A Hail-Mary bid by House Republicans to flip the election results in favor of President Trump is sowing deep divisions in the GOP ranks.
The fight is pitting conservatives against fellow conservatives while creating an enormous headache for party leaders, who are pinched between an adherence to the electoral verdict and their loyalty to a president who has refused to accept defeat.
Those forces may be set to collide on Jan. 6, when Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a five-term Freedom Caucus firebrand, is vowing to launch an improbable effort to force votes in both chambers designed to block President-elect Joe Biden from assuming the White House. Electors from all 50 states cast their ballots on Monday, formally granting Biden more than the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to become the 46th president.
Thus far, Brooks’s gambit has received no backing from senior GOP leaders. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) seemed to tip his hand in opposition to Brooks’s tactics on Monday, telling the Fox Business Network that taking election challenges to Congress is “the wrong method.”
“The president is right to go to the courts, have his legal challenges heard,” McCarthy said. “And he said he still has more opportunity to do that. So we’ll wade through and see what happens.”
Still, the top House Republicans — McCarthy and Steve Scalise (La.) — are facing increasing pressure from the right to get on board, even as doing so would highlight internal discord in the earliest days of the next Congress, just as Republicans are hoping to unite in opposition to Biden’s zealous legislative plans.
Both McCarthy and Scalise, key Trump allies, joined more than 120 House Republicans in backing the Texas lawsuit last week seeking to overturn the election results in several battleground states — a suit the Supreme Court rejected on Friday. But so far, the two top ambitious GOP leaders — both of whom would need Freedom Caucus support in any future bid to become Speaker — have largely steered clear of the prickly issue.
Spokespeople for both McCarthy and Scalise did not respond to questions about whether the leaders support conservatives’ effort to contest the election results in Congress.
The No. 3 Republican in leadership, Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), has been much more skeptical of Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud. If Trump’s challenges are unsuccessful in the court system, Cheney has said, the president “should fulfill his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by respecting the sanctity of our electoral process.”
Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.), a Michigan conservative who’s retiring at the end of this term, took those criticisms a long step further on Monday, announcing that he is leaving the Republican Party to protest what he characterized as the GOP’s blanket decision “to treat our election system as though we are a third- world nation.”
“If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process … our nation will be damaged,” Mitchell wrote in a letter to McCarthy and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
Asked how much support there was in the GOP conference for Brooks’s effort, another conservative GOP lawmaker tersely replied: “Little to none.”
There are several reasons why many Republicans are wary of Brooks’s last-ditch effort to block Biden from the presidency. While both McCarthy and Scalise have refused to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect, there is a fear among Republicans that prolonged attacks on the electoral system could dampen GOP turnout in the pair of crucial Senate runoffs in Georgia, set for Jan. 5, one day before Congress will meet to certify the presidential election results.
Those two Georgia seats will determine which party controls the Senate, which could be the last line of defense against a White House and House controlled by the Democrats come Jan. 20.
GOP leaders also don’t want to highlight a huge internal clash the same week Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will be wrangling votes to remain in power for another two years — a tough vote given the Democrats’ razor-thin majority. As the 117th Congress kicks off, Republicans would much rather have the media spotlight on infighting on the other side of the aisle.
In fact, McCarthy himself has said that one of the greatest lessons House Republicans learned from their successful 2020 cycle was that if they stick together, they can flip Democratic seats. So, McCarthy, who is in prime position to become Speaker if the GOP wins back a handful of seats in 2022, is promoting unity in his growing conference.
“We’ve watched the benefits of staying together,” McCarthy recently told The Hill. “By staying together we won seats, by staying together we expanded this party.”
Brooks, however, remains unmoved. He plans to use the floor action on Jan. 6, when the House will meet to validate the presidential outcome, to challenge the veracity of the state-certified results, which electors around the country voted to formalize on Monday.
Trump and his closest allies have claimed, without evidence, that the president’s defeat came only as the result of widespread voter fraud. And Brooks intends to challenge the outcome in five key battleground states — Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona — that helped deliver Biden’s victory.
Trump’s attorneys and state allies have brought similar challenges before the courts, but virtually all of them have been rejected, including the Supreme Court’s decision last week to dismiss Texas’s claims of widespread voting “irregularities” in four of those states.
Brooks, in taking his case to Congress, maintains that the power of the legislative branch eclipses that of the judiciary when it comes to election oversight.
“Congress is the ultimate arbiter of who wins presidential contests, not the Supreme Court,” Brooks tweeted over the weekend. “America’s Founders didn’t want unelected, dictatorial judges making these decision. Judiciary isn’t equipped or empowered to decide contested federal elections.”
To force a vote on the House floor, Brooks also needs the endorsement of at least one senator. A pair of Republicans in the upper chamber, Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) have suggested some interest in signing on, though they have not yet committed to doing so.
Johnson, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is separately using his perch atop that panel to investigate what he deems voting “irregularities” in certain states.
“What we can explain, we will take that off the table,” Johnson told Fox News on Sunday. “But if things are unexplained, we need to further investigate.”
Brooks’s procedural maneuver is hardly the first time a House lawmaker has sought to block a presidential outcome on the chamber floor. In early 2017, just days before Trump’s swearing in, liberal Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) had challenged Trump’s Electoral College victory, alleging that long lines at the polls in Georgia were an unfair barrier to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Presiding over the chamber at the time was Joe Biden, then the vice president, who quickly shut down the endeavor, noting that Jayapal, just days into her first year on Capitol Hill, had not secured the support of a senator.
“There is no debate,” Biden said from the dais with a bang of the gavel. “It is over.”