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On Wednesday, self-styled conservative lawmakers from Texas, Missouri and elsewhere are expected to challenge the presidential election results in a handful of other states. Many of these Republican senators and representatives will effectively be using their federal offices to tell voters from those other states that unsubstantiated claims about election fraud somehow supersede their actual, state-certified votes.
As other Republicans have pointed out, it’s not a particularly conservative or constitutionally sound argument.
“Such objections set an exceptionally dangerous precedent, threatening to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the President and bestowing it instead on Congress,” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of the top Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, said in a 21-page memo reportedly circulated to her colleagues. “This is directly at odds with the Constitution’s clear text and our core beliefs as Republicans.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, who typically doesn’t miss a chance to burnish his credentials as an ally of President Donald Trump, has notably resisted the political pressures and opportunities surrounding the Jan. 6 congressional count of electoral votes. While some of the other once and future Republican presidential hopefuls seem to be prioritizing their political careers and loyalty to Trump over loyalty to the Constitution, Cotton made it clear that he understands Congress’ constitutionally prescribed role in this process — even as he expressed concerns about “irregularities in the election.”
“Nevertheless, the founders entrusted our elections chiefly to the states — not Congress,” Cotton wrote in an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette OpEd explaining why he would not object to the Jan. 6 count. “They entrusted the election of our president to the people, acting through the electoral college — not Congress. And they entrusted the adjudication of election disputes to the courts — not Congress.”
More than 100 House Republicans and roughly a dozen Senate Republicans have indicated that they will object to at least one state’s vote count on Wednesday. That’s not enough members to actually overturn any election results, but it’s far too many elected officials who are willing to trade their judgment for the judgment of voters.
A bipartisan group of 10 senators, including Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, essentially shut the door on this embarrassing effort on Sunday by making it clear that it’s time for Congress to certify the results.
“The 2020 election is over. All challenges through recounts and appeals have been exhausted. 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,” the bipartisan group stressed. “The voters have spoken, and Congress must now fulfill its responsibility to certify the election results. In two weeks, we will begin working with our colleagues and the new Administration on bipartisan, common sense solutions to the enormous challenges facing our country. It is time to move forward.”
The senators planning to object to Wednesday’s certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory have tried to thread a needle, insisting that they are simply representing the Americans who still don’t feel that the 2020 presidential election was fair, and are not trying to overturn the results. But Trump has already tossed that talking point out of the window, proving in his weekend phone call with Georgia officials that he’s explicitly trying to find just enough votes for him to win an election he lost. Just listen to the audio or read the transcript. It’s right there, plain as day.
These objecting senators have also called for the creation of an election commission, to complete an emergency audit in disputed states in just 10 days. But as Cheney pointed out in her memo, such an effort and any resulting debate would likely take months and extend well beyond the constitutionally set Jan. 20 transfer of presidential power. This last-minute audit push also ignores the fact that there have already been two months of lawsuits, recounts and audits that have failed to prove the president’s claims of widespread fraud.
In reality, this call for a rushed and ill-defined election commission is designed chaos masquerading as order. If lawmakers want to give the public greater confidence in the electoral system, they should look more deliberately at things like paper ballot safeguards and same-day registration that help facilitate secure, accessible elections. In short, they should follow Maine’s lead.
Trump has dubbed Republicans like Cotton, who are refusing to go along with his Jan. 6 charade, as the “Surrender Caucus.” Their great crime? These lawmakers are surrendering to reality. They’re surrendering to the Constitution. They’re surrendering to the principle that the American people, not Washington politicians, decide who serves as our next president.
To be clear, that’s not really surrendering at all. It’s standing up for a healthy American democracy, for states’ rights and for the quaint idea that facts matter more than feelings.