A growing number of Republican lawmakers are joining President Donald Trump's extraordinary effort to overturn the election, pledging to reject the results when Congress meets next week to count the Electoral College votes and certify President-elect Joe Biden's win.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas on Saturday announced a coalition of 12 senators who have been enlisted for Trump's effort to subvert the will of American voters.
This follows the declaration from Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who was the first to buck Senate leadership by saying he would join with House Republicans in objecting to the state tallies during Wednesday's joint session of Congress.
Hawley and Cruz are both among potential 2024 presidential contenders.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had urged his party not to try to overturn what nonpartisan election officials have concluded was a free and fair vote.
Some Republican senators criticized their colleagues’ plans.
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement Saturday that she would vote to affirm the election and urged senators in both parties to join her in "maintaining confidence in the Electoral College and our elections so that we ensure we have the continued trust of the American people."
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska urged his colleagues to "reject this dangerous ploy," which he said threatens the nation's civic norms.
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said in a statement Saturday that “a fundamental, defining feature of a democratic republic is the right of the people to elect their own leaders. The effort by Senators Hawley, Cruz and others to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in swing states like Pennsylvania directly undermines this right.”
The dozen GOP senators largely acknowledged Saturday they would not succeed in preventing Biden, who won in the Electoral College 302-232, from being inaugurated on January 20. But their challenges, and those from House Republicans, represent the most sweeping effort to undo a presidential election outcome since the Civil War.
"We do not take this action lightly," Cruz and the other senators said in a joint statement.
They vowed to vote against certain state electors Wednesday unless Congress appointed an electoral commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. They are zeroing in on the states where Trump has raised unfounded claims of voter fraud. Congress is unlikely to agree to their demand.
The group, which presented no new evidence of election problems, includes Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Mike Braun of Indiana, and Senators-elect Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
Trump, the first president to lose a reelection bid in almost 30 years, has attributed his defeat to widespread voter fraud, despite the consensus of nonpartisan election officials and even Trump's attorney general that there was none. Of the roughly 50 lawsuits the president and his allies have filed challenging election results, nearly all have been dismissed or dropped. He's also lost twice at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The days ahead are expected to do little to change the outcome.
The convening of the joint session to count the Electoral College votes is usually routine. While objections have surfaced before — in 2017, several House Democrats challenged Trump's win — few have approached this level of intensity.
Caught in the middle is Vice President Mike Pence, who faces growing pressure from Trump's allies over his ceremonial role in presiding over the session Wednesday.
Several Republicans have indicated they are under pressure from constituents back home to show they are fighting for Trump in his baseless campaign to stay in office.
Senator John Thune, the second-ranking Republican, indicated in remarks to reporters at the Capitol that Republican leadership is not putting its muscle behind Trump's demands but is allowing senators to choose their course.
"This is an issue that's incredibly consequential, incredibly rare historically and very precedent-setting," he said. "This is a big vote."
Pence will be carefully watched as he presides over what is typically a routine vote count in Congress but is now heading toward a prolonged showdown that could extend into Wednesday night, depending on how many challenges are mounted.
A judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit from Representative Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and a group of Arizona electors trying to force Pence to step outside mere ceremony and shape the outcome of the vote. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee, dismissed the suit late Friday.
McConnell convened a conference call with Republican senators Thursday specifically to address the coming joint session and logistics of tallying the vote, according to several Republicans granted anonymity to discuss the private call.
The Republican leader pointedly called on Hawley to answer questions about his challenge to Biden's victory, according to two of the Republicans.
But there was no response because Hawley was a no-show, the Republicans said.