The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pelosi accuses Republicans of ‘subverting the Constitution’ as more GOP lawmakers backed failed attempt to undo Biden’s win in the Supreme Court

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks Thursday during a news conference with other House Republicans at the Capitol. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused House Republicans of “subverting the Constitution” in a scathing broadside Friday issued after the top Republican leader and the brother of Vice President Pence joined 124 other GOP members in supporting a bid to effectively reverse the results of the presidential election in the Supreme Court.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Democratic colleagues that Republicans are “engaged in election subversion that imperils our democracy” and called the GOP-backed lawsuit “an act of flailing GOP desperation.”

Late Friday, the Supreme Court rejected the long-shot Texas bid to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s win.

The letter is a rhetorical escalation for Pelosi, who had largely dismissed Republican efforts to undo the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election as a pointless sideshow. It also comes as the questioning of the election outcome approaches the Capitol itself: On Jan. 6, lawmakers will meet to formally count the electoral college votes and ratify the results.

“As members of Congress, we take a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Pelosi wrote. “Republicans are subverting the Constitution by their reckless and fruitless assault on our democracy which threatens to seriously erode public trust in our most sacred democratic institutions, and to set back our progress on the urgent challenges ahead.”

The decision by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.) and the other Republicans to publicly support the Texas lawsuit to invalidate millions of votes in four states underscores the deep institutional backing that President Trump enjoys from GOP officeholders in his quest to overturn the election based on unfounded claims of rampant voter fraud.

While some Republican members of Congress have pushed back on Trump, the broad support for the House brief — 126 of the 196-member GOP House conference — suggests that Biden will take office in January with a significant minority of the 535-member House and Senate openly questioning his legitimacy.

The lawsuit filed by attorneys general in Texas and more than a dozen other states asked the court to dismiss results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia — swing states Trump won in 2016 and Biden carried in 2020 — an effort Trump championed. Attorneys general for those states, including elected Republicans in Arizona and Georgia, as well as Democrats representing Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, have filed briefs opposing the efforts.

More than half of House Republicans support Texas lawsuit challenging election results

Pennsylvania, in its response filed with the court, called it a “seditious abuse of the judicial process” and called on the justices to “send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated.”

The House Republicans’ filing claimed that because “the unconstitutional irregularities involved in the 2020 presidential election cast doubt upon its outcome and the integrity of the American system of elections,” the Supreme Court must step in, after the fact, to declare voting arrangements in those five states unconstitutional and disallow millions of ballots.

The court’s unsigned order Friday was short: “Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections. All other pending motions are dismissed as moot.”

Pelosi, in a statement after the court ruling, said, “The 126 Republican Members that signed onto this lawsuit brought dishonor to the House. ...The pandemic is raging, with nearly 300,000 having died and tens of millions having lost jobs.  Strong, unified action is needed to crush the virus, and Republicans must once and for all end their election subversion – immediately.”

The names of McCarthy and Rep. Pence were added to a prior list of 106 who signed onto an amicus brief Thursday. The organizer of the brief, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), said the additional names had been left off Thursday because of a “clerical error.”

In fact, some of the lawmakers simply joined after the fact. McCarthy spokeswoman Michele Exner said the GOP leader decided to join the filing after speaking to Johnson Thursday night. She also pointed to comments he made at a Thursday news conference expressing support for Trump’s court efforts.

“The president has the right for every legal challenge to be heard,” he said. “He has the right to go to the Supreme Court with it.”

Biden won the election with 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232, and he leads the national popular vote by more than 7 million. There has been no evidence of widespread fraud in the election, and last week Attorney General William P. Barr said the Justice Department has found no evidence of widespread fraud that would overturn Biden’s victory.

The growing support among the GOP for the radical effort to undo Biden’s win has alarmed and infuriated Democrats, who are accusing Trump’s congressional devotees of eroding the foundations of American democracy.

One Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey, went so far Friday as to call on Pelosi to refuse to seat any member who signed the filing backing the Texas suit.

“Stated simply, men and women who would act to tear the United States government apart cannot serve as members of the Congress,” he wrote in a letter to Pelosi, calling the lawsuits challenging the election attacks on “the text and spirit of the Constitution, which each Member swears to support and defend.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called the GOP effort “the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of this country” in a Senate floor speech.

“Those who are pushing to make Donald Trump president for a second term, no matter the outcome of the election, are engaged in a treachery against their nation,” he said. “You cannot at the same time love America and hate democracy, but as we speak, a whole lot of flag-waving Republicans are nakedly trying to invalidate millions of legal votes because that is the only way that they can make Donald Trump president again.”

Presidential electors in each state are set to cast votes Monday, thus making Biden’s victory official. But Congress has the subsequent ministerial duty of accepting those votes — and entertaining any challenges to their legitimacy — at a Jan. 6 joint session with Vice President Pence presiding.

GOP lawmakers’ broad buy-in to Trump’s effort to overturn the election all but guarantees an effort to once again cast doubt on Biden’s victory despite the gaping lack of evidence and the string of court rebukes that has greeted every effort to question the result.

McCarthy on Thursday laughed when he was asked if he planned to challenge the electoral college tally in January but did not give a firm answer to the question. Others, including members of a fervently pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus, have made clear they will seek to lodge such a challenge.

Under federal law, however, they will need to win support from at least one senator to force a more extended debate on whether any state’s electors ought to be challenged. No Republican senator has yet said they will do so, although several have not ruled it out.

“We’re going to wait and see how all the legal cases turn out and then we’ll let you know,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the senators that House members are wooing to join a challenge.

Even if a senator were to join a House member to sustain a challenge, it is unlikely the challenge would succeed in a vote of the Democratic House and a narrowly divided Senate, where several Republicans have been sharply critical of the unprecedented effort to overturn a presidential election.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said this week., while Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called the notion of overturning the election “madness” and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was “surprised and disappointed” by the effort to do so.

“I was just really disappointed that this is continuing in this way,” she said Friday when asked about the House brief.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a retiring senator who has called on Trump to exit his presidency more gracefully, coldly dismissed the effort: “I’m never surprised about the House of Representatives.”

Several other House GOP leaders were already among those supporting the lawsuit, which a large number of legal scholars have said is meritless and based on unfounded claims. They include Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Notably, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, did not sign the brief.

Another name of note added Friday is Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), a former Democrat who switched parties amid the fallout of Trump’s impeachment last year.

Johnson, vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, spearheaded the effort to round up support on Capitol Hill. He emailed Republican members Wednesday to solicit signatures for the Texas case after consulting directly with Trump. The congressman told his colleagues that the president “will be anxiously awaiting the final list to review.”

Where Republicans in Congress stand on Trump’s false claim of winning the election

A handful of Republicans on Thursday spoke out against the effort. Among them was Rep. Chip Roy (Tex.), who said on Twitter that the case “represents a dangerous violation of federalism” and “sets a precedent to have one state asking federal courts to police the voting procedures of other states.”

“I cannot support an effort that will almost certainly fail on grounds of standing and is inconsistent with my beliefs about protecting Texas sovereignty from the meddling of other states,” Roy said.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.