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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Russ Fulcher say they will contest Electoral College results as ‘civil war’ divides GOP

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is shown at a debate with congressional candidate Dave Wilson at KSPS, Mon. Oct. 19, 2020.   (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

WASHINGTON – Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Russ Fulcher plan to object to the certification of Electoral College results in a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, the two Republicans told The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday.

The Inland Northwest lawmakers represent one side of a dramatic rift in the GOP as roughly half of congressional Republicans question the legitimacy of November’s vote, amplifying President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that the election was rigged. The Trump campaign has repeatedly failed to prove its allegations of widespread voter fraud, with Trump-appointed judges, Republican election officials and former Attorney General Bill Barr all saying no such evidence exists.

“I’m planning to vote to object tomorrow,” said McMorris Rodgers, “to give voice to millions of Americans that do not have trust and confidence in this election, and to ensure the integrity of our election.

“My vote is not one to overturn the election, but it’s to shed light on the questions that millions of Americans have that have not yet been answered.”

Roughly half of the Republicans in Congress, including at least 13 senators and more than 100 House members, have announced in recent days they would object to the results of the Electoral College, which President-elect Joe Biden won by a total of 306 to 232 while besting Trump by more than 7 million in the popular vote.

The gambit will not change the election’s outcome – overturning the results would require majorities in both the Senate and the Democrat-controlled House – but it forces Republicans to take an uncomfortable vote that has come to be seen as a loyalty test, either spurning Trump or rejecting the same votes that elected many Republicans.

Trump has pressured Republicans to object to what is typically a ceremonial vote, calling those who intend to certify the results the “surrender caucus” and threatening to back primary challenges against them.

Both lawmakers said their objections are rooted in changes to make voting safer during the pandemic in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia without the involvement of state legislatures, which the U.S. Constitution empowers to decide how each state appoints electors to choose a president.

“I intend on objecting to the electoral results of those three states,” said Fulcher, who represents North Idaho. “It is the state legislative branch that has the sole responsibility for setting the parameters on elections.”

Legal scholars say this argument is dubious, especially since nearly all states certified their results by the Dec. 8 “safe harbor” deadline, guaranteeing the results will be counted under federal law. In any case, said University of Washington associate law professor Lisa Marshall Manheim, the effort has no chance of stopping Biden from occupying the White House.

“There’s no legal path for President Trump to stay in office beyond Jan. 20,” Manheim said. “The continued resistance to the transition of power is a political move, not a legal strategy. This is politics.”

Other Republicans, including Washington Reps. Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler, have said they will vote to certify the election results. Newhouse and Herrera Beutler joined 11 other GOP lawmakers Tuesday in a letter arguing that only states have the authority to appoint electors, while citing unspecified “abuses” and saying, “People cannot trust a system that refuses to guarantee that only legal votes are cast.”

Fulcher said he intends to use the move to exercise Congress’ constitutional oversight role, but Mark Braden, the former top lawyer at the Republican National Committee, said the divide among Republicans is all about Trump’s influence, not competing interpretations of the Constitution.

“The congressional folks who are supporting Trump, you can divide in two groups,” Braden said. “I do think there’s a group that’s totally sincere, who believe what Trump believes.

“Then there’s a big chunk … who are just intimidated by the president and afraid of him politically, and view that supporting him politically helps them going forward.”

Herrera Beutler, who represents southwest Washington, told The Columbian on Saturday the president and his allies had exhausted their options to challenge the election results.

“I intend to vote to uphold the Electoral College,” she told the Vancouver, Washington-based paper. “I have supported the president’s right to advance his evidence of election improprieties and I do think there have been problems, but so far none of the court challenges have produced … widespread evidence that would overturn an election. There is an end date on it. We need to move on to solving problems for citizens.”

Fulcher announced his intention to contest the results in a video posted online Monday. McMorris Rodgers had not revealed how she planned to vote until speaking with The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday afternoon.

Democrats have objected to the certification of Electoral College results in the past, though never in numbers comparable to the Republican objections expected Wednesday. After the 2004 election, a Democratic senator and congresswoman objected to Ohio’s results, but no other Senate Democrats and just 31 House members objected before the result was certified.

At least one member from both the House and Senate must object to a state’s results in writing to trigger debate. After the 2000 presidential election was decided by just 537 votes in Florida, several House Democrats pleaded with their Senate counterparts to object to that state’s results, but Vice President Al Gore, presiding over the joint session, stopped debate and certified his own loss to George W. Bush.

