Parliamentary maneuvers in the Pennsylvania State Senate briefly made national news on Tuesday when a Republican majority voted to eject large, bald Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman from the job of presiding over the chamber. The move apparently led to some yelling and a brief period in which both Fetterman and the new Republican presiding officer were purporting to be in charge.
Fetterman eventually left and legislative business continued, but the fundamental issue that caused the dispute has not yet been resolved, which is that the Republican majority is refusing to acknowledge the state-certified electoral victory of 45th District Democratic incumbent Jim Brewster. The state’s final official tally has Brewster beating his opponent, Nicole Ziccarelli, by 69 votes. But Ziccarelli is suing in federal court to overturn the results because one of the counties in which the 45th District lies decided that mail-in ballots which voters had failed to date would be counted, but another county in which the 45th District lies decided that they would not be counted. While the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court has ruled that each county has the discretion to count undated ballots if they so choose, Ziccarelli is asking a federal judge to throw every undated ballot in the district out, which would have the effect of reversing the election outcome and making her the winner.
That suit is pending, though, and, again, Brewster’s victory is state-certified under rules upheld by the state Supreme Court. Entering Tuesday’s session, Fetterman and Democrats held that he should be sworn in and “seated.” Republicans disagreed, arguing that they need to “review” the situation, so when Fetterman tried to seat Brewster, they voted the gavel out of his hands and swore in everyone except Brewster.
This strategy of trying to push a completed election into some newly invented procedural overtime period, well after the winner has been legally established, may sound familiar to political observers even outside the Keystone State. When quoted anonymously, many of the national Republicans abetting Donald Trump’s endless series of attempts to delay the official certification of Joe Biden’s victory argue that they are merely humoring Trump while he comes to terms with his loss and “fights” for his voters. But this claim should be taken in realpolitik context: Republicans in Congress right now don’t have the votes they would need to actually overturn the results of an election. Pennsylvania Republicans do, and, given the chance, they’ve taken it. Welcome to the new normal—it’s going to be annoying!