The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP senators dismiss possible congressional challenge to Biden victory

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Key Republican senators sent a stark message Wednesday to supporters of President Trump who are counting on Congress to step in and reject President-elect Joe Biden’s victory: That isn’t going to happen.

Under federal law, Congress will meet in a Jan. 6 joint session to accept the votes of the electoral college, which formally votes Dec. 14. Any lawmaker can join with a companion from the other chamber to raise an objection to any state’s votes, prompting a debate and votes in each chamber on whether to accept the challenge.

Amid Trump’s unfounded claims of rampant fraud in key swing states, several fervent Trump supporters in the House have said they are exploring a challenge.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told Politico that he intended to make such a challenge, and several other members, including Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), have enthusiastically joined efforts to question Biden’s victory.

But no senator has publicly entertained joining the effort, and on Wednesday, several key Republican senators dismissed the possibility that the Senate would reject electoral votes or even join a House member’s challenge.

“I haven’t heard anybody in the Senate talking about that,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP leader.

Asked about the possibility of a Senate challenge, Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said to a Politico reporter: “I can’t imagine that would ever happen.”

And if a senator does join in an objection, Thune added in comments confirmed by an aide, “I doubt that it goes anywhere. . . . I suspect that will be a fairly routine process.”

Should a senator join a House member’s objection, thus prompting a debate and vote, there appears to be little chance that the Senate would vote to sustain the objection. On Jan. 6, the Senate is likely to have a 51-48 Republican makeup, with the Georgia seat held by GOP Sen. David Perdue possibly in limbo because of the previous day’s scheduled runoff election. Any two Republican senators could join with Democrats to extinguish the challenge.

In the House, Democrats are poised to hold the majority and would vote down the challenge.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters Wednesday that she was not hearing concerns about the election results from her constituents, and pointed to Tuesday remarks from Attorney General William P. Barr confirming that federal investigators have yet to find any credible evidence of election fraud that could have reversed the result.

Barr says he hasn’t seen fraud that could affect the election outcome

“I think that the attorney general’s statement was helpful in reassuring people of the validity of the election results,” said Collins, who was the first Republican senator to acknowledge Biden’s victory.

Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has supported some of Trump’s efforts to seek court intervention in the resolution of the election, declined to address whether he would join an effort to question the electoral college vote.

“I think the litigation needs to conclude,” he said. “There’s an appeal at the Supreme Court right now. I think the court should take the case.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), another outspoken Trump backer, also pointed to the courts: “Pennsylvania has a suit up before the Supreme Court as of last night. And I think that the Supreme Court ought to grant and hear that case on emergency basis. . . . I don’t know what they’ll do, I don’t know what the right outcome is, but they’ve got to hear the case.”

Members of the party that lost the presidential election have raised objections after nearly every election since 2000.

In 2005, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) joined a group House Democrats to protest George W. Bush’s reelection, citing concerns with voting machines in Ohio. That prompted a two-hour debate before both chambers voted to reject the challenge. Only Boxer in the Senate and 31 of 199 House Democrats voted to support the challenge.

The process last played out in 2017, when a handful of House Democrats raised objections to Trump’s victory without securing any Senate support. Presiding over the proceedings was then-Vice President Joe Biden.

“It is over,” Biden said as he rejected a challenge from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and gaveled the Democrats into silence.

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