Republican infighting on election intensifies

Senate Republicans are going to war with each other over the upcoming Electoral College vote in Congress as lawmakers try to fill a post-Trump power vacuum.

The public infighting is putting a spotlight on simmering divisions and setting up the scenario Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (R-Ky.) — who watched GOP squabbling cost him seats in previous election cycles — wanted to avoid when he warned members not to object to Wednesday’s counting of the electoral votes.

Instead, in a rare act of defiance, at least 13 Republican senators are supporting an effort to overturn the election results, offering a glimpse of what may lie ahead for a caucus with competing political ambitions heading into 2024.

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“Members are going to act in their own interest quite often. You’ve got folks who want to run for president, so their priority is not necessarily the same as McConnell’s. You’ve got those who are scared to death of being primaried. ... Is that ideally what McConnell wanted? No, of course not,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye, former director of communications for the Republican National Committee.

Congress will hold a joint session Wednesday to count the Electoral College votes. At least 13 GOP senators and more than 100 House Republicans have endorsed challenging the election results in battleground states where President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Republican calls second bout of COVID-19 'far more challenging' Conflicting school mask guidance sparks confusion Biden: Pathway to citizenship in reconciliation package 'remains to be seen' MORE defeated President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE.

The president has publicly called out otherwise loyal Republicans who have voiced opposition to the effort.

“How can you certify an election when the numbers being certified are verifiably WRONG. ... Republicans have pluses & minuses, but one thing is sure, THEY NEVER FORGET!” Trump tweeted about longtime ally Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonEx-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Republicans raise concerns about Olympians using digital yuan during Beijing Games MORE (R-Ark.), a potential White House contender who is not backing the electoral objections.

In another tweet Monday, Trump predicted the “ ‘Surrender Caucus’ ... will go down in infamy,” in reference to GOP lawmakers not supporting efforts to overturn the election.

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Trump’s tweets are the latest broadside he’s offered against Senate Republicans in recent weeks as many of them have acknowledged reality: Biden won the election and Wednesday will not change that.

The shots across the bow on Monday underscored how the quadrennial formality of counting the electoral votes has quickly become a televised loyalty test that is splintering not only the party’s potential White House contenders but also senators up for reelection next year.

“This is not healthy for the Republican Party,” said Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSasse calls China's Xi a 'coward' after Apple Daily arrest Defunct newspaper's senior editor arrested in Hong Kong Murkowski: Trump has 'threatened to do a lot' to those who stand up to him MORE (R-Neb.), a potential 2024 contender. “This is bad for the country and bad for the party.”

GOP Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (Wis.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.) and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordAbbott slams Ben & Jerry's for Palestine support: 'Disgraceful' Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Republican calls on Oklahoma to ban Ben & Jerry's MORE (Okla.) are each up for reelection and part of the gang of 11 that announced over the weekend that they would support challenging the election results absent a commission being formed to conduct a 10-day audit.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSunday shows - Jan. 6 investigation dominates Senate Republican 'not happy' with Pelosi plan to delay infrastructure vote Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe MORE (R-Ohio), who is up for reelection in 2022, became the latest to announce that he would not join that effort.

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In addition to Portman, other in-cycle Republicans like Sens. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyNational Guard cancels trainings after Congress fails to reimburse for Capitol riot deployment This week: Senate faces infrastructure squeeze GOP seeks to make Biden synonymous with inflation MORE (Ala.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Schumer back down on his deadline? GOP fumes over Schumer hardball strategy Cybersecurity bills gain new urgency after rash of attacks MORE (Mo.), and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (Alaska) have said they will oppose efforts to challenge the election results. Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.), who is retiring, and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Bipartisan group to issue 'promising' statement on infrastructure path forward First responders shouldn't have to tackle tigers MORE (R-N.C.), who has previously said he wouldn’t run for reelection, are also opposed.

“I don’t think either of the two efforts has any chance for success, and I actually like to come up with plans that have a chance of being successful,” Blunt said.

