Multiple Senate Republicans announced Tuesday they would vote to certify the results of the November election, breaking with their GOP colleagues and Trump, who has accused Republicans of being part of the “surrender caucus” for not supporting his effort to overturn the will of the voters against him. And House Republicans held a lengthy internal debate Tuesday about the merits of trying to overturn the election results, something that’s split top House Republican leaders. Several Republicans dismissed Trump’s claims Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence could intervene to overturn the election on the floor.
Bipartisan opposition will be clear at the onset of Wednesday’s debate, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expected to kick off the floor fight after he’s privately voiced serious reservations and concerns about the conservative effort to overturn the election results at Trump’s behest, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The GOP leader’s comments will occur after Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz objects to Arizona’s Electoral College results during the joint session of Congress on Wednesday, a move that will force the first of multiple expected — and futile — votes in the House and the Senate to overturn the results.
“We’re doing three but we are hoping for six,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who is leading the charge on the House. He added they are still having “lots of conversations with senators.”
The objections on Wednesday during the formal count of electoral votes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will not change the results of the election. Every Democrat and some Republicans will reject the challenges in both chambers, including McConnell.
But the ranks of Republicans who are rejecting the objections underscores the deep uneasiness many have with Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results and his embrace of baseless conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from him.
Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Tim Scott of South Carolina all said on Tuesday they would vote against the GOP objections to the results, while Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas published an op-ed explaining why he also was siding against the objectors, after Trump called him out in a tweet.
“To challenge a state’s certification, given how specific the Constitution is, would be a violation of my oath of office — that is not something I am willing to do and is not something Oklahomans would want me to do,” Inhofe said in a statement.
The objections will extend the normally ceremonial process of counting Electoral College votes into Wednesday evening and possibly beyond. For each state where a House member and senator object, the two chambers will separately recess and debate the matter for up to two hours, followed by a vote on whether to accept or reject the objection.
The exact number of objections that will be raised is still unclear. Cruz and a group of GOP senators held a conference call Monday night with several House members to map out a strategy, though no final decisions were made, according to a source involved in the call. And House Republicans held a lengthy internal debate Tuesday about the merits of trying to overturn the election results.
The states’ Electoral College votes are counted in alphabetical order, so Cruz’s objection to Arizona is likely to be the first debated.
Cruz and nearly a dozen Senate Republicans said this past weekend they planned to object to the Electoral College results unless a commission was appointed to investigate voter fraud. A person familiar with Cruz’s plans argued the objection was not as much about Cruz questioning the election results as it was a reaction to the fact that he has not received the commission to study election results that he and his group of 10 other senators requested.
The objections have sparked a public split in the Republican conference, with those siding with McConnell arguing the effort has no chance of succeeding and is dangerous for democracy. Some of Trump’s allies on the other side are vowing to primary those Republicans who vote against him on Wednesday.
Trump has focused on Wednesday’s congressional session to try to overturn the November election after courts across the country rejected his campaign’s lawsuits challenging the results, and state legislatures in battleground states declined to try to appoint electors that went against the will of the voters in their states.
Trump has also pushed Vice President Mike Pence, falsely claiming on Twitter on Tuesday that Pence could “has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and there is no evidence that electors from the electoral college were fraudulently chosen, as all states have certified their elections. Pence’s role on Wednesday in certifying the results of the election is largely ceremonial.
In a sign that Pence is preparing for his role overseeing the quadrennial session to count the ballots, he was spotted in his office off the Senate floor Sunday meeting with aides and Elizabeth MacDonough, the current Senate parliamentarian.
Several influential House Republicans dismissed Trump’s notion that Pence could reject states’ electors.
“I don’t know how Pence will be able to do anything,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, who will play a key role Wednesday as a “teller” to read and tally the votes. “He’s just the presiding officer.”
House GOP debates objections internally
In the House, Republicans engaged in a debate for more than an hour Tuesday morning over whether to mount an objection on the House floor to overturn the election results, according to multiple members.
The top three leaders — Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise and Liz Cheney — stayed out of the debate and let the conference argue over their differences.
The debate was kicked off by Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy, who argued that the results should not be overturned and that doing so would exceed Congress’ authority. But Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson argued the opposite side.
“People felt for strong constitutional reasons on both sides of the issue,” said Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma and top Republican on the Rules Committee. “The leaders really wanted to let the members talk. It was actually a therapeutic exercise for the conference.”
Cole added: “I think members are still struggling.”
Afterward, Scalise suggested to CNN he was sympathetic to the concerns of the objectors.
“We had a really good discussion about it earlier today,” Scalise said when asked if he was supportive. “Clearly members expressed views on both sides but there have been very valid questions raised for months now about states that went around their own constitutions and their legislatures. And the US Constitution makes it very clear it’s the legislatures who set the rules for choosing electors, and in a number of states that didn’t happen. And that’s been brought out. And I think there’s a lot of discussion.”
While Republicans have raised concerns about voting rules that were put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in states like Pennsylvania, those issues were litigated before the election, and the courts have rejected efforts to disenfranchise voters after the election.
On the Democratic side, lawmakers from the various states that could see objections huddled in their delegations to discuss how to rebut the GOP allegations, and they plan to speak in defense of their states’ elections when objections are mounted.
“Let me say our main message is that the Constitution is clear. The results of the election are clear. The conclusion of courts of the land is clear,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. “And I expect, without a doubt, that the report of the Electoral College and the 306 electoral votes that Mr. Biden got will be confirmed at the end of this process.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Ted Barrett and Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.