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Senate Republicans sit quietly as Trump challenges vote counts

Senate Republicans, fresh from big Election Day victories, are largely sitting on the sidelines as President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE mounts legal challenges against vote counts in key battleground states that aren’t trending his way. 

While GOP senators are supporting Trump’s legal challenges in states like Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, there’s a limit to how far they’ll go once it becomes clear all the votes have been tallied.

The lack of full-throated support from Senate Republicans for Trump’s last-ditch effort to secure a second term stay in office outraged members of the president’s family Thursday afternoon.

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“The total lack of action from virtually all of the ‘2024 GOP hopefuls’ is pretty amazing. They have a perfect platform to show that they’re willing & able to fight but they will cower to the media mob instead,” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, tweeted. 

“Don’t worry @realDonaldTrump will fight & they can watch as usual!” he added.

Eric TrumpEric Frederick TrumpLara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report Juan Williams: Defeated Trump is in legal peril Trump campaign ends voter fraud hotline after it's filled with prank calls MORE, the president’s other adult son, tweeted: “Where are Republicans! Have some backbone. Fight against this fraud. Our voters will never forget you if your sheep!"

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Rush Limbaugh lauds Hawley: 'This guy is the real deal' MORE (R-Mo.), a rising conservative star who’s considered a 2024 contender, offered the embattled president some support by calling for an overhaul of election law.

“If the last 24 hrs have made anything clear, it’s that we need new election integrity laws NOW. Ban ballot harvesting, guarantee poll watcher access, make ballot counting transparent,” he said, promising to introduce legislation.

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection More conservatives break with Trump over election claims MORE (R-Ark.), another potential GOP presidential hopeful in 2024, responded by tweeting “All votes that are *legally* cast should be counted” and “there is NO excuse not to allow poll watchers to observe counting.” 

Cotton also tweeted a link to a Republican fundraising site, WinRed, to support Trump’s legal defense fund. 

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Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE (R-Texas) joined the fray as well.

After Trump Jr.’s complaint, Cruz tweeted that “Fox News & AP both made a HUGE mistake calling Arizona for Biden. Before the votes were counted. Trump still has a real path to win AZ. So does McSally. Even CNN admits it.”

Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate, retweeted on Wednesday a statement by Fox Business anchor Maria BartiromoMaria Sara BartiromoHouse GOP lawmaker: Biden should be recognized as president-elect Most Republicans avoid challenging Trump on election Senate Republicans sit quietly as Trump challenges vote counts MORE accusing Democrats of “trying to steal the election in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.”

Twitter flagged Bartiromo’s tweet as “disputed’ and potentially “misleading” about the election.

Other than that, the vast majority of Senate Republicans have largely stayed out of the vote count battles. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAs Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday defended Trump’s decision to file lawsuits in several states.

“Both sides will probably be lawyered up if it’s a close election. It’s happened before and could well happen this time,” he said.

He predicted “there will be finality reached in 50 separate places” but cautioned “it may take a while for the voting to finish.” 

“Going to court is the way we resolve uncertainty in our country,” McConnell said, adding he wasn’t troubled by Trump’s legal challenges and that they weren’t unusual.

Strategists and Senate GOP aides say Republican senators will support Trump’s legal battles in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other states as long as he’s on solid legal ground.

But if the president claims fraud without evidence, or if he continues to contest vote counts after secretaries of state are ready to certify the results, his GOP support is likely to dwindle.

“Republicans think every legal vote should be counted. There are courts and legal processes by which you adjudicate claims. Valid claims will be looked at and then frivolous claims will be punted out of the process. And then once you have all the votes counted and the claims adjudicated, a result will come forth,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who has advised McConnell’s past campaigns.

“People are broadly supportive of that. It’s a close election,” he added. “What there won’t be support [for], I think, is once the accepted processes of vote counting and adjudication of claims is over, when there’s nothing else to do, I don’t think there will be any tolerance for extra-judicial or extra-procedural shenanigans.”

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former Senate leadership aide, said GOP lawmakers will give Trump “several weeks” to press his legal claims.

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“This is going to take a few weeks for these states to shake out in terms of where the vote count’s going to be and where the challenges are that will have merit and stick. In the meantime, Senate Republicans will likely say every vote counts and they want to make sure that there’s integrity with the system and we can’t be premature until these states actually finalize their counts,” he said.

“We’ll have to see the merits of the cases, the merits of the suits and what ground we’re standing on,” he added.

Bonjean noted that the Supreme Court didn’t settle the 2000 presidential election until Dec. 12 that year.

One Senate Republican aide said GOP lawmakers will back Trump’s legal fight as long as it has merit.

“I think the lawsuits have to have some legitimacy to them, some substance behind them. If they do, I think the president will get a fair amount of deference,” the aide said, cautioning that will be the case as long as the legal challenges aren’t “frivolous.”

But the aide cautioned that support from Republican senators will erode if Trump falls further behind. 

“If he loses all these states — Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania — then it’s going to be a lot tougher to sustain any type of legal challenges,” the source said.

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McConnell pledged earlier this fall that there would be an “orderly transition” of power after the election. He tweeted his comment after Trump refused to commit to accepting the results of the Nov. 3 election, telling reporters he would “have to see” and warned of mail-in voting fraud.

“The ballots are out of control. You know it, and you know who knows it better than anyone else? The Democrats know it better than anyone else,” he said in September. 

The Trump campaign, in a call with reporters Thursday, said it was trying to stop the counting of mail-ballots if postmarks indicate they were mailed after Election Day.

The Trump campaign said they are on the lookout for “magical stacks of ballots” that “magically arrive after the election,” said one official on the call.

The campaign declared victory after an appellate court in Pennsylvania ruled that it would allow to watch ballots being counted. The campaign tried to stop the ballot count until it was granted.

It has also supported an effort by state Republicans to block voters who cast flawed ballots to fix them with provisional ballots. 

In Michigan, the Trump campaign attempted to stop ballot counting until it was given access to observe the process, which a state court denied.

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The campaign also requested a recount in Wisconsin.

The Associated Press and several networks have called Michigan and Wisconsin for Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE.

State officials are still counting votes in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Bob Bauer, a senior legal adviser to the Biden campaign, dismissed the Trump challenges as “silliness.” 

“The lawsuits are meritless. They are intended to give the Trump campaign the opportunity to argue the vote count should stop. It’s not going to stop,” he told reporters in a call Thursday. “It is to create an opportunity for them to message falsely about what is taking place in the election process.”