Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., announced Wednesday that he would object to the certification of some states' Electoral College results on Jan. 6, a move that will force his fellow Republicans to vote on whether to reject President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud in this year's election or disenfranchise millions of voters.
While numerous Republican House members are expected to object to the Electoral College results from several swing states during Congress' certification of the votes next week, Hawley is the first senator to commit to doing so. The announcement is significant because under congressional rules, a written objection that is endorsed by both a House member and a senator is needed to force Congress to consider an objection.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., ripped Hawley's announcement in remarks on the Senate floor.
“The effort by the sitting president of the United States to overturn the results is patently undemocratic," Schumer said. "The effort by others to amplify and burnish his ludicrous claims of fraud is equally revolting. This is America. We have elections. We have results. We make arguments based on fact and reason — not conspiracy and fantasy."
The objections from GOP members are highly unlikely to succeed. For one to be sustained and a state's presidential vote thrown out, a majority in each chamber has to vote to agree to the objection. The Democrats hold a majority in the House, and while Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate, a number of moderate Republicans have already said they would not vote to toss out a state's votes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had privately urged Republican senators not to challenge the vote because it could put some vulnerable Republicans at odds with fervent Trump supporters.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., shrugged off Hawley's announcement, telling reporters she has "no doubt that on next Wednesday, a week from today, that Joe Biden will be confirmed by the acceptance of the vote of the Electoral College as the 46th president of the United States."
Biden’s incoming White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, also showed no concern during a virtual briefing with reporters.
“Congress will certify the results of this election as they do every four years,” Psaki said, adding: “This is merely a formality. It certainly should be treated as such."
Despite the long-shot nature of the challenge, Hawley's objection could lead to a long day; Congress could debate for up to two hours on objections to each states' results before members vote.
Hawley, who is considered a possible presidential candidate in 2024, did not say how many states' votes he would object to, but he suggested that Pennsylvania would be one of them.
“I cannot vote to certify the Electoral College results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws," Hawley said in a statement, echoing a claim made repeatedly by the president and rejected repeatedly by state and federal courts.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, blasted Hawley's announcement as "another baseless attempt by Trump’s enablers to undermine the will of the people."
"Pennsylvania’s election was secure, legal & fair. Our electoral votes have been cast for Joe Biden & Kamala Harris," he wrote in a pair of tweets, adding that "people should know that any senator making declarations about challenging Pennsylvania’s election result is performing political theater for Donald Trump, not following any facts or laws."
Outgoing Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va., slammed Hawley and members of their party in the House who planned to mount objections.
"All this is based on disinformation and conspiracy theories," Riggleman said in an interview with MSNBC's Kasie Hunt, blasting his colleagues for "throwing away federalism" for "really a baseline of disinformation and ridiculousness."
"When does a scam become a coup?" he asked, adding, "You inject disinformation into the constituents and then use that disinformation as a rationalization to protest this. It's unbelievable, and it's how disinformation works, right?"
"A lot of people are fundraising off of fantasy, and it comes a time you have to get more and more provocative to raise those funds," Riggleman continued. Hawley, he speculated, "is looking for a higher office. Maybe he's positioning for 2024. This is all just political. Has nothing to do on rule of law, has nothing to do on what's good for this country. It has to do with what's good for the individual" and "assuaging the Twitter mobs or assuaging a certain specific part of your electorate instead of doing what's right, and that's serving your country based on the Constitution."
In his statement, Hawley tried to portray the extraordinary move as business as usual, saying, "I will follow the same practice Democrat members of Congress have in years past," pointing to the 2004 and 2016 elections.
During the certification of the 2016 election results, several House Democrats attempted to object to the vote in a number of states, but they were ruled out of order by then-Vice President Biden, who noted that no senators had joined in their objections.
After the 2004 election, then-Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, objected to Ohio's votes, charging there had been voter suppression because of long lines and missing voting machines in minority areas in the state.
Then-Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., said those complaints were “outrage based on fantasy conspiracies” while the Bush White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said, “It is time to move forward and not engage in conspiracy theories or partisan politics of this nature.”
The measure failed in the Senate by a vote of 74-1 and in the House by a vote of 267-31.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., took a dark view of Hawley's actions in an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.
“Josh Hawley and anyone who supports his effort are engaged in the attempted overthrow of democracy," Murphy said. "There is no evidence that there was any fraud. Sen. Hawley apparently believes that if a Democrat wins the presidential race, it must be illegitimate by definition, even absent any actual evidence of misbehavior."
Last week, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, cautioned his fellow Republicans against making an objection on Jan. 6.
"I think the thing they got to remember is, it’s just not going anywhere. I mean in the Senate, it would go down like a shot dog," Thune told reporters. "I just don't think that it makes a lot of sense to put everybody through this when you know what the ultimate outcome is going to be,” he added.
Trump responded to him a short time later on Twitter, mocking Thune as a "RINO" — an acronym for Republican in name only — and suggesting he "should just let it play out. South Dakota doesn’t like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!!"