Georgia GOP senators dig in on refusal to recognize Biden win
Georgia’s GOP senators are refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden as president-elect a day after Electoral College voters met to cast their ballots and officially name him the winner over President Trump.
The Electoral College vote has led to a number of top Republicans recognizing Biden as president-elect, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
But Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) on Tuesday tweeted that she would keep fighting for Trump, and otherwise did not acknowledge the Electoral College vote.
Loeffler and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) are fighting for reelection in two critical runoffs on Jan. 5. Neither candidate has so far publicly acknowledged Biden’s victory, putting them at odds with a growing number of top Republicans who since Monday have recognized that the former vice president will succeed Trump in the White House.
Spokespeople for Loeffler’s and Perdue’s campaigns did not respond to The Hill’s requests for comment on the Electoral College vote and whether the senators support a long shot effort by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) to challenge the outcome of the presidential election when Congress meets to certify the electoral vote on Jan. 6.
The developments from the top echelons of the GOP in the Senate put Perdue and Loeffler in a difficult position. Going forward, they will have to choose between siding with Trump and the populist base of the party, or aligning themselves with Republican leaders in the Senate, who — unlike Trump — will remain in office after Jan. 20.
“These are very rough waters,” said veteran GOP strategist Doug Heye.
“They can’t make their best argument, which is a check and balance on the Biden-Harris administration,” he said. “But then they also can’t do the secondary message that goes along with that which is ‘you need to go to the polls, your vote is important’ because a part of the base is saying ‘my vote doesn’t matter, it’s going to get stolen anyways.’ ”
The divisions within the Georgia GOP aren’t a recent development. For weeks, Trump and his allies have attacked top state officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, accusing the two top Republicans of mismanaging the November election.
Loeffler and Perdue have launched their own attacks on Raffensperger, calling last month for his resignation and accusing his office more recently of failing to produce an updated voter registration list. Raffensperger issued a scathing response to the senators’ claims on Tuesday, pointing out that their campaigns already have access to the voter data and demanding that they cease their attacks on him.
“Though I’ve told the Republican Party to stop focusing on me and instead direct their energies to winning the Senate runoffs, clearly they haven’t listened,” Raffensperger said.
“As embarrassing as it is for Sens. Perdue and Loeffler not to know that the data they want is already publicly available from the Secretary of State, it’s even worse that they’re not aware their own campaigns already have the data they’re looking for,” he added.
At stake in the two Senate runoffs is control of the upper chamber in 2021 and beyond. Republicans currently hold a 50-to-48 seat edge in the Senate. If Democrats are able to pick off both Perdue and Loeffler, however, it would give them an evenly divided chamber in which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote.
Recent polling suggests that both races are tight. Perdue leads Democrat Jon Ossoff by just 0.5 percentage point, while the Rev. Raphael Warnock leads Loeffler by 1 point, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average.
In a nod to the importance of the runoffs, party leaders on both sides of the aisle have flocked to Georgia in recent weeks. Vice President Pence has already visited the state twice this month with a third visit expected Thursday. Trump traveled to Valdosta in southern Georgia on Dec. 5, and Biden made his first trip of the runoff campaigns Tuesday.
Standing behind Trump’s claims of a “rigged” election despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary amounts to a concerted push by the Georgia senators to motivate the president’s most loyal supporters in an election that will almost certainly be determined by the most partisan voters.
“These runoffs are about base turnout, not persuasion,” one GOP strategist in Georgia said. “Loeffler and Perdue know that, and so I think they’re probably safer sticking with the president for now. They need him.”
Crossing a president notorious for publicly attacking anyone he sees as insufficiently loyal could also come at a hefty political price, said Chuck Clay, a former Georgia state senator and an attorney at the law firm Hall Booth Smith.
“You step with trepidation if you break with the president,” Clay said. “At the same time, these are very, very smart individuals. They know what the outcome is and they’re not trying to say never-never.”
“Sure, we need the base. I can’t go out to intentionally alienate the base because Donald Trump is the most popular politician I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Clay continued. But he added that Loeffler and Perdue would still “have to project some image of going forward and what your vision is.”
There are already signs of looming political backlash should Loeffler or Perdue break with Trump’s efforts to remain in power.
Some of the president’s most ardent supporters have called on conservatives to boycott the Jan. 5 runoff elections, arguing that Georgia’s two Republican senators haven’t done enough to back up Trump’s false claim of victory.
Still, there are indications that voter turnout will be high in the runoffs. On Monday, the first day of early in-person voting in Georgia, roughly 168,000 people voted in person. By comparison, 136,000 cast ballots on the first day of early in-person voting in the 2020 general election.
But the Georgia senators aren’t the only ones facing pressure from Trump loyalists. The president’s supporters flocked to Washington over the weekend for their second mass rally in the capital since the election to protest the results. Many were notably heard chanting “destroy the GOP.”
“There’s a central, fundamental lie that’s happening in Republican politics right now,” Heye said. “Even as more people are admitting reality, to a big part of the base, you’re not allowed to admit that reality.”
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