More GOP lawmakers enlist in Trump effort to challenge Biden

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Saturday announced a coalition of 11 senators and senators-elect who have been enlisted for Trump’s effort.

By Associated Press

A growing number of Republican lawmakers are joining President Donald Trump’s effort to challenge 2020 election results, pledging to reject them when Congress meets next week to count the Electoral College votes.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Saturday announced a coalition of 11 senators and senators-elect who have been enlisted for Trump’s effort.

This follows the declaration from Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who was the first to buck Senate leadership by saying he would join with House Republicans in objecting to the state tallies during Wednesday’s joint session of Congress.

Hawley and Cruz are both among potential 2024 presidential contenders.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had urged his party not to try to overturn the vote.

The 11 senators largely acknowledged Saturday they will not succeed in preventing Biden from being inaugurated on Jan. 20 after he won the Electoral College 306-232. But their challenges, and those from House Republicans, represent the most sweeping effort to undo a presidential election outcome since the Civil War.

“We do not take this action lightly,” Cruz and the other senators said in a joint statement.

They vowed to vote against certain state electors on Wednesday unless Congress appoints an electoral commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. They are zeroing in on the states where Trump has raised claims of voter fraud. Congress is unlikely to agree to their demand.

The group includes Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Mike Braun of Indiana, and Sens.-elect Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

Biden’s transition spokesman, Mike Gwin, dismissed the effort as a “stunt.”

Trump has attributed the elections results to widespread voter fraud. 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 U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, alled the Republican “undemocratic” and “un-American.”

The convening of the joint session to count the Electoral College votes is usually routine.

Objections to the he Electoral College vote count have have surfaced before. In 2017, several House Democrats challenged Trump’s win.

On the other side of the Republican divide, several senators spoke out Saturday against Cruz and Hawley’s effort.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement that she will vote to affirm the election and urged colleagues in both parties to join her in “maintaining confidence” in elections “so that we ensure we have the continued trust of the American people.”

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said a “fundamental, defining feature of a democratic republic is the right of the people to elect their own leaders.” He said the effort by Hawley, Cruz and others “to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in swing states like Pennsylvania directly undermines this right.”

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah called the Cruz-led effort an “ill-conceived endeavor” and said Trump’s call for supporters to converge on the Capitol had “the predictable potential to lead to disruption, and worse.” He added: “I could never have imagined seeing these things in the greatest democracy in the world. Has ambition so eclipsed principle?”

Earlier this week, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, another possible 2024 contender, urged his colleagues to “reject this dangerous ploy,” which he said threatens the nation’s civic norms.

Caught in the middle is Vice President Mike Pence, who faces growing pressure from Trump’s allies over his ceremonial role in presiding over the session Wednesday. His chief of staff, Marc Short, said in a statement Saturday that Pence “welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections.”

Several Republicans have indicated they are under pressure from constituents back home to show they are fighting for Trump.

Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Republican, told reporters at the Capitol that leadership was allowing senators to “vote their conscience.”

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.”

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 latest effort to upend the election came from Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and a group of Arizona electors, who filed suit to try to force Pence to step outside mere ceremony and shape the outcome of the vote. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee, dismissed their suit late Friday.

In another blow, Gohmert’s appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was rejected Saturday night, the panel of judges agreeing with Kernodle’s ruling that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the suit.

To ward off a dramatic unraveling, McConnell convened a conference call with Republican senators 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.

Hawley’s office said he sent an email afterward to his colleagues explaining his views. In the email, Hawley said constituents back home are “angry and disillusioned” with the outcome of the election.

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.