JANUARY 5, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Trump disparaged Senate Republicans who aren’t backing further challenges to Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory, further roiling a party that has split over whether to support Mr. Trump’s attempts to stay in power or accept the reality of the election results.
Ahead of a joint session of Congress to certify Mr. Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win, 13 Republican senators have ignored the pleas of party leaders and said they plan to challenge some states’ results, forcing debates and votes in both chambers on Wednesday. But others called such actions futile and motivated by personal political ambitions, fueling an intra party fight as lawmakers position themselves for re-election contests in 2022 and the 2024 presidential race.
“The ‘Surrender Caucus’ within the Republican Party will go down in infamy as weak and ineffective ‘guardians’ of our Nation,” Mr. Trump tweeted Monday of Republicans who wanted to certify the results and move on. He called them “willing to accept the certification of fraudulent presidential numbers!”
Mr. Trump has blamed voter fraud for his defeat, but no significant evidence emerged that would challenge the result. Then-Attorney General William Barr said last month the Justice Department hadn’t found evidence of widespread voter fraud that could reverse Mr. Biden’s election victory. Over the weekend, Mr. Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the November election results that delivered the state to Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump’s comments came as more than a dozen Republican senators and scores of GOP House members, under intense pressure from Trump supporters, have said they would challenge certification of Mr. Biden’s win. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and other Republicans have made the case that a public fight over the results could hurt GOP incumbents’ chances in 2022, and could open future presidential contests up to challenges by Democrats.
Vice President Mike Pence will preside over Wednesday’s joint session to count and verify each of the 538 Electoral College votes from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Any challenge is set to fail given Democratic control of the House and lack of broad Republican support in the GOP-controlled Senate. Senate leadership told staffers to be prepared for the proceedings to last for several days.
Democrats said Republicans were bowing to Mr. Trump’s demands despite no chance of success.
“It’s just really soul crushing that these people are continuing this effort but our democracy is stronger,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) “Donald Trump is a dominant personality and he knows no limits and he’s pushing this to end.”
Business interests weighed in. Nearly 200 top U.S. business leaders pressed Congress to certify the electoral results for Mr. Biden in a letter Monday. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also urged lawmakers to back Mr. Biden’s win and for the Trump administration to facilitate an orderly transition.
The group planning to challenge Mr. Biden’s win in the Senate includes Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), who said Wednesday he would contest results in Pennsylvania and potentially other states. On Saturday, another 11 senators, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said they, too, planned to reject electoral votes from some states unless Congress appoints a commission to conduct an emergency, 10-day audit of the election results.
It takes one House lawmaker and one senator to object to a state’s electoral votes in writing on Jan. 6. The objection, once filed, triggers two hours of concurrent debate and votes in each chamber. Majorities in the House and Senate have to agree for the challenge to be successful in rejecting any state’s results.
On Monday, Mr. Trump singled out one Republican senator in particular for breaking with him. He tweeted at Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.): “Republicans have pluses & minuses, but one thing is sure, THEY NEVER FORGET!”
Mr. Cotton, who along with Messrs. Cruz and Hawley is seen as a 2024 presidential hopeful, late Sunday issued a statement saying he wouldn’t join the group objecting to vote results. He said that it would “establish unwise precedents” by potentially giving Congress the power to choose the president and federalizing elections.
Mr. Cotton’s decision not to participate long predated Mr. Hawley’s announcement last week, according to a person familiar with Mr. Cotton’s thinking. Last month, he came to his decision and privately let Mr. McConnell know where he stood, but didn’t plan to disclose his decision before the Georgia Senate runoffs, and encouraged other Senate Republicans to remain silent until Jan. 5 as well, this person said. But over the weekend Mr. Cotton spoke to Mr. McConnell again and they discussed whether he should come out with a statement before Wednesday in an effort to make sure other conservatives knew his position, the person said.
The decision to reveal his stance—ahead of the two Georgia races that will determine Senate control—marked a notable break for a lawmaker who has appealed to many of the same constituents who back Mr. Trump. It also underscores the widening rift in the GOP.
For anxious Republican senators and staff who feared more defections, Mr. Cotton’s statement came as “a sigh of relief,” one aide said. The bleeding seemed to have stopped, and several more Republican senators said they wouldn’t challenge the election results.
“I cannot support allowing Congress to thwart the will of the voters,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) in a statement on Monday. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.) and Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) also said Monday they wouldn’t object to the electoral tally. But Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who is a candidate in the runoffs in Georgia Tuesday, said she would.
Mr. Cruz had started putting together his coalition by texting, calling and emailing different members who he thought would be receptive, a person familiar with the process said. He came up with the idea of a commission as a “third option,” so that senators would have more than just a binary choice on Jan. 6: to ratify or not to ratify.
“I think all of us rightly don’t want to be in a position where we’re suggesting setting aside the results of an election just because the candidate that we supported didn’t happen to prevail. That’s not a principled constitutional position,” said Mr. Cruz, a graduate of Harvard Law, on Fox News.
He then settled on the idea of a commission to probe allegations of fraud. The concept attracted enough interest among Senate Republicans that the group was able to make a splash with their news Saturday—putting more heat on other Republican lawmakers to jump on board.
Capitol Hill offices are being overwhelmed by calls in the thousands, urging their elected officials to investigate the president’s fraud allegations and overturn the election in his favor, GOP Hill aides say.
“If you’ve been speaking to folks at home, I’m sure you know how deeply angry and disillusioned many, many people are—and how frustrated that Congress has taken little or no action,” Mr. Hawley wrote in an email Thursday to his Senate GOP colleagues, who had been taken by surprise by his announcement that he would object on Jan. 6.
Mr. Hawley, a Yale Law grad and former Missouri Attorney General, is a freshman elected to the Senate in 2018 when he defeated Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill. He ran as a political outsider, closely tying himself to Mr. Trump in the belief that the Republican party is in the midst of a populist realignment and won’t return to the previous status quo.
Some of his GOP colleagues, including the senior senator from Mr. Hawley’s home state, Roy Blunt, will be facing re-election in two years. Mr. Hawley’s move forces them to take a vote that could expose them to anger from the Trump base but is extremely unlikely to change the election outcome.
Mr. Blunt has said he won’t support the plans of Messrs. Hawley or Cruz. “I think that if you have a plan it should be a plan that has some chance of working,” Mr. Blunt said. “And neither of the two proposals that have been advanced will produce a result.”