Senators are still blocking an immediate and final vote to override President Donald Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, Republican leaders are grappling with a new problem on their hands: GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and his planned objection to the results of a fair and free election.
The backlash is coming
Hawley’s announcement that he will object to the certification of the election results from at least one state on January 6 turns what was going to be a ceremonial process into an actual headache for Republican rank-and-file.
The vote next week isn’t about one day, it’s about the impact it will have on members for years to come. Trump keeps score and he’s not going to go quietly into the background. Trump’s baked into the Republican brand now and any senator who crosses him next week is keenly aware that there could eventually be a price to pay for that.
Maybe it’s no more than Twitter retribution. Maybe, however, Trump’s ire is so powerful it leads to Republican primary challengers popping up in races all over the map in 2022. Republican senators will essentially be choosing Wednesday between a vote on an election most acknowledge was fair and their political futures. Hawley contacted leadership and let them know of his plans ahead of time, but the announcement has still baffled Republican members and aides alike.
“It’s the height of selfishness to subject nearly all his colleagues to a backlash from conservatives just so he can kickstart his presidential campaign,” one Republican aide said. “Reminds me of the brilliant ‘shut down the government to defund Obamacare’ strategy.’ This will turn out the same way and he knows it.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine had this to say: “I do not think that he will prevail in his quest. And I question why he is doing it when the courts have unanimously thrown out the suits that the President’s team have filed for lack of credible evidence.”
And overnight, Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, took to Facebook to post why he thought the entire exercise was the President and his allies “playing with fire.”
“Every public official has a responsibility to tell the truth,” Sasse said. “All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party. We ought to be better than that. If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud — a house hopelessly divided.”
Some big picture perspective
There are 21 Republican Senate seats to defend in 2022. There are 13 Democratic ones. It’s going to be a heavy lift next cycle already for Republicans and no one is looking to recreate the intra-party primary fights that plagued the party between 2010 and 2014 and ultimately ended in Republicans losing races they thought they had locked down.
These members were also the same crew that had to run for reelection in 2016 when Trump was on the top of the ticket. Many of them lived through the Access Hollywood tape, and they were asked to comment on everything Trump said at his bombastic campaign rallies. The expectation for many of them had been that their reelections in 2022 would look very different. Trump is going to be gone, but this vote means that there is a chance their fortunes are going to be tied to Trump once again.
These are the members up for reelection in 2022 and worth watching next week:
- Sen. Dick Shelby of Alabama
- Sen. Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska
- Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas
- Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowas
- Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida
- Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia (if she wins her January 5 runoff to keep the seat she was appointed to)
- Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho
- Sen. Todd Young of Indiana
- Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas
- Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky
- Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana
- Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri
- Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota
- Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio
- Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma
- Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina
- Sen. John Thune of South Dakota
- Sen. Mike Lee of Utah
- Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin
Hawley was asked on Wednesday if he was worried about what his colleagues would think of his maneuver, and if it would make him less popular: “More than I already am?” he quipped back.
Other senators to watch
Hawley is the first senator to say he plans to object to the Electoral College results from at least one state. But, he may not be the last. Johnson said on Wednesday night that he wouldn’t object to any states, but that he did support Hawley.
Johnson, a Republican who chaired a hearing on allegations of election fraud earlier this month, told reporters that there was “no reason for more people to object. All it takes is one.”
CNN’s Ali Zaslav pulled together a list of GOP senators and senators-elect to watch:
- Republican Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville of Alabama
- Republican Sen.-elect Roger Marshall of Kansas
Also worth keeping an eye on two other 2024 contenders: Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
On the schedule Thursday: The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. ET, but no votes are planned. There will be another procedural vote Friday afternoon on the NDAA.