Senate Republicans have gone through multiple rounds of public and private infighting as the decision to challenge the election results gained momentum in the conference.

After Toomey warned over the weekend that the effort by Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyAtlanta-area spa shootings suspect set to be arraigned Noem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Competition laws could be a death knell for startup mergers and acquisitions MORE (R-Mo.), Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia next week Here's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken MORE (R-Texas) and others “undermines” the “right of the people to elect their own leaders,” Hawley sent an email to the caucus arguing they should save the debate for Wednesday.

“Instead of debating this issue of election integrity by press release, conference call or e-mail, perhaps we could have a debate on the Senate floor for all of the American people to judge,” Hawley wrote.

Whether the GOP infighting will last beyond Wednesday is unclear.

Despite the current fight, McConnell, Trump and their allies have largely been united since January 2017. And with Biden taking office this month, Senate Republicans could unite against a Democratic White House and Democratic-controlled House, with GOP brawling taking a back seat.

“That should unify Senate Republicans. Whether all of them want to be unified is obviously an open question,” said Heye.

Scott Jennings, a former adviser to McConnell, warned against reading too much into the Electoral College fight but acknowledged that “as long as you have people out there that are running for president ... they’re going to do things from time to time that may not be aligned with what’s in the best interest of what their party leaders want them to do.”

This isn’t the first time McConnell has faced members with ambitions that are at odds with his strategy, which has consistently been to avoid making Republicans take tough votes as he tries to protect the caucus and their slim Senate majority.

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In 2013, Cruz was at the center of a failed bid to repeal ObamaCare; in 2015, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP Rep. Cawthorn says he wants to 'prosecute' Fauci Writer: Fauci, Paul clash shouldn't distract from probe into COVID-19 origins S.E. Cupp: 'The politicization of science and health safety has inarguably cost lives' MORE (R-Ky.) clashed with McConnell over surveillance programs; and Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks Senators introduce bipartisan bill to secure critical groups against hackers MORE (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) briefly agitated their colleagues when they hijacked the Senate floor during the debate on the Iran nuclear deal.

But unlike those fights, Wednesday’s votes are fueling concerns that defections could be used as primary fodder down the road, sparking unusually high-profile infighting among a caucus that McConnell has managed to keep relatively unified despite the chaos of the Trump era. Several newly elected senators, sworn in Sunday, are also backing the election challenges, which will be the Senate’s first votes of the 117th Congress.

“Each one of us has to make our best recommendation. The leader’s priority is always to keep the majority, and I respect that,” said Sen. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallAdvancing T-cell testing can help parents can make informed decisions on COVID vaccinations House GOP leaders say vaccine works but shouldn't be mandated Rand Paul introducing measure to repeal public transportation mask mandates MORE (R-Kan.), who supports challenging the results.

Asked about the discussion causing long-term divisions in the party, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - Infrastructure vote fails; partisan feud erupts over Jan. 6 panel Senate falling behind on infrastructure MORE (R-Maine) urged her colleagues to “start acknowledging reality and working together.”

McConnell has not publicly commented on the decision by some of his members to challenge the election results, but he told the caucus last week that he viewed it as the “most consequential vote” of his congressional career and urged Republicans last month not to join a push by House conservatives to object.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFrustration builds as infrastructure talks drag On The Money: Senate braces for nasty debt ceiling fight | Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan deal | Housing prices hit new high in June Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, has predicted that efforts to challenge the election will go down like a “shot dog” but said that leadership isn’t leaning on members to vote against the objections. Because a challenge to a state’s Electoral College vote needs a majority of both chambers to be successful, the effort to overturn the results of even a single state is guaranteed to fail.

“We are letting people vote their conscience. This is an issue that’s incredibly consequential, incredibly rare historically and very precedent-setting,” Thune said. “Our members, this is a big vote, they are thinking about it. I think I know where things are headed but ... we’ll see what comes out.”