But in this case, Fetterman, a Democrat, is talking about Republicans in his state of Pennsylvania, where an ugly power play is unfolding that carries unsettling implications.
Here’s what’s happening: The GOP-controlled Pennsylvania State Senate just refused to seat Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster, even as numerous other senators did get seated, after Brewster defeated his Republican opponent by 69 votes.
The rationale is that the senators supposedly need time to consider the Republican candidate’s objection to contested ballots that were missing dates on outer envelopes but were otherwise filled out accurately and submitted on time.
The GOP candidate is doing this even though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the ballots are valid. And the state has even certified the results, which Democrats point out calls into question the need for the review by GOP senators in the first place.
“At the end of the day the Republicans refused to seat the senator,” Fetterman told me.
Fetterman, who is the state Senate’s presiding officer, tried to block the refusal to seat Brewster. So Republicans voted to remove Fetterman and replace him as presiding officer with the Republican interim Senate president pro tempore, Jake Corman.
“It became an open floor dispute,” Fetterman told me. “It devolved into chaos.”
Even though the outcome is already certified and the state Supreme Court upheld the contested ballots, the GOP candidate has gone to federal court to overturn the results.
“The [state] Supreme Court already ruled that this was kosher, so they appealed it to federal court,” Fetterman noted.
Fetterman said the original agreement with senior Republicans was that Brewster would be provisionally sworn in, but if he somehow ended up losing in federal court, he would step down and his Republican opponent would be seated, instead.
This arrangement, Fetterman said, was part of an effort to resolve this smoothly. He said he’d met with the GOP Senate leader just before this latest blowup and suggested that “this doesn’t need to go sideways,” as Fetterman put it.
But now that’s suddenly been upended. “That’s what was so unnecessary about this,” Fetterman said.
Now, Fetterman told me, it’s unclear what will happen. He said Democrats expect that the federal ruling will go against Republicans, since the results have already been certified.
But Fetterman says he doesn’t know whether Republicans will even seat Brewster at that point.
“I don’t know what their endgame is,” Fetterman said. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
All of this carries disturbing echoes of what we’ve seen in other states. As Jamelle Bouie recently summarized in the New York Times, the ethic among many Republicans on the state level is increasingly becoming that “only Republicans” can “legitimately win elections”:
In 2016, after a Democrat, Roy Cooper, defeated the Republican incumbent Pat McCrory for the governorship of North Carolina, the state’s Republican legislature promptly stripped the office of power and authority. Wisconsin Republicans did the same in 2018 after Tony Evers unseated Scott Walker in his bid for a third term. And Michigan Republicans took similar steps against another Democrat, Gretchen Whitmer, after her successful race for the governor’s mansion.
On Wednesday, congressional Democrats and Republicans will vote down objections by Trump allies to Biden’s electors, and Biden will be certified as the next president. But it’s plainly obvious that Republicans are growing more and more comfortable with efforts of one kind or another to simply nullify electoral outcomes or take extraordinary measures to dilute the power of rightful Democratic victors, simply because Republicans don’t like those outcomes.
“It’s a straight line between the way the president has behaved these last two months to Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said. “These are strange days.”
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