Sunday, January 3, 2021

Trump Diehards Sow Disorder in Contesting Election

           Disorder and even violence are in the forecast for Washington this week as President Trump’s diehard supporters take to the Senate floor and the streets to try to overturn Joe Biden’s decisive victory in the 2020 presidential election. Their efforts promise tense confrontations in D.C. streets between Trump’s paramilitary shock troops from the white supremacist Proud Boys and pro-democracy counter protesters from liberal and progressive advocacy groups.

            With 11 Republican senators now committed to challenging Electoral College votes from several Biden states, their efforts promise a drawn-out debate on the Senate floor and perilous votes for Republican senators in what is normally a purely ceremonial opening of envelopes and counting of votes.

            The defeated president is encouraging the disorder on his Twitter feed by urging supporters to mass in Washington on Wednesday [Jan. 6] as the Senate prepares to count the electoral votes. The effort is doomed to fail because electoral votes certified by the states cannot be rejected except by a majority votes in both chambers of Congress. With a Democratic majority, the House of Representatives is certain to reject the Trump-backed challenges; with a narrow Republican majority, the outcome in the Senate itself is uncertain since some GOP senators have said they will vote to confirm Biden’s victory.

            A Biden spokesman dismisses the Senate protests as political theater. "This stunt won't change the fact that President-elect Biden will be sworn in on January 20th," spokesman Mike Gwin said. Gwin went on to note that Trump’s “baseless claims” of fraudulent voting and vote counting have been dismissed by “Trump’s own attorney general, dozens of courts, and election officials from both parties.”

            Indeed, the Trump campaign and Republican officials in key battleground states have failed in every effort to overturn Biden’s popular vote victories by five- or six-figure margins, unlikely to be overturned even after the most thorough of election audits. In an effort to give substance to the Senate maneuver, Texas’s senior senator Ted Cruz fashioned a proposal calling for a special commission to conduct what he calls “an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states.”

            Texas’s Republican attorney general Ken Paxton had already tried but failed with a “Hail Mary” legal maneuver to get the Supreme Court to consider overturning election returns in four Biden-carried states: Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The Court kicked Paxton’s unprecedented suit, Texas v. Pennsylvania, in a three-sentence order [Dec. 11] that correctly concluded that Texas had no “judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”

Missouri’s Josh Hawley was the first of the Republican senators to say he would challenge the electoral votes on the Senate floor. Cruz added Arizona and Nevada to the list of disputed states and gained the support of ten other GOP senators for his harebrained scheme of a special election commission to audit the results. All of the senators but one represent states that Trump carried handily: Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee; Mike Braun, Indiana; Steve Daines, Montana; John Kennedy, Louisiana; and James Lankford, Oklahoma, Also backing the plan is Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, who in effect is seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in his own state.

Four of those backing the plan are senators-elect due to be sworn in as the new Congress takes office: Bill Hagerty, Tennessee; Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming; Roger Marshall, Kansas; and Tom Tuberville, Alabama. But some veteran Republicans have strongly criticized the effort, including Pennsylvania’s Patrick Toomey, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, Utah’s Mitt Romney, and South Dakota’s John Thune, an assistant Republican leader. “In the end, I don’t think it changes anything,” Thune commented, in a remark that drew a critical tweet from Trump urging the state’s Republican governor to challenge Thune in the 2022 election.  [530]

            Cruz and the others are defying the Senate’s Republican leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, who had urged the GOP caucus to sit back and allow electoral votes to be cast and counted without challenge. The floor debate and roll-call votes on any individual challenges will put some Republican senators in a tricky political situation of avoiding offense to the millions of Trump voters who believe the president’s bogus claims of voter fraud.

            Nonpartisan election watchers warn that the doomed-to-fail effort poses a longterm threat to public confidence in elections and to the Biden presidency as well. In the short term, however, the threat to civic order is more concrete. In an interview with the pro-Trump Newmax, Texas’s Republican congressman Louie Gohmert openly described “violence” as the only remaining alternative to challenge Biden’s election after a federal court rejected Gohmert’s suit aimed at forcing Vice President Mike Pence to discard some of Biden’s electoral votes. Gohmert backpedaled later by claiming that he did not intend to incite violence in Wednesday’s planned demonstrations.

            Trump’s post-election challenge is all but unprecedented in U.S. history. The closest precedent perhaps is the refusal of southern states to accept Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860: For Pence, his role as vice president in presiding over the Senate has clear precedents in recent history. As vice president, Richard Nixon had the duty of confirming John Kennedy’s election in January 1961; Al Gore had the same role in January 2001 in confirming George Bush’s victory and followed the parliamentarian’s advice in refusing to recognize a challenge to Florida’s electoral votes.


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