Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, says he will object to the Electoral College results next week when Congress meets to officially certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win over President Donald Trump, ensuring a doomed but dramatic congressional fight to overturn Biden’s win.
Hawley, a close ally of the president, is the first senator to announce he would back the effort on Jan. 6, ensuring both chambers will debate and be forced to vote on whether to overturn Biden’s election win. A faction of conservative House Republicans, led by Mo. Brooks, R-Ala., have already said they will object to electoral votes from some battleground states that Biden won, such as Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Biden won the Dec. 14 Electoral College vote 306-232.
“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 statement announcing his decision. “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.”
Hawley, who is thought of as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, said that “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.”
Trump has repeatedly called on congressional Republicans to step up and object on his behalf, but many have acknowledged Biden’s win. Some went as far to call the effort to object meaningless.
“The thing they’ve got to remember is, it’s just not going anywhere. I mean, in the Senate it would go down like a shot dog,” Sen. John Thune, the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters earlier this month. “And I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense to put everybody through this when you know what the ultimate outcome is going to be.”
While Hawley is the first senator to say they will object, it’s unclear if he will be alone in the chamber. The Missouri Republican told reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday that “a number of offices have reached out” to say they are interested.
“I don’t know yet,” Hawley said of whether more senators will join him. “I would think that there would be more, but there may not be, I don’t know. Too early to say.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has been viewed as one of the senators who might join Hawley’s effort. He said Wednesday that he would support the Missouri Republican but had not decided whether he would object, noting “it depends on which state of electors people challenge.”
“I’ll support him,” Johnson said. “We can’t just close our eyes to, as the Democrats wants us to do, just to shut up and move on. That’s not a sustainable state of affairs for our country, so, I don’t have a problem with the process.”
How an Electoral College objection works
If Hawley follows through and signs on to a House objection, it would force the two chambers to split for up to two hours during next week’s joint special session to debate and vote on the objection.
The effort, however, is doomed to fail in the Democratic-controlled House and even in the Senate, where Republican leaders led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have warned colleagues not to challenge the Electoral College vote.
Under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, the House and Senate would have to convene separately each time a state’s electoral votes receive written objections by both a House member and a senator, according to Rebecca Green, director of William and Mary School of Law’s election law program.
That has the potential to make the session a marathon affair if multiple states are contested. The House and Senate would have agree to new rules on Jan. 3 when new members are sworn in to change the timing.
In the separate sessions, each lawmaker is limited to speak on the objection for no more than five minutes during the two-hour period, minimizing opportunities for debate.
“This is not a trial where Congress will look at evidence of fraud in the election,” Green said. “The sole purpose of this convening is for Congress to determine which ballots are the ballots that were certified by the states. There are no witnesses. There is no evidence presented. And there’s a very limited opportunity to speak for that reason.”
Trump unsuccessfully tried to overturn election results in six battleground states he lost, falsely arguing the election was stolen from him despite no evidence of systematic widespread fraud.
Since the election, the Supreme Court twice refused to take up Trump-endorsed lawsuits that sought to overturn the election results and federal and state courts dismissed Trump’s claims of voter fraud nearly 60 times.
Hawley’s move will put some conservatives in an uncomfortable position to either back the president’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud or vote to defy Trump and certify Biden’s win. It will be particularly hard for senators who are up for re-election in 2022 and those eying a potential 2024 presidential run who are fearful of both angering the president and his base of supporters — a key reason McConnell has cautioned his conference against supporting the doomed effort.
The exercise will put McConnell in a similarly difficult position that could lead to Trump attacking him on Twitter should he deny the efforts to overturn Biden’s win.
Democrats dismiss the effort
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dismissed the effort on Wednesday when asked about Hawley’s announcement.
“I have no doubt that on a Wednesday, a week from today, that Joe Biden will be confirmed by the acceptance of the vote of the Electoral College as the 46th president of the United States,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., similarly dismissed the effort as futile but attacked Hawley and Trump for the efforts to legitimize “conspiracy” theories.
“The effort by the sitting President of the United States to overturn the results is patently undemocratic. The effort by others to amplify and burnish his ludicrous claims of fraud is equally revolting,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. “This is America. We have elections. We have results. We make arguments based on the fact and reason, not conspiracy and fantasy.”
Fellow Democrat Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called the effort “grossly irresponsible.”
“Sen. Hawley’s actions are grossly irresponsible. He’s attempting to undermine our democratic process, fuel Trump’s lies about voter fraud, and delay the certification of Biden’s win,” Van Hollen wrote on Twitter. “In the end, this reckless stunt will fail, and Joe Biden will become President on Jan. 20, 2021.”
Van Hollen noted on CNN that this will put Senate Republicans in an uncomfortable position.
“I can tell you Senate Republicans did not want to have this vote in the Senate because either they’re gonna have to, you know, show their loyalty to Donald Trump by voting against reality, because we know that Joe Biden won these states, or they’re going to have to, you know, support the outcome of the democratic process and get Donald Trump upset.”
“I hope they will stand up for democracy and the rule of law,” Van Hollen added.
Mixed reaction from Republicans
Hawley’s move was both celebrated and criticized publicly by fellow Republicans, many of whom have split on Trump’s attempts to overturn the election.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who has become a leading voice against the president’s efforts, mocked Hawley on Twitter.
“Internal monologue: ‘I want to be President so I decided to try to get POTUS tweet saying I’m great even though I know this isn’t going anywhere, but hey… I’ll blame someone else when it fails,'” Kinzinger wrote, seeming to tie Hawley’s effort to his 2024 presidential aspirations.
Rep. Brooks, who is leading the effort in the House, praised Hawley on Twitter.
“BAM! The fight for America’s Republic IS ON!” Brooks wrote.
The last time a senator supported an objection of Electoral College votes was in January 2005 after the 2004 election. Then-Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., backed Ohio U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones’ objection to the electoral votes in Ohio, the deciding state in George W. Bush’s election victory over Democrat John Kerry.
Their objection lost handily, receiving just one vote in the Senate – Boxer’s – and 31 votes in the House, all from Democrats.
Following the 2016 election, half a dozen Democratic House members raised objections to Trump’s Electoral College wins in certain states during the joint session. But Biden – then-vice president and president of the Senate – repeatedly slammed his gavel to halt their efforts because they lacked a Senate sponsor.
“It is over,” Biden said then as Republican lawmakers applauded.