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Trump Georgia call divides House GOP

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (R), and first lady Melania Trump walk off Air Force One after arriving at Andrews Airforce base, Maryland on December 31, 2020.

The bombshell audio recording of President Trump pressuring a top Georgia official to find 11,000 votes to overturn the election has fractured the House GOP conference, with some lawmakers calling Trump’s words highly inappropriate and others fiercely defending the lame-duck president.

Sunday’s report and hourlong audio recording posted by the Washington Post is sparking chaos and confusion in the Republican Party ahead of a pair of runoff Senate elections on Tuesday and is complicating a long-shot push by Trump’s congressional allies this week to reject the Electoral College votes that handed Joe Biden the White House. 

“I think that [the call] was deeply troubling, and I think everybody ought to listen to the full hour of it,” House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress, told reporters Monday.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) stated that the president’s remarks to find votes was flat-out “wrong,” adding that he believes the results of the election need to be accepted. 

“It’s wrong to go to a secretary of state” and ask him to find votes, Bacon told The Hill on Monday. “We work our butts off to win elections; after the election we play fair and square.”

And centrist Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of the first to denounce the president’s comments on the phone call, said the call should spark concern from lawmakers regardless of party. 

“It was bizarre. It was obviously way over the top. … You look at that and you see a president repeating stuff you read on Twitter that’s been debunked,” Kinzinger told The Hill.  

“And then, you know, obviously threatening what seems to be legal action, it was definitely disconcerting.”

Other rank-and-file Republicans said they believe the president’s comments could actually backfire against Trump’s own efforts to overturn the election. His words on the call could deter some GOP colleagues who were on the fence about supporting formal floor votes set for Wednesday to challenge the presidential election results.

“Republicans are between a rock and a hard place” with the Wednesday votes, said one House Republican. The call “complicates it further.” 

In the phone call, audio of which was obtained by the Post, Trump instructed Georgia’s GOP secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” the “11,780 votes” needed to overturn his defeat to Biden in the Peach State — an action that some experts said could violate state and federal law. Trump also threatened the Georgia official with criminal consequences if he failed to act.

Throughout the call, Raffensperger pushed back on Trump, affirming that the elections were legitimate and fair. 

While staunch Trump loyalists defended the president’s actions on the call, most Republicans seemed to want nothing to do with the issue or said they were unfamiliar with it.

“I have to hear it first,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). 

“I didn’t see it. I’ll go look at it,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas). 

“That’s my comms director,” said Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), after his aide handed a reporter a business card. 

Reps. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) also declined to comment. 

But Trump had plenty of defenders on the Hill as well. Even though Raffensperger is a fellow Republican, Trump allies saw Democrats’ fingerprints on the story. 

“This is typical Democrats. They attack the president for everything. I think it’s ridiculous what the Democrats are doing, but it doesn’t surprise me,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a vocal ally whom Trump will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom next week.

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) reiterated the president’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in Georgia, arguing that he has a right to press the Georgia secretary of state for answers. 

“I don’t think that the president brought up anything that’s not a substantiated claim,” Mast said. 

Courts have repeatedly rejected the president’s claims, as have GOP state officials in Georgia and other states.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has clashed with Trump in the past, also downplayed the call. In March, Massie said Trump called him up and gave him “two earfuls” and threatened to boot him from the GOP after the congressman tried to hold up a multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief package.  

“I’ve been on phone calls with the man and it sounded kind of mild compared to the phone calls I’ve been on,” Massie told The Hill.

Mike Lillis contributed.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Brian Mast Buddy Carter Donald Trump Electoral College Georgia Jim Jordan Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Patrick McHenry Roger Williams Thomas Massie
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