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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Home of Representatives reconvenes in Washington

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By Chris Kahn, Soyoung Kim, Jason Lange, James Oliphant and Tim Reid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – On Jan. 6, proper after the lethal riot on the U.S. Capitol, 147 Republican lawmakers voted the way in which then-president Donald Trump and the rioters had demanded – to overturn his election loss, after months of Trump’s baseless claims that the election had been stolen.

A month later, the Republican occasion stays paralyzed by that false narrative. Absolutely 133 of these lawmakers, or 90%, are actually declining to both endorse or repudiate Trump’s persevering with insistence that he was cheated by systemic voter fraud, in keeping with a Reuters survey of all 147 lawmakers and a overview of public statements they made to clarify their votes towards certifying the Electoral Faculty outcomes.

Simply two of these lawmakers instructed Reuters they believed the election was stolen by fraud; two others who didn’t reply to repeated inquiries made comparable public statements beforehand. Ten of the 147 lawmakers instructed Reuters they don’t consider the stolen-election narrative; they cited unrelated causes for his or her failed try to invalidate hundreds of thousands of votes. (For a graphic on the survey outcomes, click on https://tmsnrt.rs/2LitFGv )

The refusal by the overwhelming majority of the 147 lawmakers to take a agency stand on the reality of Trump’s central declare underscores the political peril they face as they wrestle to appease voters on either side of a rift within the Republican Occasion.

Many Republican lawmakers consider they’ll’t survive challenges in occasion major elections with out the votes of Trump supporters who’re enraged at any suggestion that he misplaced a good election to Democrat Joe Biden, Republican strategists mentioned. The lawmakers additionally worry shedding basic elections towards Democrats with out the votes of extra reasonable Republicans and independents who’re repelled by Trump’s false fraud claims and his alleged incitement of the Capitol riot.

The Reuters survey illuminates a semantic sleight-of-hand many Republican lawmakers have adopted to keep away from taking a agency place on stolen-election claims that have been discredited by judges in additional than 60 lawsuits that did not overturn the election end result. Many lawmakers tried as a substitute to string a rhetorical needle – saying, as an example, that they’d “stand with” Trump to guard “election integrity” or “the Structure” – whereas avoiding any point out of Trump’s debunked fraud claims, the Reuters overview of their public statements reveals.

Most lawmakers cited authorized arguments that some states’ expansions of mail-in or early voting throughout the coronavirus pandemic violated the U.S. Structure – a rivalry rejected by a number of courts in Trump’s failed challenges to the election end result.

The lawmakers who declined to supply a yes-or-no reply to the Reuters survey included a few of the most strident backers of Trump’s bid to overturn the election, similar to Consultant Mo Brooks of Alabama. Brooks spoke at Trump’s rally earlier than the Capitol riots and inspired “patriots” in attendance to begin “taking down names and kicking ass.” In a Jan. 4 public assertion explaining his vote to overturn the election outcomes, Brooks railed towards “the biggest voter fraud and election theft scheme in American historical past.” However when requested instantly by Reuters if Trump misplaced due to fraud, Brooks prevented a transparent reply. He as a substitute relied on technical arguments involving some states’ voting course of adjustments, saying in a press release that Trump misplaced as a result of some votes, in his view, weren’t “Structure-compliant” and “lawful.”

Whereas the overwhelming majority of the 147 lawmakers by no means endorsed Trump’s outlandish fraud allegations, their assist of his bid to overturn the election performed a vital position in perpetuating the stolen-election fable that has develop into a central flashpoint in American politics. The newest Reuters/Ipsos ballot on the topic, taken Jan. 20 and 21, exhibits that 61% of Republicans nonetheless believed Trump misplaced due to election-rigging and unlawful voting.

The lawmakers’ try to appease newly polarized camps of voters inside the Republican Occasion “gained’t fly” with voters on both facet of that divide, mentioned Gabriel Sterling, a prime Georgia election official – and a Republican – who has been debunking what he referred to as “nonsensical” election fraud claims because the Nov. 3 vote.

“They have been attempting to have their cake and eat it, too,” he mentioned of the lawmakers.

That gained’t work, Sterling mentioned, as a result of future voters will type their opinions on the lawmakers’ actions – their vote to overturn the election – quite than their phrases explaining their causes. Each pro- and anti-Trump voters, he mentioned, are going to see “147 individuals who agree with Trump that the election was stolen.”

Some Republicans are fed up within the wake of the Capitol riots they consider Trump incited. In a single hanging instance, Reuters reported this week that dozens of Republicans who labored within the administration of former President George W. Bush are leaving the occasion out of disgust on the failure of most elected Republicans to disown Trump’s try to overturn the election. (For full story, click on https://reut.rs/3ay9xJ2 )

Trump’s false fraud claims are more likely to determine in his impeachment trial subsequent week within the Senate on a cost of inciting riot. Democrats face the steep problem of convincing 17 Republicans to affix in convicting the previous president. His legal professionals, in a doc laying out his protection, have signaled Trump will proceed to insist within the proceedings that his stolen-election story is true.

