Eleven GOP senators and senators-elect this weekend joined President Donald Trump’s anti-democratic efforts to overturn his election loss, vowing that they would challenge Joe Biden’s victory when Congress meets Wednesday to formally certify it. The group, led by Texas senator Ted Cruz, issued a joint statement on Saturday calling for the creation of an “Electoral Commission” to “conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election results in the disputed states,” pledging to reject the electors from those states as not “lawfully certified” until that audit was completed, the Washington Post reports. The demand for a last-minute audit, which the senators wrote was necessitated by “deep distrust” among voters about the legitimacy of the election outcome, comes after Trump and his allies failed to prove any widespread fraud in nearly 60 court cases and as all 50 states have certified the election results, “many following postelection audits or hand counts,” according to the New York Times.
This presumably futile effort flies in the face of a warning from the top Senate Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who finally recognized Biden’s triumph last month. McConnell privately warned lawmakers against joining some House Republicans in objecting to the election results when Congress meets to ratify it, saying doing so would fail to change the outcome of the race and instead sow division within the party. Senator Josh Hawley (MI) last week became the first Senate Republican to break with McConnell’s guidance, followed on Saturday by the Cruz-led group that includes Senators Ron Johnson (WI), James Lankford (OK), Steve Daines (MT), John Kennedy (LA), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Mike Braun (IN), as well as four newly sworn-in Senators: Cynthia Lummis (WY), Roger Marshall (KS), Bill Hagerty (TN), and Tommy Tuberville (AL).
On Saturday night, Vice President Mike Pence endorsed the GOP challenge, paying lip service to the unsubstantiated election-altering fraud allegations that Trump’s own Justice Department has failed to uncover. The vice president “shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election,” his chief of staff Marc Short said in a statement, and “welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people on Jan. 6th,” per the Times. As CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out, none of the House members just elected, and being sworn in Sunday, are objecting to their own races on the grounds of alleged “fraud.”
As president of the Senate, Pence will preside over next week’s joint session in a ceremonial role involving opening and counting Electoral College votes before announcing the outcome. Some of the president’s allies attempted to expand that power by asking a federal judge to give Pence the unilateral authority to choose which electors to count, a suit even the vice president asked the court to reject and that was summarily dismissed on Friday. But even without such expanded power, Pence, following the Cruz group’s announcement, encouraged lawmakers to undermine the integrity of the election results and join in making what would otherwise be a routine session to formalize Biden’s victory into an exercise of democracy-rattling political theater.
Even with the growing band of Republican senators, the effort appears doomed, the Times reports, given the support it needs in both the House, which is controlled by Democrats, and the Senate, where several Republicans have criticized the bid. South Dakota senator John Thune, McConnell’s second-in-command, recently said the attempt would fail in the Senate “like a shot dog.” In their announcement, the group of senators seemingly acknowledged the futility of their last-ditch effort. “We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise,” the senators wrote, according to the Times.
But legal experts and congressional officials alike are expressing concern about the broader implications for democracy. “I’m focused on the long-term damage rather than the short-term turbulence,” the Brookings Institution’s William Galston told the Post, which is “the formation of a very large group of people who simply will not accept the legitimacy of Joe Biden as president of the United States or the legitimacy of the processes by which he ascended to the presidency.” That, Galston believes, “is the fundamental danger.”
Several lawmakers sounded alarms this past week over potentially grave repercussions for future elections—especially considering the two senators leading the charge, Cruz and Hawley, are both considered 2024 presidential hopefuls, as is Pence. “The egregious ploy to reject electors may enhance the political ambition of some, but dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said. “We are experiencing one of the most serious assaults upon our country’s democratic system in American history,” said Senator Angus King, a Maine Independent. And Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat, warned that Republican senators “don’t have the votes to overthrow democracy this time. But the precedent they set could, sooner than you think.”
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