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Hawley jams GOP with Electoral College fight

GOP Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrump DHS chief argues for swift confirmation of Biden pick amid Hawley hold Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Ethics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot MORE’s (Mo.) decision to object to the Electoral College result is putting his fellow Republican senators in a tough political bind, fueling frustration within the caucus. 

Hawley is the first senator to announce support for a long-shot effort to challenge results in key states when Congress convenes a joint session on Wednesday, giving a band of House conservatives the backing they need to force a debate and vote challenging President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenFive examples of media's sycophancy for Biden on inauguration week Drastic measures for drastic times — caregiver need mobile health apps Boycott sham impeachment MORE’s win. 

It’s exactly the scenario GOP leaders hoped to avoid. Though conservatives can only delay — not change — the outcome of the election, the votes will provide potential primary fodder against 2022 incumbents and squeeze 2024 White House hopefuls. 

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“I don’t think it’s the Senate’s role to have a bunch of politicians in Washington overturn our presidential election,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda NRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers MORE (R-S.D.), who said he would wait to hear the objections but that he would vote for the “Constitution and the rule of law.” 

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGroup of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment MORE (R-N.D.) — who is waiting to hear the arguments on Jan. 6 — predicted that the joint session is “going to be crazy” and framed, by some, as a question about whether or not a GOP lawmaker supports Trump. 

“That will be a common standard, put out by people who are very loyal to the president. ... I mean I hear it every single day,” Cramer added. 

Hawley is unapologetic about forcing his colleagues into a political box canyon. 

“I imagine that voters are going to want to know. Did you express their concerns? Did you take a stand when you could or not,” Hawley said, asked about his Senate GOP colleagues who are up for reelection in 2022. 

Hawley joined the Senate in 2019 and is already viewed as a potential 2024 White House contender. He says political ambitions are not driving his Jan. 6 strategy, but he is fundraising off his decision.

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Asked about the likelihood that his Electoral College decision will make him unpopular with his Republican colleagues, Hawley joked: “More than I already am?” 

Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseKremlin: US statements about pro-Navalny protests show 'direct support for the violation of the law' Senators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial Thousands detained at pro-Navalny rallies in Moscow MORE (R-Neb.) didn’t directly mention Hawley or any other GOP senator, but described any Republican supporting the effort to challenge the election results as an “institutional arsonist.”

“Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they’re wrong – and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government,” Sasse wrote in an open letter to constituents that was posted to Facebook. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Maine) also questioned why Hawley was backing an effort after the courts had dismissed dozens of election challenges from Trump’s legal team. 

“I do not think that he will prevail in his quest. And I question why he is doing it when the courts have unanimously thrown out the suits that the president’s team have filed for lack of credible evidence,” Collins said. “Senator Hawley is a smart attorney who clerked for the Supreme Court, so he clearly understands that. So I don’t understand.” 

Asked if she would vote against objections, Collins said “absolutely,” absent “some very unexpected revelation that I cannot imagine that would occur.” 

The issue came up during a Senate GOP caucus call on Thursday, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Senators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) pressed Hawley to explain his thinking.

Hawley was not on the call, which was first reported by Politico, but subsequently sent an email to GOP senators saying that many voters back in his state were “deeply angry and disillusioned” and that he was going to use his objection Jan. 6 to “force these issues to the fore.” 

“I strongly believe it is entirely appropriate for those of us concerned about the integrity of this last election to do the same,” Hawley wrote, pointing to objections in previous years from Democrats. 

GOP Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (Pa.), who is retiring at the end of 2022, spoke out against Hawley’s plan during the call, a spokesperson confirmed to The Hill, adding that Toomey “strongly disagrees” with Hawley. 

It’s the sort of GOP infighting that McConnell has typically tried to avoid, after intra-party battles cost them seats in previous election cycles. The 19 GOP senators who are up for reelection in two years now have to decide if they will vote to back Trump’s claims of voter fraud, which have been largely dismissed by courts, or vote to uphold the election results, and potentially open themselves up to a bloody primary fight. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (R-Mo.), who is up for reelection in 2022, has said he will not join in any objections, citing his role in the joint session. 

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“I expect there to be a vigorous debate regarding any state where the electors are challenged by at least one House member and one Senator. As one of the four Members of Congress required to participate in the joint session, I will not be joining in any objection,” Blunt said. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (R-Wis.), who has stuck closely to Trump and is up for reelection in 2022, has said he won’t object, but isn’t ruling out supporting an objection if it comes to a vote.  

“There's no reason for more people to object. All it takes is one. But I'll support his efforts and support the efforts of the conference to weigh out, as I did in the hearing, hear the issues. We have to, we can't just close our eyes,” Johnson said. 

If an objection has the support of a member of the House and a member of the Senate, the two chambers separate and each debate it for up to two hours. Both the House and Senate would then vote on whether or not to uphold the objection, which would require a majority in both chambers to be successful. 

Both incoming Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerLimbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority MORE (R-Ga.) are viewed as GOP senators who could potentially object, with Tuberville’s campaign manager saying he’s considering and Loeffler refusing to rule it out. Other 2024 White House hopefuls including Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTed Cruz, Seth Rogen trade insults as Twitter spat flares Biden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Ethics complaint filed against Biggs, Cawthorn and Gosar over Capitol riot MORE (Texas), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE (Ky.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGOP senator: Impeachment a 'moot point' after Trump's exit Sunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (Ark.) have refused to rule out objecting. 

Hawley said that other offices had reached out in the wake of his announcement to let him know they were interested. 

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“I would think that there would be more, but there may not be, I don’t know. Too early to say,” Hawley said. 

GOP leaders view the high-profile fight as inevitable, though Thune said he didn’t know yet of another GOP senator who will object. 

“It’s a vote that, like I said, in the end we know how this comes out. Now we’ve got to deal with it. I don’t know there’s much there we can do other than have that debate, that discussion, have the vote, let people vote their consciousness and move on,” Thune said. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Memo: Biden gambles that he can do it all Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration MORE (R-Texas), an advisor to McConnell, added “all it takes is one so it sounds like we're going to be here for awhile.” 

“There's a lot of things I don't want to happen that happen,” Cornyn added. “So you just got to learn to deal with it. And I think this is one of them.”