Republican strategist Alex Conant – a former aide to Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and a former spokesman for the Republican Nationwide Committee – mentioned Republican Home members largely backed Trump’s bid to overturn the election out of worry of angering his base of voters. However these in additional reasonable districts – or senators who marketing campaign in statewide races – might pay a heavy political worth for his or her votes towards certifying the outcomes.

That dynamic was evident within the Jan. 5 losses by each Republican candidates in two U.S. Senate races in Georgia, who have been perceived as sturdy backers of Trump’s fraud claims.

“Any race the place independents are an element, this turns into very awkward,” Conant mentioned. “Senators are rather more hesitant to go down the trail of election fraud for that cause.”

Many of the 147 lawmakers come from closely Republican Home districts the place voters backed Trump by broad margins. However 43 of them hail from extra reasonable Home districts the place they gained their basic election final November by lower than 20 share factors; inside that group, 20 of the lawmakers gained by lower than 10 factors.

Jason Miller, a consultant for Trump, didn’t reply questions from Reuters about its survey outcomes and the refusal of many of the 147 lawmakers to endorse the previous president’s stolen-election declare.

The Biden White Home didn’t reply to requests for remark.

HAWLEY, CRUZ DENY TRYING TO ‘OVERTURN’ ELECTION

On Jan. 6, the 2 homes of the U.S. Congress held votes on whether or not to just accept the Electoral Faculty outcomes from the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania, although members additionally questioned different states’ elections throughout the debates. Congressional certification of the outcomes, which happens in each U.S. presidential election, has virtually at all times been a formality by which members declare a winner after merely counting Electoral Faculty votes beforehand submitted by every state, based mostly on its fashionable vote. (For a graphic on how the Electoral Faculty works, click on https://tmsnrt.rs/3lUKcgv https://tmsnrt.rs/3lUKcgv) )

The 147 Republicans who voted to reject the 2 states’ outcomes included 139 Home members – about two-thirds of the occasion’s Home caucus – and eight of the 51 Republican senators serving on the time within the 100-member chamber.

Reuters requested the workplace of each lawmaker who voted towards the certification of Electoral Faculty outcomes a single query on the coronary heart of the political disaster: Do you consider that Donald Trump misplaced the election due to voter fraud? Reporters then adopted up with every workplace to hunt a yes-or-no reply and extra remark.

The overwhelming majority – 133 – both declined to reply or didn’t reply to repeated inquiries. Reuters additionally reviewed all of the lawmakers’ public statements and Twitter postings explaining their votes. For some members, Reuters additionally reviewed public statements and speeches at a rally Trump held simply earlier than the riot and on the ground of Congress earlier than the vote on the election outcomes.

The 2 senators who led the coalition of Senate objectors – Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley – each prevented instantly endorsing Trump’s fraud claims at the same time as they pushed for a particular fee to analyze them. Each have confronted backlash from company donors and reasonable Republicans within the wake of the riots, as have lots of the lawmakers who voted to reject Electoral Faculty outcomes.

A spokesman for Cruz declined to reply the Reuters survey query or to supply extra remark. Representatives for Hawley didn’t reply to repeated inquiries.

Hawley, outdoors the Capitol on Jan. 6, raised his fist in solidarity with protesters as they demanded that the “traitors” in Congress unseat Biden and set up Trump. But after that protest devolved right into a lethal riot, Hawley made no fraud declare in explaining his vote towards the election outcomes on the Senate ground. He as a substitute centered solely on the argument that the Pennsylvania legislature in 2019 – which was then, as now, managed by Republicans – violated the state structure by increasing mail-in voting.

That’s the identical argument from a failed lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly and different plaintiffs. The state Supreme Courtroom referred to as the swimsuit’s timing “past cavil” – which means petty – noting that plaintiffs waited till after Trump misplaced to object to a regulation the state legislature handed in 2019, with bipartisan assist, and to hunt the “extraordinary” treatment of nullifying 6.9 million votes. The U.S. Supreme Courtroom denied a petition to overview the state courtroom choice.

Each Cruz and Hawley, echoing many different lawmakers, have mentioned they by no means meant to overturn the election.

“Let me be clear,” Cruz mentioned in his speech contained in the Capitol on the day of the riots. “I’m not arguing for setting apart the results of this election.”

Days earlier, Cruz gave a special reply when pressed on the aim of his assist for the thought of appointing an investigative fee into electoral fraud. Fox Information host Maria Bartiromo requested him: What occurs if the fee finds fraud?

