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Parts of the nation are still grappling with the results of the 2020 presidential election more than two months after Election Day — and Pennsylvania’s election laws are again in the middle of the fracas.
In a move that has split the Republican party, in Pa. and nationwide, a contingent of GOP lawmakers are staging a last-ditch maneuver in DC to cast doubt on the incumbent’s loss. Observers say the effort isn’t expected to change the results, but is more of a political play to attract Trump supporters for their own 2024 bids.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama and dozens of other GOP elected officials in the House and Senate said they plan to object to certifying electoral votes from Pennsylvania and other states when Congress convenes on Wednesday, putting a wrench in a usually straightforward process.
The majority of Republicans are not going along with the effort. Pennsylvania’s Sen. Pat Toomey has been an outspoken opponent.
“On Wednesday,” Toomey said, “I intend to vigorously defend our form of government by opposing this effort to disenfranchise millions of voters in my state and others.”
Mounting an objection to state electoral votes isn’t actually that rare, but in order for the objections brought up for debate, reps from both the Senate and the House have to object. That’s much less common — and is what’s being threatened this week.
The 2020 election in Pennsylvania has survived a number of fiery hoops, starting back with President Donald Trump’s attempts to nullify votes during the June primary. The November general brought Republican lawsuits to block the state from certifying its election results, unsuccessful suits to invalidate mail ballots and votes with technical errors, and a successful play to allow campaign monitors within six feet of ballot-counters.
All told, the Trump campaign lost five of seven lawsuits trying to dispute Pa.’s 2020 results. The commonwealth’s Electoral College representatives voted on Dec.14 to cast their 20 ballots for President-elect Joe Biden.
Despite all that, Republican members of Congress are planning to cause a kerfuffle during the final election proceeding before Inauguration Day, when Biden will officially take office.
Here’s a quick look at what’s expected to happen in Washington on Jan. 6 — and where Pennsylvania’s election laws come into play.
What exactly is Congress voting on Wednesday?
Federal law mandates Congress meet on Jan. 6 to count and approve Electoral College votes from each state.
Electoral reps from each state all cast their official votes on Dec. 14, and each state’s legislature already completed its own certification.
Congress will receive sealed envelopes containing physical copies of the state votes, and a Republican and Democratic representative will read the votes aloud. The Senate President, VP Mike Pence, presides over the meeting and declares a winner based on the votes.
Pence’s primarily ceremonial role has no impact on the results — although Trump has reportedly tried to sway him to avoid certification.
Are Pennsylvania’s election results really at issue…again?
Republicans allege voter fraud in key battleground states including Pennsylvania, and those are the states whose electoral votes the elected officials will likely object to.
They’re also leaning on the idea that the Pa. Constitution doesn’t have a carve-out for widespread absentee voting. However, Act 77, passed in 2019 by the state’s Republican-controlled state legislature, expanded mail voting. The new rules were in effect for a year elections before anyone raised questions about them.
In November, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a GOP suit claiming Act 77 was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the case.
Other challenges to Pa.’s Electoral College certification from elected officials in others states, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have been similarly dismissed.
Congress will divide and the House and Senate will consider the objections separately.
To be clear, most of the Trump campaign’s myriad lawsuits against Pennsylvania’s election did not stand in court and no one has produced substantial proof of election fraud.
Who’s planning to go against certifying state electoral votes?
Eight of nine congressmen from Pennsylvania signed on to be some of the more than 100 House members mounting opposition. They are:
- Dan Meuser (PA-9)
- Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-15)
- Mike Kelly (PA-16)
- Scott Perry (PA-10
- Lloyd Smucker (PA-11)
- Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14)
- John Joyce (PA-13)
- Fred Keller (PA-12)
In the Senate, the cohort of Republicans dissenting may include:
- Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas)
- Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.)
- Sen. James Lankford (Okla.)
- Sen. Steve Daines (Mont.)
- Sen. John Kennedy (La.)
- Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.)
- Sen. Mike Braun (Ind.)
- Sen. Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) — just sworn in for the first term
- Sen Roger Marshall (Kan.) — just sworn in for the first term
- Sen. Bill Hagerty (Tenn.) — just sworn in for the first term
- Sen. Tommy Tuberville (Ala.) — just sworn in for the first term
Sen. Pat Toomey, the Republican among Pa.’s two U.S. senators, has made clear he most certainly will not be joining them.
What do Pennsylvania officials have to say about it?
Toomey, a man who was once so silent that Philadelphia activists launched Tuesdays with Toomey to get him to talk to them, has had a lot to say about his colleagues’ stunt.
He said in a statement that the attempt by Cruz and others to “overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in swing states like Pennsylvania directly undermines,” people’s right to elect their own leaders in a democracy. “[T]he evidence is overwhelming that Joe Biden won this election,” Toomey added.
Pennsylvania’s eight congressmen issued a joint statement citing a number of unsubstantiated claims of illegal election practices as the reason they won’t support their own state’s election process.
“[T]he state’s official certification of electors was based upon a flawed system and an inaccurate vote count. Thus, very possibly resulting in an erroneous certification,” the statement reads.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the sole Pa. Republican who didn’t sign on to dispute the state’s election, did announce plans to introduce sweeping election reforms requiring, among other things, that mail-in ballots be received by election day to be counted.
Will this affect the outcome of the election?
Nah. It’s highly unlikely that the Republican revolt will prevent Biden from assuming the presidency at the end of the month.
First, he won the electors handily, scoring 306 to Trump’s 232. Candidates need 270 to win.
Next, both the House and Senate have to agree in order for an electoral vote objection to be substantiated. That shouldn’t happen because the House is controlled by Democrats and because there are a number of Republicans, including powerful Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who oppose the GOP uprising.
What does this actually mean, then?
Republican lawmakers are fighting amongst each other. Even McConnell can’t keep his party publicly unified. So, if nothing else, it suggests a potential split between pro-Trump Republicans and regular ones that may persist even after Trump is no longer president.