primary when she tweeted: “Ted Cruz is defending Trump’s assaults on democracy with more energy than he defended his own family against Trump’s assaults on his wife and father.”

The Democratic strategist Max Burns wrote: “The exact same Senate GOP that refused to allow a single witness during President Trump’s impeachment trial now wants to … call a bunch of witnesses to ‘investigate’ Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.”

In Congress, the Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal branded the statement “pathetic”, “un-American” and “an attack on our democracy”. Amy Klobuchar, from Minnesota, said Biden “will be inaugurated on 20 January, and no publicity stunt will change that”.

Trump claimed “plenty more” senators would back his ploy. But there was some criticism from the right. Joe Walsh, a former congressman who ran against Trump in 2020, wrote: “They cite ZERO evidence of voter fraud … Donald Trump’s single greatest legacy is the destruction of truth.”

Related: A disputed election, a constitutional crisis, polarisation … welcome to 1876

Walsh added: “These Republicans know this is bad for the country. But they don’t care. They believe it’s good for them politically. They are placing their own interests before the country’s interests.”

With unintended irony – or simple bad faith – the senators and senators-elect said their “allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate. Instead, they are widespread. Reuters/Ipsos polling, tragically, shows 39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged’. That belief is held by Republicans (67%), Democrats (17%), and Independents (31%).

“… 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.”

Marc Elias, a leading Democratic elections lawyer, said of the senators: “History will remember and curse them for their cowardice and treachery.”