Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, called the effort in Congress to reverse President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory a ’'dangerous ploy,’' underscoring the challenge President Trump faces in persuading even members of his own party to join it.
In an open letter to constituents, Sasse wrote that there is no evidence of fraud so widespread that it could change the results and said he has urged his colleagues to reject “a project to overturn the election.”
“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,” Sasse wrote on Facebook shortly before midnight on Wednesday. “We ought to be better than that.”
His letter followed Wednesday’s announcement by Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, that he will object next week when Congress convenes to certify the Electoral College vote, a move that will force a contentious floor debate that top Senate Republicans had hoped to avoid.
Trump has repeatedly and falsely suggested that the ceremonial milestone offers a last-ditch way to reverse the election results and is urging Republicans to join his bid.
As he pursues his strategy, Trump departed his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where he had been spending the holidays, to return to Washington on Thursday, earlier than scheduled. He did not speak to reporters before boarding Air Force One or upon returning to the White House.
Sasse has been far more willing to criticize Trump than most of his GOP colleagues, but even so, his staunch opposition highlights the nearly certain futility of the president’s efforts to hang onto power.
To succeed, Trump would not only have to prevail in the Republican-led Senate but also in the House, which is controlled by Democrats.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and other leading Republicans had discouraged their members from challenging the Electoral College vote, conceding that the move would fail but could drag out the process through lengthy debate and, ultimately, force their members to take an awkward vote.
Several House Republicans have said they plan to object to certifying the Electoral College votes of some states Biden won, and Hawley became the first senator to commit to signing on to the effort.
Given the narrow majority in the Senate, Trump would need to convince nearly every Republican in the chamber to side with him. Several have already acknowledged Biden as the president-elect. On Wednesday, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said she wouldn’t join the effort “unless there is a some very unexpected revelation that I cannot imagine that would occur.”
In his letter, Sasse says there is a constitutional basis for what is being attempted but that it is “absolutely not” warranted in this case.
“For President-Elect Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory to be overturned, President Trump would need to flip multiple states,” Sasse wrote. “But not a single state is in legal doubt.”
More than 90 federal and state judges have rejected challenges to the November vote, notably finding allegations of fraud to be without merit.
Sasse wrote in his letter that his GOP colleagues realize what is happening but fear crossing the president and his supporters.
“When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent — not one,” he said. “Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’” to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.
On Wednesday, critics charged that Hawley was seeking to ingratiate himself with Trump’s political base as Hawley considers a possible 2024 presidential run of his own. In a television appearance Wednesday night, Hawley sought to dismiss that argument.
In his letter, Sasse argued that politics is driving the effort.
“Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage,” Sasse said. “But they’re wrong - and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”
On Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham said he’ll listen to Hawley’s objection to the certification of Electoral College votes for Biden but doubts it will succeed.
“Senator Hawley has every right to object,” Graham, of South Carolina, said in an interview on Fox News Thursday. “But it’s another thing to overturn an election of another state.”
Graham, one of Trump’s most loyal supporters in the Senate, said for Hawley to win his support to throw out any state’s election results “you’re going to have to prove to me that the allegations you make are real.”
“If dead people were voting, I want the names,” Graham said. “If you’re going to retry the case in the Senate that’s already been tried in the federal courts it would be hard for me to basically take over the federal courts’ role. But I will listen and we’ll see how it comes out.”
Graham pointed out that former Democratic senator Barbara Boxer’s effort to object to electors in 2004 ended with her only getting one vote in the chamber — her own.
Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.