Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri announced on Wednesday that he plans to object during Congress’ meeting to certify Electoral College votes next week in order to highlight unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and the role of “Big Tech monopolies” in the election. The move will delay the final confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory by forcing lawmakers in both chambers of Congress to debate and then vote on the objection. “At the very least, Congress should investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections,” the senator said in a statement. “But Congress has so far failed to act.”
In order to raise an objection to the results, a senator and a member of the House must both submit their complaints in writing. While Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks has already indicated that he will object, Hawley is the first senator to formally announce his intention. Alabama Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville has said he’s open to objecting as well. It’s virtually impossible for this objection to affect the outcome of the election, but it will require lawmakers to retire to the House and Senate and hold separate debates that will run for no more than two hours. For the objection to succeed, both chambers must approve it with a simple majority vote. Given that Democrats control the House, there’s virtually no chance of that happening.
Nevertheless, President Donald Trump has been publicly and privately pushing Republicans in Congress to lodge objections. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence hosted Brooks and other conservative members of Congress at the White House last week to lay out a strategy for this far-fetched gambit. Since losing the election, Trump has refused to concede and repeatedly spread conspiracy theories that voting machines were rigged and that loads of invalid ballots inexplicably materialized in key swing states to hand Biden a victory. He’s pressured state-level officials to interfere in the electoral process and had his attorney Rudy Giuliani file legal challenges in dozens of courts, which have nearly all been unsuccessful.
Not everyone in Trump’s party is on board. Voting on Hawley’s objection will put many Republican lawmakers, particularly those in the Senate, in a tight spot. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised his colleagues in a mid-December conference call not to raise objections, describing it as a “terrible move” since it would require Republicans to go on the record in rebuffing Trump’s specious claims of pervasive voter fraud. Hawley, however, is widely expected to be a presidential candidate in 2024, and this move is likely to endear him to Trump’s base.
In order to justify his plans, Hawley cited instances from the 2004 and 2016 elections in which Democrats also objected during the Electoral College vote certification. Following the 2016 election, Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Barbara Lee of California led an effort in the House to object to Trump’s victory. The effort died when no senators would sign on. The last time there was an actual vote on an objection was after the 2004 election, when former Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and former California Sen. Barbara Boxer jointly objected to President George W. Bush’s win in Ohio.
Boxer, in an interview with CNN last month, drew a distinction between her motion and the campaign to reverse the 2020 election that Trump and his allies have waged since November. “Our intent was not to overturn the election in any way. Our intent was to focus on voter suppression in Ohio,” she said. “They’re talking about the vote that the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump. It’s not even a close comparison.” During the House session in 2005 to debate her objection, Tubbs Jones similarly said, “This objection does not have at its root, the hope or even the hint of overturning the victory of the president, but it is a necessary timely and appropriate opportunity to review and remedy the most precious process in our democracy.”
Still, it’s evidently enough of a precedent for Hawley. “Democrats in Congress objected during the certification of electoral votes in order to raise concerns about election integrity,” the senator’s statement read. “And they were entitled to do so. But now those of us concerned about the integrity of this election are entitled to do the same.”