Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley became the first senator to say he’ll object to the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory when Congress meets on Jan. 6 to accept the results of the presidential election.
Several House Republicans have previously signaled their intention to do the same. With members of both the House and Senate bringing objections, it’ll set off a dramatic scenario requiring a roll call vote in both chambers.
The January votes are unlikely to change the outcome of the election, but they will cap off a prolonged effort by President Donald Trump’s allies seeking to overturn the president’s defeat and hinder Biden’s transition.
Democrats control the House and will be able to vote down the measure. In the GOP-controlled Senate, several GOP senators have already indicated their objections to efforts to overturn the election and will likely join Democrats in affirming Biden’s win.
Hawley cited unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and accused the state of Pennsylvania of failing to adhere to its election laws by extending the deadline for mail-in ballots, an argument that has repeatedly been rejected by federal courts.
An outspoken critic of the tech industry, Hawley also accused social media companies of election interference on Biden’s behalf.
“I cannot vote to certify the electoral college results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws,” Hawley said in a Wednesday statement.
“And I cannot vote to certify without pointing out the unprecedented effort of mega corporations, including Facebook and Twitter, to interfere in this election, in support of Joe Biden. At the very least, Congress should investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections. But Congress has so far failed to act.”
A Biden transition spokesman declined to comment on Hawley’s objection, pointing instead to remarks the president-elect made in December after the Electoral College vote certification.
“We the People voted,” Biden said then. “Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And now it’s time to turn the page, as we’ve done throughout our history.”
Hawley’s announcement comes after weeks of Republican office holders seeking to overturn Biden’s victory despite the fact that he won the popular vote by the largest margin of any challenger against an incumbent president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s victory over Herbert Hoover in 1932.
Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey called Hawley’s announcement “a direct attack on all Pennsylvania voters. It is a cheap, political move that will fail.”
Objections to vote tallies in Pennsylvania and other battleground states have been repeatedly and forcefully rejected by the courts, whose judges have said the legal challenges made by the Trump campaign lack evidence.
Stephanos Bibas, a Trump-appointed judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in a November decision that the Trump campaign’s attempt to question the legality of vote processes in Pennsylvania had “no merit.”
“… calling an election unfair does not make it so,” Bibas wrote. “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
The Trump campaign’s baseless claims of voter fraud have largely centered on swing state cities with large minority populations: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit and Milwaukee.
But only three cases of illegal voting in Pennsylvania have been identified since the Nov. 3 election and all three cases involve people who allegedly cast illegal ballots for Trump, including a man who allegedly used his dead mother’s name to vote for Trump.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, brushed off Hawley’s attack on the state, which went for Biden by a larger margin this year than it did for Trump in 2016.
“This is another baseless attempt by Trump’s enablers to undermine the will of the people,” Shapiro said on Twitter. “Pennsylvania’s election was secure, legal & fair. Our electoral votes have been cast for Joe Biden & Kamala Harris.”
Lyndsay Kensinger, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, called Hawley’s accusations “fictional conspiracy theories” that represent a “relentless attack against our American democracy.”
“The facts are clear: Pennsylvania had a free, fair, and secure election,” Kensinger said. “Millions of Pennsylvanians followed the rules and voted. Allegations of fraud and illegal activity have been repeatedly dismissed by the courts and debunked by independent fact-checkers.”
Hawley’s announcement also drew criticism from prominent Democrats in Missouri.
“Embarrassing and sad,” said former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who founded the voting rights organization Let America Vote after an unsuccessful 2016 Senate run.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who will be the senior Democrat in Missouri’s delegation in the new Congress, has lamented the participation of his Missouri GOP colleagues in the effort to delegitimize Biden’s win.
“While I do not know the senator very well, the one thing I have heard most is that he is an exceptionally bright person. That is why I am so confused about him assuming a position, with regard to the last election, which is contrary to the decisions made in nearly every court in the land by judges across the ideological spectrum,” Cleaver said.
“I do not support the senator’s opposition to what more than 50 separate judicial decisions found to be a free and fair election. I believe it is time for us to begin the healing that is so desperately needed in our country. I intend to be a part of that and I welcome the senator — and anyone else — who wishes to join me.”
Hawley’s objection will likely prove only symbolic, a fact the senator acknowledged in his announcement when he cited fruitless Democratic objections to President George W. Bush’s 2004 victory and President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory as his precedent.
“Following both the 2004 and 2016 elections, Democrats in Congress objected during the certification of electoral votes in order to raise concerns about election integrity. They were praised by Democratic leadership and the media when they did,” Hawley said in a statement. “And they were entitled to do so. But now those of us concerned about the integrity of this election are entitled to do the same.”
The previous objections had no effect on the outcome of those elections.
The youngest senator and a former Missouri attorney general, Hawley, 40, is widely seen as a potential contender for the presidency in 2024. Trump held multiple rallies on behalf of his 2018 Senate campaign and Hawley has emerged as one of the president’s most vocal allies.
By becoming the first senator to announce his objections to certifying Biden’s win, Hawley positions himself to potentially win over Trump’s base in 2024 if Trump does not run again.
However, Hawley’s decision to force a vote will put pressure on GOP senators up for re-election in 2022 when Trump’s support could be a key factor in primaries, including two Kansas City area colleagues, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran.
Blunt, the No. 4 Republican in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly tried to dissuade members of the GOP caucus from bringing such an objection in a phone call earlier this month after the Electoral College affirmed Biden’s victory with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.
McConnell’s office did not respond to a question about Hawley’s decision to force a vote.
Blunt, who chairs the bipartisan committee overseeing the presidential inauguration, made it clear Wednesday afternoon that he’ll take no part in Hawley’s effort to object to certification.
“I expect there to be a vigorous debate regarding any state where the electors are challenged by at least one House member and one senator. As one of the four members of Congress required to participate in the joint session, I will not be joining in any objection,” said Blunt, the Senate Rules chairman.
Other high-ranking Republicans also indicated that they also would not support Hawley’s objection.
“Although I didn’t like the outcome of the election, I think the election’s over,” said Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, according to the Senate press pool.
Kansas GOP Senator-elect Roger Marshall said earlier this month that he would make his decision Jan. 5 on whether he would support an attempt to block Biden’s electoral votes.
Marshall, currently a member in the U.S. House, was one of eight House members from Kansas and Missouri to sign onto a brief in support of Texas’ failed lawsuit seeking to overturn the election. Missouri and Kansas’ attorneys generals also signed on the case, which was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Former Rep. Tom Coleman, a Republican who represented northern Missouri from 1976 to 1993, has criticized the region’s Republicans for backing efforts that will undermine faith in American democracy.
“What we’re going to see here is a circus and one of the ringmasters is going to be Josh Hawley,” Coleman said in a phone call Wednesday. “It’s an embarrassment to the state of Missouri. He’s just wants attention.”