Republicans torn over Trump’s challenge of electoral college results showing Biden won

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri speaks at a microphone.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) says he’ll raise objections on President Trump’s behalf, forcing difficult votes when Congress meets next week to formalize Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.
(Susan Walsh / Pool Photo)

President Trump’s extraordinary challenge of his election defeat by President-elect Joe Biden is becoming a defining moment for the Republican Party before next week’s joint session of Congress to confirm November’s electoral college results.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is urging Republicans not to try to overturn the election, but not everyone is heeding him. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri vows to join House Republicans in objecting to the state tallies. On the other side of the party’s split, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska warns such challenges are a “dangerous ploy” that threaten the nation’s civic norms.

Caught in the middle is Vice President Mike Pence, who faces growing pressure and a lawsuit from Trump’s allies over his ceremonial role in presiding over the session Wednesday.


The days ahead are expected to do little to change the outcome. Biden is set to be inaugurated Jan. 20 after winning the electoral college vote, 306 to 232. But the effort to subvert the will of voters is forcing Republicans to make choices that will set the contours of the post-Trump era and an evolving GOP.

“I will not be participating in a project to overturn the election,” Sasse wrote in a lengthy social media post.

Sasse, a potential 2024 presidential contender, said he was “urging ... colleagues also to reject this dangerous ploy.”

Trump, the first president to lose a reelection bid in almost 30 years, has attributed his defeat to supposed widespread voter fraud, despite nonpartisan election officials’ consensus that there wasn’t any. Of the roughly 50 lawsuits Trump and his allies have filed challenging election results, nearly all have been dismissed or dropped. He’s also lost twice at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Still, the president has pushed Republican senators to pursue his unfounded charges, even though the electoral college has already cemented Biden’s victory and all that’s left is Congress’ formal recognition of the count before the Democrat is sworn in as president.

“We are letting people vote their conscience,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Republican, told reporters at the Capitol.


As the GOP whip, Thune would be in charge of rounding up votes if Republican leaders chose to put their muscle behind Trump’s demands. Instead, he noted the gravity of questioning the election outcome.

“This is an issue that’s incredibly consequential, incredibly rare historically and very precedent-setting,” Thune said. “This is a big vote. They are thinking about it.”

Pence will be carefully watched as he presides over what is typically a routine vote count in Congress but is now heading toward a prolonged showdown that could extend into Wednesday night, depending on how many challenges Hawley and others mount.

The vice president is being sued by a group of Republicans who want Pence to have the power to overturn the election results by doing away with an 1887 law that spells out how Congress handles the vote count.

Trump’s own Justice Department may have complicated what is already a highly improbable effort to upend the formal count on Jan. 6. It has asked a federal judge to dismiss the last-gasp lawsuit from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and a group of Republican electors from Arizona who want to force Pence to step outside mere ceremony and shape the outcome of the vote.

In a court filing in Texas, the Justice Department said that the plaintiffs had “sued the wrong defendant” and that Pence should not be the target of the legal action.


“A suit to establish that the Vice President has discretion over the count, filed against the Vice President, is a walking legal contradiction,” the filing argues.

McConnell convened a conference call with GOP senators Thursday to address the coming joint session and logistics of tallying the vote, according to several Republicans who were granted anonymity to discuss the private call.

The Republican leader pointedly called on Hawley to answer questions about his challenge to Biden’s victory, according to two of the Republicans.

But there was no response because Hawley did not join the call, the Republicans said.

His office did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who has acknowledged Biden’s victory and defended Pennsylvania’s elections systems as valid and accurate, spoke up on the call, objecting to those challenging his state’s results and making clear he disagrees with Hawley’s plan to contest the electoral college count, Toomey’s office said in a statement.

McConnell had previously warned GOP senators not to participate in raising objections, saying it would be a terrible vote for colleagues. In essence, lawmakers would be forced to choose between the will of the outgoing president and that of the voters.

Several Republicans have indicated they are under pressure from their constituents to show they are fighting for Trump in his baseless campaign to stay in office.


Hawley became the first GOP senator this week to announce he would raise objections when Congress meets to affirm that Biden won, which would force House and Senate votes that are likely to delay — but in no way alter — the final certification of Biden’s victory.

Other Republican senators are expected to join Hawley, wary of ceding the spotlight to him as they, too, try to emerge as leaders in a post-Trump era.

A number of Republicans in the Democratic-majority House have already said they will object on Trump’s behalf. They only needed a single senator to go along with them to force votes in both chambers.

When Biden was vice president, he presided over the session when the electoral college presented the 2016 vote tally to Congress to confirm Trump had won. The session was brief, despite objections from some Democrats.

Jen Psaki, speaking for Biden’s presidential transition team, dismissed Hawley’s move as “antics” that would have no bearing on the president-elect being sworn in on Jan. 20.