Americans waiting for Republicans in Congress to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect may have to keep waiting until January as party leaders stick with US President Donald Trump’s litany of legal challenges and unproven claims of fraud.
Tuesday’s deadline for states to certify their elections — once viewed as a pivot point for Republicans to mark Biden’s win — came and went without much comment. Next week’s December 14 Electoral College deadline may produce just a few more congratulatory GOP calls to Biden.
Increasingly, Republican legislators say the January 6 vote in Congress to accept the Electoral College outcome may be when the presidential winner becomes official. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signalled January 20 as the certain date when the country is “going to have the swearing-in of the next president”.
The result is a risky standoff like none other in US history. The refusal to agree upon the facts of the election threatens to undermine voter confidence, chisel away at the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency and restack civic norms in still-unknowable ways.
Yet some Republican officials see the dragged-out process as their best shot at answering the fiery questions, calls and complaints of their constituents who voted for Trump and refuse to believe he legitimately lost the race to Biden.
“The country needs to understand, at least, it was fair,” Republican US Representative Alex Mooney of West Virginia said in an interview with The Associated Press news agency.
Mooney said he was being pressed by voters back home, including Republican Party activists at an event last month in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, demanding to know why no one was helping the president. They were “very concerned”, he said, and so he stepped up. He introduced a House resolution on Tuesday that encourages neither Trump nor Biden to concede until all the investigations are completed.
“The end is when the roll call is put up here,” he said about the January 6 vote in Congress.
I urge my colleagues to join me in fighting for the integrity of our election process.
— Rep. Alex Mooney (@RepAlexMooney) December 8, 2020
Trump sent his party down this unprecedented path by claiming the election was “rigged”, but Republican officials enabled doubts to swell through their past four weeks of silence. He personally called on some local elected officials to reconsider the results. Now, the disputed election has taken on a political life of its own that the party’s leadership may not be able to squash, even as Trump’s legal challenges crumble.
Republicans say it makes little political sense at this point for them to counter Trump’s views lest they risk a backlash from his supporters — their own constituents — back home. They are relying on Trump voters to power the Georgia runoff elections on January 5 that will determine control of the Senate. And while some Republican legislators have acknowledged Biden’s victory, most prefer to keep quiet, letting the process play out “organically”, as one aide put it, into January.
But election experts warn of long-term damage to the long-cherished American system.
“It clearly hurts confidence in the elections,” said Republican Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state.
“My hope,” he said, is that by December 14 “there will be some more voices, but my gut is it won’t be until the 6th (of January)”.
Edward Foley, an elections expert and constitutional law professor at Ohio State University, said it is true that the election winner is not officially the president-elect until Congress declares it so with its vote on January 6 to accept the Electoral College results.
“I’m less concerned about the timing, but that it happens,” he said.
For Americans to “have faith” in the elections, the losing side has to accept defeat. “It’s very, very dangerous if the losing side can’t get to that,” he said.
“It’s essential for the parties to play by that ethos — even if one individual, Mr Trump, can’t do it, the party has to do it.
“What’s so disturbing about the dynamic that has developed since Election Day is that the party has been incapable of conveying that message because they’re taking their cues from Trump.”
In the House and the Senate, the standoff is playing out in ways large and small as legislators prolong the instability, some boosting their own profiles to pick up the mantle with Trump’s movement of voters and others fighting more broadly for an overhaul of election systems.
Republican US Senator Ted Cruz announced on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show that he was prepared to deliver oral arguments for Pennsylvania legislators’ legal challenge to the elections if the Supreme Court takes up the case.
Cruz said in a statement he believes the court “has a responsibility to the American people to ensure, with its powers, that we are following the law and following the Constitution”.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Republicans’ bid to reverse Pennsylvania’s certification of Biden’s victory.
US Representative Mo Brooks is delivering daily House floor speeches ahead of his planned formal protest during the January 6 voting that he believes will show Trump was reelected.
“Others are joining me,” he said in an interview. And back home, “I have had a lot of pats on the back.”
MUST WATCH: Today’s House Floor speech focused on en masse vote by mail schemes that are rife with voter fraud employed by many states in violation of federal law that sets an election day, not an election week, month, or season. pic.twitter.com/Ci65uKI9Eq
— Mo Brooks (@RepMoBrooks) December 8, 2020
In a letter to Trump, 27 House Republicans, including Brooks and Mooney, are asking the president to tell Attorney General William Barr to appoint a special counsel to look into “legitimate questions of voter fraud”.
“The appointment of a Special Counsel would establish a team of investigators whose sole responsibility is to uncover the truth and provide the certainty America needs,” the letter, obtained by Politico, said.
Even the Republicans, led by McConnell, on the bipartisan inauguration committee refused to allow a Democratic motion on Tuesday to publicly announce that planning was under way. The committee that has organised every inauguration since 1901 is planning COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the traditional January 20 swearing-in ceremony next year.
Committee chairman Republican US Senator Roy Blunt said: “It is not the job of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies to get ahead of the electoral process and decide who we are inaugurating.”
Former Congressman David McIntosh, who now heads the conservative Club for Growth, said in the new year there should be an independent, bipartisan commission established to investigate the 2020 election.
Until then, his group is trying to push Georgia’s Trump voters to the polls, even as the president disputes Biden’s win of the state.