Many conservative House Republicans defended President Donald Trump in the aftermath of his phone call demanding Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” the votes needed for him to win the elections in his state — as Democrats drafted a resolution seeking to censure Trump over the matter.
After House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy downplayed Trump’s stunning demand, other Republicans rushed to his defense — and some refused to take issue with the President’s actions.
“I wasn’t involved in the call,” said Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, who chairs the House GOP’s campaign arm.
Rep. Paul Gosar, a conservative Arizona Republican who is joining his colleagues’ effort to overturn the election results on Wednesday, contended that Trump’s call was a simple expression of “enormous frustration.”
“Politically correct speech doesn’t run well,” Gosar said when asked about Trump.
Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a leader of the congressional effort to overturn the elections, argued that Trump’s call was similar to the impeachment fight and the President’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky where Trump asked for an investigation into the Bidens.
“I got no concern,” Jordan said. “But you guys in the press and the Democrats are always going to make a big issue of it just like you did with the call to Zelensky.”
Asked if Trump’s call could cut into GOP support on Wednesday, Jordan said it wouldn’t. “We got huge support and it’s growing,” he said. “And I think it will continue to grow.”
Trump’s call with Georgia’s secretary of state, audio of which was reported by CNN, the Washington Post and others on Sunday, comes ahead of a Republican effort to object to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory when Congress counted the Electoral College votes on Wednesday. At least 140 House Republicans and a dozen Senate Republicans are preparing to vote against Biden’s victory in a push to overturn the election results despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud, though the effort has divided Republicans, with some Republicans openly criticizing their colleagues for an effort they charge is dangerous to democracy.
Trump has attacked those Republicans not joining with his push to overturn the election results, tweeting Monday at Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of Trump’s typical Senate GOP allies, after Cotton announced he wouldn’t support the objections.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, criticized the press when asked if he had any concerns about Trump’s hourlong call, which was recorded on tape and leaked to the media.
“I wish the reporting on it was a full and honest discussion — as opposed to the one-sided, biased take,” Zeldin said.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the staunchly conservative freshman from Northwest Georgia, told CNN that she is traveling with Trump to the state on Monday. She attacked Raffensperger when asked if she had any concerns about Trump’s call to the Georgia secretary of state.
“I think our secretary of state has failed Georgia,” Greene said. “I believe our elections should be decertified.”
Asked if doing so would then impact her and other Georgia Republicans, all of whom were elected on the same ballot, Greene said: “We’re just talking about the President’s race.”
But some Republicans expressed concerns, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 in GOP leadership who is also urging her colleagues to steer clear of the effort to subvert the will of voters when Congress meets Wednesday to count electoral votes that made Biden the winner of the race.
“I think it was deeply troubling,” Cheney told CNN of the call. “I think it was deeply troubling, and I think everybody should listen to the full hour of it.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican who criticized Sen. Josh Hawley when the Missouri Republican announced he planned to object to Pennsylvania’s election results, said Monday that Trump’s call with Raffensperger was “a new low.”
“President Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger represents a new low in this whole futile and sorry episode,” Toomey said in a statement. “I commend Republican election officials across the country who have discharged their duties with integrity over the past two months while weathering relentless pressure, disinformation, and attacks from the president and his campaign.”
Democrats also began discussing how to respond to Trump’s call on Monday.
Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, circulated a letter to collect support for a resolution he introduced Monday to censure and condemn Trump for seeking to overturn the election results in Georgia. It remains to be seen whether the chamber will vote on the resolution, which would amount to a symbolic rebuke of the President.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who is the chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, is playing a lead role in coordinating the floor strategy for House Democrats on Wednesday. She is meeting with each state delegation that is expected to be targeted by Republicans as they try to sort out how they plan to push back, according to members of Democratic leadership.
Party leaders are counseling their members to focus on how the elections were free and fair and to push back against debunked conspiracies over how they were conducted — and not devolve into a debate over the Trump presidency. While most of the Democrats who will be speaking will hail from the key states, other top Democrats plan to join in on the floor debate as well, including Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman.
“We are going to take an approach where we are serious, solemn and substantive — anchored in the protection of our democracy,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York, and a member of his party’s leadership.
It remains to be seen whether Republicans who are critical of the effort to overturn the elections will speak on the floor. Cheney declined to comment to CNN if she would take part in the floor debate Wednesday.
The debate comes amid a growing GOP rift ahead of Wednesday’s joint session of Congress when House Republicans are expected to object to the counting of the electoral votes that made Biden the President-elect. If they are joined by at least one Republican senator, which is expected, each chamber will have to debate the objections for up to two hours before a vote on whether to affirm the objection. The votes are destined to fail, but the moves could prolong the debate since House members plan to push objections to six states Trump lost — and it’s already putting many Republicans in a difficult spot.
Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman, who is up for reelection in 2022, said Monday he would support certifying the election on Wednesday and oppose some of his GOP colleagues’ effort to challenge the vote.
“I plan on honoring that oath by supporting the state certifications and the will of the people. I will vote to certify in accordance with my duty under the Constitution,” Portman said in a statement. “I cannot support allowing Congress to thwart the will of the voters.”
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged his colleagues to avoid going down the road of questioning the election results, McCarthy has quietly given his blessing to the effort and has told the President he’s on his side, according to several conservatives involved in the push. On Monday, McCarthy ignored questions about whether he does indeed support the effort.
“What I read about — the President has always been concerned about the integrity of the election,” McCarthy said on Fox when asked about the Georgia call.
It remains possible that a majority of House Republicans will join the effort to challenge the election. Emmer, for one, would not say if he backs the challenge.
“I understand some senators are going to object — we will see how the debate goes,” Emmer said, adding that he’d take stock of how the floor debate goes. “I’ll listen.”
New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a former-Democrat-turned-Republican, said he would join the effort to object to the election results.
“Any time when just about 50% of the American public does not believe that the elections are valid, there’s something wrong,” Van Drew said. Told that many voters don’t believe the elections were valid because Trump has refused to accept the results, Van Drew said: “They don’t listen to every single thing he says. They’re doing it because they believe it.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.