GOP leaders silent on Trump's claims that VP could overturn elections

Former President Trump drew howls from critics in both parties for endorsing the notion this weekend that vice presidents should — and do — have the authority to overturn election results. 

But the response from GOP leaders on Capitol Hill has been something else entirely: silence.

Republican leaders remained mute on Monday as the outcry grew louder over Trump’s bid to empower vice presidents to reject electoral votes certified by the states.

In a statement Sunday evening, he hammered Mike Pence’s handling of that process in January of last year, shortly after President Biden’s 2020 victory, lamenting that his former vice president “could have overturned the Election" but simply opted not to.

That argument — the latest iteration of Trump’s false narrative that the 2020 election was “stolen” by a conspiracy of corrupt election officials, tech companies and foreign governments — has been roundly denounced by a long and growing list of legal scholars, good government advocates and lawmakers, who warn that Trump’s account is not only legally fallacious, but poses a direct threat to the core tenets of the American experiment.

Yet the top Republican leaders have declined to weigh in one way or the other. Asked Monday to comment on Trump’s proposal for overturning elections, the offices of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), head of the House Republican Conference, did not respond. 

A similar silence came from the offices of some of Trump’s most vocal conservative allies, including Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). 

Aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has spent the past year at odds with Trump, also didn’t return a request for comment. 

The silence highlights the dilemma facing Republican leaders, particularly those in the House, who have designs to flip the lower chamber in November’s midterm elections and don't want to agitate Trump, who remains the party's standard-bearer.

But there are risks in that strategy, as well, since remaining in Trump's good graces has meant endorsing, or at least indulging, the lie that his defeat was invalid and Biden’s victory felonious — a lie that’s eroded public trust in the nation’s election systems even as it’s become a litmus test for maintaining power in the House GOP conference. Take it too far, some Republicans are warning, and it will backfire on the party at the polls. 

"If we're going to be honest, the election results as we tabulated them were accurate. And ... if we want to win elections in the future, we have to look beyond and we have to bring people back in, and they have to trust, and they have to believe that we're telling them the truth," Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said earlier in the month.

Trump’s efforts to overturn his election defeat are a central part of the ongoing congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, a violent outshoot of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign, and the lawmakers conducting that probe wasted no time condemning Trump’s latest attack on Pence and the electoral system.

“This is an admission, and a massively un-American statement,” tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of two Republicans on the select committee examining the Jan. 6 attack. “It is time for every Republican leader to pick a side... Trump or the Constitution, there is no middle on defending our nation anymore.”

Trump’s open acknowledgement that he wanted Pence to overturn the 2020 election results was prompted by the discussions among a bipartisan group of senators, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), about reforming the law that establishes the process for formally counting the Electoral College votes. 

Some of the proposals under discussion include raising the threshold for challenging a state’s election results, as well as clarifying that the vice president has only a ceremonial role overseeing the proceedings.

Trump made a point of blasting Collins, one of the seven GOP senators who voted to convict him in his impeachment trial last year for inciting the insurrection, for trying to advance legislative reforms.

“If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had ‘absolutely no right’ to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election?” Trump said.

“Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!” 

It wasn’t the only statement Trump’s made in recent days doubling down on the claims that ultimately led a mob of his supporters to violently attack the Capitol to interrupt the electoral proceedings.

During a rally in Texas on Saturday, Trump said he would pardon people charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol if he becomes president again.  

“If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly. And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly,” Trump said.

More than 700 people have been charged in connection with the riot.  

On Monday, he issued another statement through his political action committee promoting a new film, created by the conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, purporting to reveal rampant voter fraud at the polls in 2020. 

“The way our votes were taken away is a disgrace to our Nation,” Trump said. “It must be fixed.”

Some far-right House Republicans who, like Trump, have tried to downplay the severity of the attack on the Capitol have similarly described the treatment of jailed Jan. 6 defendants awaiting trial as “persecution.”

By contrast, few House Republicans are willing to openly defy Trump when it comes to the attack on the Capitol. 

Only Kinzinger and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the other Republican serving on the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot, pushed back on Trump saying Pence should have tried to overturn the presidential election results. 

“Trump uses language he knows caused the Jan 6 violence; suggests he’d pardon the Jan 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy; threatens prosecutors; and admits he was attempting to overturn the election,” Cheney tweeted on Monday. “He’d do it all again if given the chance.”

While most Republicans have avoided weighing in, even one of Trump’s closest allies made no attempt to defend pardoning people charged with crimes related to the Capitol riot.

"No, I don't want to send any signal that it was OK to defile the Capitol," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday if he agreed with Trump's idea of issuing pardons.  

“I don't want to do anything that would make this more likely in the future,” Graham added.


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