Top Republicans openly disagree over Electoral College objections

Trump and Pence divided over vice president's role in count, while Scalise and Cheney take different sides on objections

Vice President Mike Pence makes his way to the House floor for a joint session of Congress to tally the electoral college votes for the president and vice president in the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence makes his way to the House floor for a joint session of Congress to tally the electoral college votes for the president and vice president in the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 6, 2021 at 2:11pm

The day has come for Republicans to choose whether to join President Donald Trump in his last-ditch effort to overturn the election results, and top GOP leaders are landing on different sides.

Trump has for weeks called on Republicans to object to the Electoral College results from key swing states that helped secure President-elect Joe Biden’s win. The GOP has been divided, with about half of the House GOP Conference announcing support for the objections but only a quarter of the Senate Republican Conference doing the same.

Top Senate GOP leaders, such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Majority Whip John Thune and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy Blunt have been united in their opposition to the objections.

“The Constitution gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever,” McConnell said in opening debate in the Senate after an objection was heard to the counting of Arizona’s electoral votes in the joint session.

House Republican leaders are even more split. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has signaled support but not put out an official statement. Minority Whip Steve Scalise announced just before the joint session Wednesday to count the electoral votes that he’d join the objections, which pitted him against Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, who has argued Congress’s role is to certify the results.

Scalise ended up kicking off debate in the House to the GOP’s first objection over Arizona's electoral votes, arguing as he did in his statement that several states did not carry out their elections as prescribed by their state legislatures. The Supreme Court declined to rule on the alleged infractions, and the disputes were never resolved, the Louisiana Republican said.

“The only remaining recourse, as laid out in the Constitution, is through Congressional action,” Scalise said in his statement. “For these reasons, I will vote in favor of objections to the certification of electoral votes from certain states where there have been serious questions about the integrity of the electoral process.”

Cheney circulated a 21-page memo addressed to her GOP colleagues on Sunday questioning those supporting objections, suggesting they were misinterpreting Congress’s role in the process.

“By objecting to electoral slates, members are unavoidably asserting that Congress has the authority to overturn elections and overrule state and federal courts. Such objections set an exceptionally dangerous precedent, threatening to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the President and bestowing it instead on Congress,” Cheney wrote. “This is directly at odds with the Constitution’s clear text and our core beliefs as Republicans.”

‘Very disappointed’

Trump, meanwhile, amplified his calls for congressional Republicans to back objections as he spoke to supporters protesting the election results outside the White House on Wednesday. He also had a special message for Vice President Mike Pence, whose role is to preside over the joint session.

“Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our constitution and for the good of our country,” Trump said. “And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now, I’m not hearing good stories.”

Trump’s remarks came just after Pence sent a letter to members of Congress affirming he cannot reject Electoral College votes, as Trump has falsely claimed.

“It is my considered judgement that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Pence wrote.

Trump didn't appear to have received news of Pence’s letter as he spoke, continuing his plea for the vice president to break precedent and decline to certify the results.

“I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do,” he said. “And I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs or the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

Trump, however, was aware of the many congressional Republicans opposing the objections and he called on his supporters to oust them in the 2022 midterm elections.

“In a year from now, you’re going to start working on Congress, and we’ve got to get rid of the weak congresspeople — the ones that aren’t any good, the Liz Cheneys of the world, we’ve got to get rid of them,” he said.

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Jason Dick contributed to this report.