Thu, October 28, 2021

in-focus

Republicans call for unity but won't acknowledge Biden won fairly


The call for unity came from one of President Donald Trump's most loyal supporters in Congress, nearly a week after a pro-Trump mob rampaged the U.S. Capitol in a riot that left five people dead.

"What happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was as wrong as wrong can be," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told colleagues during a virtual committee meeting about Democrats' demands that Trump be removed from office. Now was the time for "healing," and in Jordan's opinion, that meant allowing the president to finish out his term.

The committee chairman, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., pressed him on one point. Hadn't Jordan and more than 140 other Republicans given oxygen to the false conspiracy theory pushed by Trump that motivated the Capitol rioters - that the election had somehow been stolen - when they had voted to object to certifying the electoral college results?

"We all want healing. But in order to get to healing, we need truth, and we need accountability," McGovern said, adding: "So my question for you is: Will you admit that Joe Biden won fair and square, and the election was not rigged or stolen?"

McGovern's question was met with 17 seconds of silence before Jordan said Biden would indeed be inaugurated president - a clear dodge of the question about the nature of Biden's victory.

As Biden prepares to be sworn into office surrounded by more than 20,000 National Guard troops protecting the inauguration from one of the gravest domestic terrorism threats in U.S. history, Democrats and other Trump critics are pushing Republicans to renounce the party's embrace of the falsehood that inspired the Capitol attack and is motivating many of the Trump supporters vowing to take up arms again.

So far, the efforts have been largely fruitless. Even as much of corporate America threatens to withhold donations from lawmakers who objected to the election results, and social media companies cancel accounts - including Trump's - spreading the false conspiracy theories, the bulk of elected Republicans continue to follow Trump's lead in refusing to acknowledge that Biden's win was legitimate and fair.

"Donald Trump incited the violent part of his base to harm people because he made them believe the Big Lie, that he won by a landslide," Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., a House impeachment manager, tweeted Saturday. "All Trump has to do to prevent further political violence is say one sentence: 'the election was not stolen.' "

But so far, Trump and his allies have refused to do that. In their comments about the election, congressional Republicans have hedged, equivocated and accused Democratsof being divisive - even as they continue to promote a falsehood linked to ongoing violence.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the most outspoken supporters of Trump's fraud claims, issued a joint statement with a half-dozen other GOP senators on Jan. 2 alleging "unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities." On Jan. 6, hours after an insurrection forced lawmakers to flee, Cruz voted against certifying the results - then argued it was time for unity the following day.

"We must stand side-by-side as Americans," Cruz said, even as he continued to defend his objection as "the right thing to do" and called for an electoral commission, implying there was wrongdoing in the 2020 election.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., another Trump ally, acknowledged Biden's victory but also couched his statement with a proposal for a commission, lending credence to the false notion that there was election fraud that needs to be investigated.

"I really do believe that you pushing (impeachment) is going to further divide our country, further the unrest and possibly incite more violence," Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., who voted against certifying the election results, said on Tuesday. "Please, let's just move on and heal the country."

The allegation of widespread election fraud has been debunked over and over again. Trump's lawyers have lost or had tossed out dozens of court cases challenging the results of the election. Dozens of state and local election officials from both parties have affirmed the integrity of their voting processes.

Attorney General William Barr said there was no evidence of widespread fraud. (He has since stepped down.) And on Friday, the Justice Department ended its investigation of the Pennsylvania election - more specifically, into nine ballots found thrown away in the state - saying there was "insufficient evidence to prove criminal intent on the part of the person who discarded the ballots."

Still, some Trump allies have shifted their message on voter fraud after pressure from outside forces. Dominion Voting Systems, whose voting machines have been at the center of some of the wildest election-related conspiracy theories, has filed several lawsuits against Trump's lawyers and right-wing media outlets.

When threatened with legal action, a number of Trump's media allies have apologized for perpetuating the president's false claims of voter fraud. The conservative magazine American Thinker issued an unprecedented statement of contrition on Friday, retracting several pieces that had falsely accused Dominion of conspiring to steal the election from Trump. Thomas Lifson, the magazine's editor and publisher, acknowledged those pieces had relied on "discredited sources who have peddled debunked theories" that had "no basis in fact."

"Industry experts and public officials alike have confirmed that Dominion conducted itself appropriately and that there is simply no evidence to support these claims," Lifson said in the statement. "It was wrong for us to publish these false statements. We apologize to Dominion for all of the harm this caused them and their employees. We also apologize to our readers for abandoning 9 journalistic principles and misrepresenting Dominion's track record and its limited role in tabulating votes for the November 2020 election. We regret this grave error."

Right-leaning news channels Fox News and Newsmax have also aired similar segments walking back prior suggestions of wrongdoing by voting machines manufacturers when faced with possible legal action.

While Republican lawmakers have not faced the same legal liabilities, those who have doubled down on their support for Trump's claims of election fraud have faced fallout in other ways. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., led efforts to object to Biden's win and still voted against certifying the electoral college votes even after the Capitol siege. He has since lost a book deal and was condemned by some of his longtime GOP allies and constituents.

On Saturday, Axios reported that the communications director for Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., had quit after the congresswoman's unapologetic support for QAnon and Trump's conspiracy theories. Cruz's communications director left her job this week for similar reasons. Elected officials from Mississippi, Kansas and Missouri who voted against certification have faced growing pressure to state that the election was not stolen or resign.

"Mississippi and the nation must hold U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Reps. Trent Kelly, Steven Palazzo and Michael Guest accountable for their complicity in the lies that Donald Trump has used to foment fear, doubt and, ultimately, insurrection," stated a Jackson Free-Press editorial this week.

Ten House Republicans ultimately voted with Democrats to impeach Trump on an article of "incitement of insurrection," and a handful of GOP senators have voiced support for or left open the possibility of voting to convict him.

One of them, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has not held back in excoriating Trump for pushing lies and conspiracy theories about the election, and has said the Republican Party is at a crossroads moving forward.

"The violence that Americans witnessed - and that might recur in the coming days - is not a protest gone awry or the work of 'a few bad apples.' It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice," Sasse wrote in a fiery essay published by the Atlantic on Saturday. "... Until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can't. The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about."

Published : January 18, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Amy B Wang