This story has been updated to reflect that Scalise and Johnson have now publicly taken a position on today's vote.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson and perhaps other Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation will vote against certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory on Wednesday, an effort that is nearly certain to fail and that has generated scathing criticism from other Republicans as dangerous for democracy.
Kennedy, Scalise, Higgins and Johnson have yet to produce evidence to back their claims that fraud and other irregularities cloud Biden’s election. All 50 states have certified the results, including hotly contested Georgia, where a Republican oversees the state voting system and has attested to its efficacy.
So far, only about 13 Republican senators out of a caucus of 50 are backing a demand by President Donald Trump that Congress not accept the Electoral College result from several states that Biden won narrowly. More than 100 Republicans in the House also are expected to not accept the Electoral College results.
The move – which begins Wednesday at noon Central Standard Time and will likely involve hours of debate – is doomed to fail because denying the election result would require a majority vote in both the House and the Senate, and Trump and his congressional allies lack the votes in both chambers.
Wednesday’s vote has riven the GOP, forcing Republican lawmakers to decide between backing the outgoing president – who leads a bloc of tens of millions of fervent supporters – or siding with others, such as U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who wrote in an op-ed posted Tuesday that if it did not certify the result, “Congress would take away the power to choose the president from the people and place it in the hands of whichever party controls Congress.”
Faced with this choice, only U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, has not said publicly how he plans to vote on Wednesday and why. He has not responded to requests for comment from The Advocate and The Times-Picayune.
Scalise and Johnson both said they believed that several battleground states won by Biden had improperly selected presidential electors in explaining their reason for today's vote. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out such a challenge last month, but Johnson in a statement Wednesday said that decision was not based on the merits of the argument.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican, is the lone GOP member of the state’s delegation thus far to say he believes the election is over and that Biden won. He has stated repeatedly in recent weeks that he does not plan to challenge Biden’s 306-236 margin in the Electoral College. The winner needs 270 electoral votes.
“All challenges through recounts and appeals have been exhausted,” Cassidy said in a statement issued with a bipartisan group of senators on Sunday. “At this point, further attempts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential election are contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans’ confidence in the already determined election results.”
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from New Orleans who is about to resign to join the Biden administration, has said he will join all other Democrats in certifying the election result. Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District seat is vacant following the death in late December of Congressman-elect Luke Letlow.
In challenging the result, Kennedy and Higgins have portrayed themselves as carrying out a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the president who was fairly elected be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
The 2020 election, Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., wrote on Saturday, “featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.”
Yet about 60 legal challenges filed by Trump and his supporters have uncovered only minimal problems with the election. Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, said last month that he was confident the problems were not enough to overturn Biden’s victory.
Higgins faced grilling by a combative CNN anchor, Jim Sciutto, on Tuesday.
“Let the record show that I gave you multiple chances to present evidence of the fraud,” Sciutto said as the interview neared its conclusion. “If you have it, please share it.”
“I have given you multiple examples,” jumped in Higgins. “Let the evidence show that I have….”
“Rejected by state election officials in Georgia,…” interrupted Sciutto.
“I have in my office, if you care to visit, if you’d like to come and sit with me, I have hundreds of pages of evidence….” said Higgins before Sciutto interrupted again to say, “Rejected by Georgia state officials and courts.”
Edward Chervenak, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans, has a simple explanation for Wednesday’s vote by Kennedy and Higgins.
“It’s just political expediency,” Chervenak said. “Louisiana is a Trump state, so they want to stay on the good side of Donald Trump. They don’t want to be a recipient of angry tweets from the president, and they don’t want to upset his base.”
George Will, the Washington Post’s veteran conservative columnist, was harsher in a column on Monday, writing with disgust that for those who want to overturn the election, the absence of proof shows the sophistication of the conspiracy.
Will called Republicans taking a tough vote in favor of protecting the election result “adults” while he said that Kennedy, Cruz and the others deserve “their seats at the children’s table.”
Cassidy is facing some heat for his view.
About 50 people attended a “Stop the Steal” protest outside his office in Baton Rouge on Tuesday.
The protest’s organizer, Jeff Pollard, said he quit the GOP and registered as an Independent because of his unhappiness with Cassidy.
Debbie Kuehne, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Women, said her members sent multiple emails to Cassidy’s office asking him to challenge the election and received a canned response stating that no evidence of improprieties had emerged.
“I am stupefied as to how he could believe that,” Kuehne said. She questioned what news sources Cassidy relied on, noting that she prefers to watch Newsmax.
Several of the speakers outside Cassidy’s office warned that a Marxist revolution was on the horizon if Biden was inaugurated. One woman held a sign that said, “Don’t let communists take what is yours.”
Henson Moore, who voted for Trump twice, is a former Republican congressman from Baton Rouge who knows something about legal challenges to elections.
Moore seemed to have eked out his election to the House in 1974 by 14 votes, but his Democratic challenger went to court because a voting machine broke down in a precinct favorable to him. A judge decided that he couldn’t determine how that affected the outcome, so he ordered another election, which Moore won.
“I understand the burden of proof when someone challenges an election result,” Moore said. “You have to have proof. You have to have more than ‘I believe.’ But the president hasn’t come close to presenting evidence in any of his lawsuits.”
Moore then referred to Wednesday’s vote in Congress, where he served for 12 years.
“What worries me is the fact that there has to be a point in democracy where you accept the outcome,” Moore said. “If you don’t, you undermine democracy, and we saw that in what we used to call ‘banana republics’ in South America. You can’t have that.”
Staff writers Sam Karlin and Blake Paterson contributed to this report.