US Senator Ted Cruz says he will spearhead a drive by nearly a dozen Republican senators to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory when Electoral College results are tallied in Congress on January 6.
A coalition of 11 Republican senators has announced it will challenge the outcome of the presidential election by voting to reject electors from some states when Congress meets next week to certify the Electoral College results that confirmed President-elect Joe Biden won.
President Donald Trump’s extraordinary refusal to accept his election defeat and the effort to subvert the will of the voters has become a defining moment for Republicans and is tearing the party apart. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged Republican not to try to overturn the election.
The 11 senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, said they will vote against certain state electors unless Congress appoints an electoral commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. They acknowledged they are unlikely to change the results of the election.
“We intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed,” they wrote in the statement.
“We do not take this action lightly,” they said.
In response to Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud, bipartisan election officials and Trump’s then-Attorney General William Barr have said there was no evidence of widespread fraud and the election ran smoothly.
READ MORE: Barr: No evidence of decisive voter fraud found in US elections
The days ahead are expected to do little to change the outcome. Biden is set to be inaugurated January 20 after winning the Electoral College vote 306-232.
Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri was the first to defy McConnell by announcing he would join House Republicans in objecting to the state tallies during Wednesday's joint session of Congress.
On the other side of the party’s split, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska warned such challenges are a “dangerous ploy” threatening the nation’s civic norms.
The issue is forcing Republicans to make choices that will set the contours of the post-Trump era and an evolving GOP. Caught in the middle is Vice President Mike Pence, who faces growing pressure and a lawsuit from Trump’s allies over his ceremonial role in presiding over the session on Wednesday.
“I will not be participating in a project to overturn the election,” Sasse wrote in a lengthy social media post. Sasse, a potential 2024 presidential contender, said he was “urging my colleagues also to reject this dangerous ploy.”
Trump's claims of vote rigging
Trump, the first president to lose a reelection bid in almost 30 years, has attributed his defeat to widespread voter fraud, despite the consensus of nonpartisan election officials that there wasn’t any. Of the roughly 50 lawsuits the president and his allies have filed challenging election results, nearly all have been dismissed or dropped. He’s also lost twice at the US Supreme Court.
Still, the president has pushed Republican senators to pursue his unfounded charges even though the Electoral College has already cemented Biden’s victory and all that’s left is Congress’ formal recognition of the count before the new president is sworn in.
“We are letting people vote their conscience,” Senator John Thune, the second-ranking Republican, told reporters at the Capitol.
READ MORE: Trump seeks appeal of Pennsylvania ruling on election fraud claims
'This is a big vote'
Thune’s remarks as the GOP whip in charge of rounding up votes show that Republican leadership is not putting its muscle behind Trump’s demands, but allowing senators to choose their course. He noted the gravity of questioning the election outcome.
“This is an issue that’s incredibly consequential, incredibly rare historically and very precedent-setting,” he said. “This is a big vote. They are thinking about it.”
Pence will be carefully watched as he presides over what is typically a routine vote count in Congress but is now heading toward a prolonged showdown that could extend into Wednesday night, depending on how many challenges are mounted.
The vice president is being sued by a group of Republicans who want Pence to have the power to overturn the election results by doing away with an 1887 law that spells out how Congress handles the vote count.
Trump’s own Justice Department may have complicated what is already a highly improbable effort to upend the ritualistic count. It asked a federal judge to dismiss the last-gasp lawsuit from Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and a group of Republican electors from Arizona who are seeking to force Pence to step outside mere ceremony and shape the outcome of the vote.
In a court filing in Texas, the department said they have “have sued the wrong defendant” and Pence should not be the target of the legal action.
“A suit to establish that the Vice President has discretion over the count, filed against the Vice President, is a walking legal contradiction,” the department argues.
READ MORE: Does Trump stand a chance at overturning US election results?
A judge in Texas dismissed the Gohmert lawsuit on Friday night. US District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee, wrote that the plaintiffs “allege an injury that is not fairly traceable” to Pence, “and is unlikely to be redressed by the requested relief.”
To ward off a dramatic unraveling, McConnell convened a conference call with Republican senators on Thursday specifically to address the coming joint session and logistics of tallying the vote, according to several Republicans granted anonymity to discuss the private call.
The Republican leader pointedly called on Hawley to answer questions about his challenge to Biden’s victory, according to two of the Republicans.
But there was no response because Hawley was a no-show, the Republicans said.
His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has acknowledged Biden’s victory and defended his state’s elections systems as valid and accurate, spoke up on the call, objecting to those challenging Pennsylvania’s results and making clear he disagrees with Hawley’s plan to contest the result, his office said in a statement.
McConnell had previously warned GOP senators not to participate in raising objections, saying it would be a terrible vote for colleagues. In essence, lawmakers would be forced to choose between the will of the outgoing president and that of the voters.
Several Republicans have indicated they are under pressure from constituents back home to show they are fighting for Trump in his baseless campaign to stay in office.
READ MORE: US President Trump says will leave office if Biden victory confirmed
The push for an audit is a "political stunt" that will not affect the outcome of the election, said Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa.
Muller said that, while the 1887 law governing how lawmakers validate the election is murky, most scholars believe that Congress lacks the legal authority to require the audit. Even if lawmakers had that power, a majority of both chambers would need to support the audit, and there is virtually no chance of the proposal having that level of support, he said.
Under the Electoral College system, "electoral votes" are allotted to states and the District of Columbia based on their congressional representation.
Trump has been encouraging Republicans to prevent Biden from taking office, although there is no viable mechanism for them to do so.
READ MORE: Republican-led Senate defies Trump, overrides defence bill veto