At a Tuesday night rally in Dalton, Georgia, Trump falsely claimed he had “won every single state.”

“When you win in a landslide and they steal it and it’s rigged, it’s not acceptable,” Trump said.

Most GOP lawmakers have tried to avoid citing specific, easily debunked voter fraud allegation, focusing instead on constitutional arguments while making vague references to wrongdoing.

“I think the members of Congress who are objecting are choosing their words very carefully,” Manheim said, “so that different audiences will hear what they want to hear.”

Even Newhouse and Herrera Beutler, who plan to certify the results, signed a letter saying they, “like most Americans, are outraged at the significant abuses in our election system.” The letter does not name any specific abuses.

McMorris Rodgers cited just one example of supposed wrongdoing, a claim by Pennsylvania GOP state Rep. Frank Ryan and amplified by Trump that the state recorded more than 200,000 more votes than voters.

“The state counted 205,122 more votes than the total number of voters in the system,” McMorris Rodgers said. “Data like this is extremely concerning, and the voters deserve answers on this discrepancy and others.”

That claim has been repeatedly debunked, with state election officials explaining that Ryan’s claims were based on incomplete data.

The Spokane Republican also suggested that vote counting suspiciously stopped on election night, seemingly referring to another disproved conspiracy theory shared widely on social media.

“Watch the election-night coverage. I had the sense that something went wrong when they stopped counting votes in the middle of it, and then they start counting votes. It’s raised questions across the board and it’s underscored the importance of us taking action to ensure election integrity.”

McMorris Rodgers said she sees Wednesday’s vote as an opportunity to elevate the concerns of voters who believe the election was illegitimate, despite the fact that Republican and Democratic election officials reported November’s election went surprisingly well.

“It’s a moment for me to amplify the voices of millions of Americans who do not have trust and confidence in our election process,” she said, “and to make clear that this must be addressed, that we must have integrity in our elections.”

Asked whether her responsibility as an elected official is only to amplify her constituents’ concerns or also to educate her constituents about the facts, McMorris Rodgers replied, “Sure, it’s both.”

“But the constitutional crisis that I see,” she continued, “is around the people’s voice and the power and the authority that rests in the legislative branch and making sure that people all across this country – Republicans and Democrats – have trust and confidence that their voices are being heard and not shut down.”

Cornell Clayton, professor of government at Washington State University, said Wednesday’s votes are primarily about Republicans betting on the best way to ensure their political futures.

“This is really nothing about the election,” Clayton said. “This is all about the civil war in the Republican Party, and every single one of those Republicans who are signing on to the challenges in the Senate or the House, they’re doing it for pure electoral, political reasons.”

It may not be clear for years to come, Clayton said, whether the Republicans who are heeding Trump’s calls to challenge the election results are making a wise strategic move.

“This radical populism in the Republican Party has been ongoing since at least 2010,” Clayton said, “and Trump embodies that, but Trump was a singular figure in his ability to play to that wing of the party.

“If I’m someone like Cathy McMorris Rodgers and two or four years down the road I’m tethered to this vote for Donald Trump and undermining our elections, I think that could be a real disadvantage, because maybe those Trump voters aren’t as important in Republican politics four years from now.”

Kim Wyman, Washington’s GOP secretary of state, said she worries her fellow Republicans in Congress are doing real harm to the nation’s democratic system.

“We have members of Congress, even in our own state, who are concerned that large numbers of their constituents think that the election was stolen,” Wyman said, “and that’s going to affect how they operate in Congress.

“I think that we are starting to get on really dangerous ground when members of Congress are going to try to thwart the will of the American people and millions of votes that are cast and basically disregard the Electoral College. It’s a state’s right to determine which electors go and represent their voters in the Electoral College, and I would really caution members of our delegation to be thoughtful about the long-term implications of trying to undermine the Electoral College process.”

Braden, a longtime Republican who represents GOP candidates in election cases, said he’s concerned the rift could do permanent harm to the party.

“Does the Republican Party actually survive this?” Braden said. “I don’t know. I think there’s a possibility that it won’t, that Donald Trump will force a division between … the populists who believe that the world is run by a conspiracy and other Republicans.

“There’s a significant portion of the electorate who are using the same sources of information that Donald Trump is using, and that information is just fiction.”