Letter from Washington: Georgia and the GOP
Caught your breath? Good. Because the first week of 2021 will be a busy one in Washington. Today, the 117th Congress is being sworn in. On Tuesday, Georgians will determine which party controls the Senate when they vote in two run-off contests. Then, on Wednesday, a joint session of Congress will meet to certify the results of the electoral college vote. Thanks to the cynical folly of a dozen Republican senators, what should be confirmation of an election that federal officials have called “the most secure in American history” will be something a lot less routine.
The Georgia votes are on a knife-edge. In a state that narrowly chose Joe Biden for president, two GOP senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, seek re-election against a confusing political backdrop. Among the unknowns that will decide the outcome: Will Democratic turnout be lower now that Donald Trump has been vanquished? Will Trump’s unfounded claims that elections are rigged fire up his supporters or cause them to stay at home? How many moderate Republicans have been put off by the post-election craziness and the full MAGA-fication of Loeffler and Perdue?
This complicated, interconnected set of considerations makes prediction pretty pointless. And, after November’s polling flub, the results of the many surveys conducted in the state shed little extra light beyond suggesting a close race. The stakes are a lot clearer: Democrats need both of their challengers, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, to win to gain control of the Senate (50-50 with Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote). Republicans need just one of Loeffler and Perdue to hang on to block Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
While the votes are still being counted in Georgia, legislators will meet in Washington on Wednesday for what should be the arcane formality of electoral college certification. However, if a representative and a senator object to certifying the results for a given state, then the House and the Senate each debate and vote on whether or not to certify. Regrettably, more than half of the Republicans in the House are expected to object, along with a dozen Senators, including Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.
None of this changes the fact that Donald Trump failed to win re-election. Objections will be lodged and dozens of Republican legislators will be on the record as refusing to accept the clear result of the 2020 election, but Congress will confirm that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States.
Hawley says that he “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.” Over at The Dispatch, David French takes Hawley’s unserious whingefest seriously and demonstrates just what nonsense it is.
Cruz, who in 2016 refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention, leads a group of 11 Senators that followed Hawley three days later, arguing that “Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states.”
Mike Pence has “welcomed” the senators’ doomed bid with a detachment that ignores the central role he could be playing in preserving American democracy were he so inclined.
The cynicism is infuriating. These senior Republicans know the election wasn’t stolen. But they have calculated that refusing to accept the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency will be a purity test applied to presidential hopefuls in 2024.
I hope they are wrong, but, either way, we owe it to Pence, Hawley, Cruz and co to judge them on their own actions and words. And this week they will leave little doubt as to what the verdict should be. These are not responsible statesmen, serious legal brains, humble servants of the constitution or honest tribunes of the American people — all poses they enjoy striking. They are cynical partisan hacks for whom no price is too high when it comes to their own political advancement.
At the end of this week, Georgians will have determined who controls the senate. Every Republican senator and representative, meanwhile, will have had to choose: complete submission to Trump and his delusions, or the health of the institutions and values they claim to cherish? The answer will not change who is sworn in on January 20, but this week’s moronic purity test will be remembered long after Trump has left the White House.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe