GOP Sen. Josh Hawley’s challenge to the election results will force a meaningless vote that’s all about putting himself in the spotlight

Josh Hawley
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri).
  • GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, on Wednesday announced he will object when Congress meets to certify the Electoral College vote on January 6.
  • The move will amount to a short delay in the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's 2020 victory, but will not result in the results being overturned in any state.
  • "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.
  • Hawley, a much-discussed future GOP presidential candidate who is also backing $2,000 stimulus checks for American taxpayers, is likely positioning himself to run as a populist candidate if Trump declines a 2024 bid.
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Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, on Wednesday announced he will object when Congress meets to certify the Electoral College vote on January 6.

The move will amount to a short delay in the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's 2020 victory, but will not result in the results being overturned in any state. This effectively means that Hawley is forcing a pointless vote that will not have any bearing on the outcome of the presidential election, but could help the Missouri Republican score political points with supporters of President Donald Trump. 

For weeks, Trump has been pushing the baseless assertion that he lost the election due to widespread voter fraud. But the president's own Justice Department conducted an investigation that did not find evidence of election-altering fraud. Trump and his GOP allies have also won zero out of dozens of lawsuits aimed at overturning the election results. 

Hawley is basing his objection on similarly tenuous and dubious grounds, and despite the fact there have been myriad, failed Republican-led legal challenges related to the election results already. The Supreme Court has denied two such efforts to overturn the results, including one related to Pennsylvania - the battleground state Hawley has zeroed in on.

"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 on Wednesday. "At the very least, Congress should investigate allegations of voter fraud and adopt measures to secure the integrity of our elections. But Congress has so far failed to act."

The Certification Process

Hawley, who is thought to have ambitions of running for president in 2024, is the first senator to say they will object to certification. He's joining a group of House Republicans, led by Rep Mo Brooks of Alabama, who've already said they would object. 

Congress performs the final act in the process of certifying the election results in a joint session ahead of Inauguration Day, per the Constitution. In order for an objection to carry weight during this process, it has to be supported by at least one lawmaker from each chamber. If this occurs, the chambers split to debate for two hours before holding a vote on the matter. For the election results in any given state to be tossed out, both chambers would have to vote in favor of doing so. 

Given Democrats will control the House on January 6, there's no way the lower chamber would vote to overturn the results. In short, Hawley's objection is doomed to fail. 

By objecting, Hawley is also forcing Senate Republicans to go on record as to whether they support Trump's groundless claims on voter fraud. A number of GOP senators have signaled they would not support an objection, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already recognized Biden as president-elect. McConnell privately implored senators to avoid any objections to certification, fearing the political ramifications for the GOP.

Hawley Trump
President Donald Trump campaigned with Josh Hawley during his successful 2018 Senate campaign against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

This is not unprecedented. In 2017, for example, House Democrats objected to Trump's victory in a number of states, but no senator joined them. But a vote on an objection hasn't occurred since 2005. The 2005 vote failed, and the same will occur regarding Hawley's objection. 

Hawley cited the 2005 objection in his statement on Wednesday, which was led by two former Democratic lawmakers, then-Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and then-Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio. 

In an interview with CNN earlier this month, Boxer rejected any comparisons to her objection in 2005 and current GOP efforts to overturn the election results. "Our intent was not to overturn the election in any way. Our intent was to focus on voter suppression in Ohio," Boxer said. "They're talking about the vote that the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump. It's not even a close comparison." 

Democratic senators swiftly condemned Hawley's announcement on Wednesday. 

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told MSNBC that Hawley and anyone who votes with him will be attempting an "overthrow of democracy."

"This is just grossly irresponsible by Sen. Hawley," Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in response, per The Hill.

Meanwhile, Biden's transition team brushed it off as yet another irrelevant effort to undermine his victory. A Biden spokesperson told reporters he will be sworn-in on January 20 despite any "antics," adding that the certification on January 6 is "merely a formality and should be treated as such."

The fallout from the election has already been solidified in many ways, though, as a recent NPR/Ipsos poll revealed that two-thirds of Republicans believe that voter fraud aided Biden, with fewer than 50% of GOP respondents accepting the election results.

The poll also revealed that 39% of Americans feel as though there's a "deep state" that has been working against Trump.

Republican grievances about the election will play into the minds of every Republican who is thinking of being the party's future standard bearer.

Future Ambitions

For Hawley, a Stanford and Yale Law School graduate who once clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, giving outsized support to Trump's election claims would give him major GOP bona fides if the president chooses not to run in 2024.

By disrupting the Electoral College certification, Hawley would not only endear himself to Trump, but it would also assuage more conservative voters that he is a worthy successor to the president.

As a Midwestern Republican, Hawley would be a formidable presidential candidate - he represents a rural-dominated state that borders Iowa, with its first-in-the-nation caucus, and his unyielding support of conservative jurists that firmly oppose Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the US, has raised his profile among the party faithful.

Hawley Barrett
Sen. Josh Hawley was a strong supporter of Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court.

Despite being a reliable vote for McConnell since joining the Senate in January 2019, Hawley has recently pushed for raising the amount of direct stimulus aid in the latest COVID-19 relief bill from $600 to $2,000 for individuals, a position that is not widely popular within the party.

Before the compromise bill came together, Hawley teamed up with Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a politician on the opposite political spectrum, to press for $1,200 direct stimulus checks, which was higher than the $600 that was ultimately passed in the package.

Hawley is clearly carving out a populist persona that some have labeled as inauthentic, but could form the basis for a political message that carries him from the Senate to a future presidential campaign.

With a background in Constitutional law, Hawley would likely seek to enact a conservative agenda very much similar to Trump, but without the theatrics and sloppiness that have defined many of the legal battles of Trump's tenure, from the president's inability to halt the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to his campaign's array of lawsuits that have gone nowhere in denying Biden's presidential victory.

For Republican voters eyeing politicians who stood with Trump to the end, Hawley's positioning on the Electoral College certification could be right on time.

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