“Then the outcomes must be put aside,” he mentioned, arguing that the nation’s founders gave Congress the last word energy to find out “what counts as a sound vote.”

‘ABSURD’ LEGAL ARGUMENTS

After the riots, Cruz condemned Trump’s stolen-election rhetoric as reckless even because the senator continued to defend his vote to overturn the outcomes. Trump by no means proved his claims of “large fraud” or that the election was “stolen in every single place,” Cruz mentioned in his podcast, the Verdict, on Jan. 23. “That’s not accountable, and also you’ve by no means heard me use language like that.”

Conant, the Republican strategist, mentioned such cautious and contradictory positioning might not insulate the lawmakers who voted to overturn the outcomes from blowback in future elections.

“Nuance isn’t a profitable message in politics,” Conant mentioned. “At any time when politicians attempt to be lawyerly or have it each methods, they find yourself turning off extra individuals.”

In interviews and public statements, a few of the 147 lawmakers now say their objections had nothing to do with voter fraud. Greater than 80 of them have cited one specific constitutional argument. They contend that, in battleground states Trump misplaced, state courts and election officers violated the U.S. Structure by making procedural adjustments similar to increasing mail-in voting or extending vote-counting deadlines with out a vote of their state legislature.

That principle was rejected by judges ruling on a few of the lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies, together with a federal choose in Wisconsin who mentioned it lacked “widespread sense.” Lawrence Douglas – a authorized scholar who referred to as the argument “absurd” – mentioned such procedural adjustments by state election officers or courts are “fairly routine,” and repeatedly delegated by state legislatures to election directors.

Douglas, an election regulation specialist at Amherst Faculty, mentioned the passage of the Structure cited by lawmakers – Article 2, part 1 – says solely that state legislatures ought to decide “the way” by which electors are chosen, similar to by fashionable vote, as occurs in each U.S. state. Course of adjustments similar to extending a mail-in poll deadline have “nothing to do with altering the way in which electors must be chosen,” Douglas mentioned.

HOW DEMOCRACY FAILS

Solely a handful of the 147 lawmakers are explicitly backing Trump’s stolen-election claims. The 2 that instructed Reuters they believed voter fraud robbed Trump of victory are Home members Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

Two others – Home members Louie Gohmert and Ronny Jackson, each of Texas – didn’t reply to the Reuters survey however have explicitly claimed in different public statements that Trump misplaced due to voter fraud. A handful of different lawmakers have publicly alleged widespread fraud however didn’t declare, of their statements explaining their votes, that the alleged fraud was in depth sufficient to alter the election’s consequence.

Greene declined an interview request. A spokesman, Nick Dyer, confirmed that she believes the election was stolen. Greene mentioned Trump “gained by a landslide” in a single current video and made different comparable statements.

Newly elected in November, Greene has taken a hail of criticism since becoming a member of Congress for her historical past of constructing allegedly anti-semitic statements and endorsing a bunch of outlandish conspiracy theories. The debunked theories she has embraced embrace QAnon, which holds that elite Democrats are a part of a cabal of Devil-worshipping pedophiles and cannibals.

Gosar spokeswoman Jessica Lycos mentioned the Arizona congressman “strongly believes” the election was stolen from Trump, although she added that “we are able to’t clarify the way it occurred.” Gosar, she mentioned, is satisfied that statistical anomalies in Arizona’s election information recommend that a whole bunch of hundreds of ballots had been altered or miscounted.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, referred to as that declare one in every of many “imprecise” conspiracy theories that Gosar has promoted. Such baseless claims, she mentioned, undermine “the inspiration of our democracy.”

Many of the 10 Republican lawmakers who now say they don’t consider Trump misplaced a rigged election had beforehand issued comparatively delicate statements that prevented any direct allegation of fraud. However one in every of them – Rep. Madison Cawthorn, newly elected from North Carolina – made a speech at Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, firing up the group to “battle” the election end result simply earlier than the storming of the Capitol.

“The Democrats – with all of the fraud they’ve performed on this election – the Republicans hiding and never combating, they’re attempting to silence your voice!” Cawthorn shouted within the speech. “They haven’t any spine!”

Cawthorn spokesman Micah Bock instructed Reuters: “Rep. Cawthorn can’t show fraud.” Bock mentioned Cawthorn as a substitute relied on the identical constitutional principle most of his colleagues cited in explaining their votes.

Solely Republican leaders can restore voters’ confidence within the safety of U.S. elections, and solely by firmly repudiating Trump’s fraud claims, mentioned Nicholas Valentino, a College of Michigan political science professor.

“We’ve seen in lots of different international locations how democracy fails,” he mentioned, “and it fails most frequently on this method – as a result of electoral outcomes should not thought-about respectable by the residents themselves.”

(Refiles to repair typo in paragraph 8.)