The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Senate GOP has accepted Biden’s win but continues to push Trump’s baseless fraud claims

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) addresses witnesses during Wednesday’s hearing. (Greg Nash/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Senate Republicans may be acknowledging President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over President Trump, but the politically charged fight over Trump’s fallacious claims about voter fraud rages on — and threatens to overshadow legitimate efforts to safeguard future elections.

A Wednesday hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee became a forum for Republicans, led by its departing chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), to re-air Trump’s baseless case against the election results in swing states as the president cheered them on from a distance. Complaining that courts threw out Trump’s election lawsuits on mere “technicalities,” GOP senators and aligned witnesses warned that until their concerns were addressed, public trust in the security of the election process would not be restored.

There is no evidence of significant or widespread voter fraud, as the president and his allies continue to insist. Trump’s own attorney general has made that clear while the courts overwhelmingly have dismissed his campaign’s unprecedented effort to overturn Biden’s victory. Across more than 50 cases, at least 88 judges — including 39 appointed or nominated by Republicans — have turned down Trump’s legal challenges in procedural rulings or decisions on their merits.

Yet in the face of such resounding loss, the president and his most influential supporters remain undeterred, claiming fraud is a legitimate problem.

“We’re not going to be able to just move on without bringing up these irregularities, examining them and providing an explanation,” Johnson said Wednesday, later adding: “This hearing is not dangerous. What would be dangerous is not discussing this openly, transparently and frankly.”

The senator was “doing an excellent job,” Trump wrote in a tweet complaining about the “Fraudulent 2020 Election.” The post was flagged by Twitter as disputed content.

Trump also weighed in after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) declared that “the election in many ways was stolen,” and claimed falsely that the courts simply found an “excuse” to throw Trump’s election challenges out on procedural grounds. Multiple judges also have delivered opinions rejecting the merits of his complaints.

“True!” Trump tweeted, quoting Paul’s comments in another post that Twitter labeled untrustworthy.

Panel Democrats, led by Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, assailed Wednesday’s exercise, calling it “destructive” and “a platform for conspiracy theories and lies.” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who criticized the hearing ahead of time, did not participate in Wednesday’s proceedings.

The president’s supporters on the panel appeared invigorated by the witnesses, three of whom had argued Trump’s case against the election results in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Even the appeals from recently ousted cybersecurity chief Christopher Krebs to “stop” promoting rumors because “it’s undermining confidence in democracy” did little to quell the fervor.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) claimed that just this week, he spoke to 30 constituents and that “every single one of them … told me that they felt that had been disenfranchised, that their votes didn’t matter, that the election had been rigged.”

Complaining that those voters had simply been told “you need to sit down and shut up if you have any concerns about integrity,” Hawley warned: “Well, I’ll tell you what — 74 million Americans are not going to shut up.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who helped spearhead a bipartisan effort to address election security, cited poll numbers indicating that more Americans believed the 2020 elections were affected by voter fraud than Americans believed Russian interference influenced the 2016 elections, at a similar juncture after the contests were over.

“We spent millions and millions of dollars investigating [Russian interference], going through, ramping up to engage and protect our next election … just on that one topic,” Lankford said. “Now, amazingly after this election, all kinds of issues have come up and said there are potentials for problems, and everyone seems to be saying move on.”

The hearing was not devoid of all substantive suggestions. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), trying to assume a voice of reason, suggested creating a bipartisan commission in the hopes of “pulling this out of politics a little bit.” Some members, including Paul and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), suggested establishing national standards for how elections, and particularly mail-in balloting, should be run by the states to give the process more uniformity.

Krebs, whose public contradiction of the president’s claims prompted Trump to fire him, called for “eradicating” all voting machines remaining in service that run without paper ballots, and asked Congress to think about providing election security “funding and grants on a regular basis, not every 10 years or every four years” when security becomes a high-profile political problem.

It remains to be seen whether his principal warning to lawmakers — to stop saying that the 2020 election can’t be trusted — will move Republicans still amplifying Trump’s unfounded claims.

“Continued assaults on democracy and the outcome of this election — that only serves to undermine confidence in the process,” Krebs said. “The trick about elections is you’re not so much trying to convince the winner they won but the loser that they lost, and you need willing participants on both sides.”

Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.