Election fight tears at GOP
An effort by President Trump and his allies in Congress to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election is tearing apart the Republican Party in a messy fight a few days before two critical special elections in Georgia that will determine the Senate majority in 2021.
Adding to the spectacle, The Washington Post on Sunday published a recording of an extraordinary hour-long conversation between Trump and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, in which the president pressured the state official to “find 11,780 votes” in order to make him the winner of Georgia’s electoral votes instead of Biden.
The published details of the recorded conversation heightened the sense of alarm among some Republican senators that Trump and his allies are trampling on the nation’s tradition of orderly post-election transitions of power.
One of the strongest statements Sunday came from former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who warned against lawmakers voting to overturn the votes of any state.
“Under our system, voters determine the president, and this self-governance cannot sustain itself if the whims of Congress replace the will of the people,” he warned.
He said efforts to reject the vote of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Biden’s victory would “strike at the foundation of our republic.”
“It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans,” he said.
A number of House Republicans will ignore Ryan’s counsel, including his former lieutenant, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who met with conservatives in the House on Sunday and offered his backing.
Two Republican lawmakers told CNN they expect at least 140 House Republicans to vote against the counting of several state’s electoral votes on Wednesday.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has so far been the most outspoken top-ranking House Republican leader in opposing the challenge to the Electoral College by urging Trump to respect “the sanctity of our electoral process.”
Cheney circulated a memo to House GOP colleagues Sunday warning against an effort to set up a special commission to audit the election results.
“By objecting to electoral slates, members are unavoidably asserting that Congress has the authority to overturn elections and overrule state and federal courts,” the memo stated. “Such objections set an exceptionally dangerous precedent, threatening to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the president and bestowing it instead on Congress.”
Senate GOP leaders have also been decidedly cool to the effort, urging their colleagues not to support it.
There’s growing anxiety among GOP lawmakers about whether the election fight could hurt Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who face runoff elections on Tuesday.
“The president thinks the idea of getting a lump in your throat about the orderly transition of power is quaint and he’s trampling on that,” said one Republican senator of Trump’s persistent efforts to overturn the election results in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The lawmaker, who requested anonymity to frankly discuss the effort, said it was being driven by unprincipled ambition.
“They’re making us look like Afghanistan,” said the senator.
The GOP lawmaker expressed surprise, however, that colleagues such as Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), who are not known for courting media buzz by challenging GOP leaders, had signed on to Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) plan to postpone the counting of the electoral vote during a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who like Cruz is seen as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, was the first Republican senator to say he would sign on to a House objection to the electoral tally. He did not sign on to the letter that Cruz made public Saturday demanding a new audit of the Nov. 3 election results.
On the other side of the internal fight are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who have argued privately to colleagues and publicly to the media for weeks that challenging the results of the election on the House floor Wednesday would be a political mistake.
McConnell warned Senate Republican colleagues during a Dec. 15 conference call that objecting to the vote results in Arizona, Georgia and other states would put colleagues up for reelection in 2022 in a bad spot.
Already Trump has threatened to back a 2022 primary challenge against Thune, who has led the effort to persuade Republican senators not to vote to uphold objections.
Several Republican senators have assured Thune privately that they will support the leadership next week, in addition to a growing number of GOP lawmakers who are expressing public opposition to any challenge of the electoral vote tally.
Republican senators, however, say they are already getting calls from angry constituents pressing them to support objections to the electoral votes of several key states, even though Trump and his legal team have failed to show any compelling evidence of widespread fraud and dozens of their legal challenges have failed in court.
McConnell, who was in the Capitol Sunday for the swearing-in of senators elected in November, declined to comment on the growing war within his party.
“We’ll be dealing with all that on Wednesday,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, on Sunday dismissed Cruz’s call for the appointment of a commission to conduct a 10-day emergency audit of the Nov. 3 election results as a “political dodge” that had “zero chance of becoming reality.”
“Proposing a commission at this late date — which has zero chance of becoming reality — is not effectively fighting for President Trump. It appears to be more of a political dodge than an effective remedy,” he said.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), another of Trump’s staunch allies, on Sunday said he doesn’t “anticipate objecting to anything” but left himself some wiggle room, saying he would listen to the discussions.
Asked about a recorded phone call in which Trump asked the Georgia elections official to find more Trump votes, Cramer said “the secretary of state’s job isn’t to calculate one plus one equals three.”
Other Senate Republicans on Sunday said they would oppose objections raised by Cruz, Hawley and others questioning the results of the electoral tally.
“The administration has filed dozens of lawsuits, none of which have found that there was compelling evidence to support a finding of voter fraud such that it would have made a difference in the outcome of the election,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters after she was sworn in to serve her fifth term.
“From my perspective, the election is over, the courts have spoken, the administration was given every opportunity to pursue its legal remedies, and it’s time for us to move on,” she said.
Collins said colleagues should put their energy into focusing on the policy challenges that lie ahead once Biden becomes president.
“I just think it’s important that we all start acknowledging reality and working together to solve the enormous problems that our country faces,” she said.
Earlier in the day, a bipartisan group of senators including Collins, Sen. Bill Sen. Cassidy (R-La.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) released a joint statement declaring the presidential election “over.”
“At this point, further attempts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential election are contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans’ confidence in the already determined election results,” they said. “The voters have spoken, and Congress must now fulfill its responsibility to certify the election results.”