President Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill are urging him not to concede even after President-elect Joe Biden wins the Electoral College vote next week, calling on their party’s leader to battle it out all the way to the House floor in January as he makes unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud.
The view of Trump’s defenders is at odds with that of many top congressional Republicans, including leaders of the Senate, who believe the election will be over next Monday when electors cast their votes and make Biden’s win official – even though the Democrat’s victory in the presidential race has been clear for weeks.
But conservative House Republicans argue that next week doesn’t mark the end of Trump’s desperate efforts to overturn the election results, which he has failed to do through scores of fruitless lawsuits and brazen efforts to pressure state and local leaders to subvert the will of voters and appoint new slates of electors to the Electoral College. They said that Congress should engage in a full-throated debate over the results in key states because of their allegations of fraud, which have yet to be borne out in court.
Asked if Trump should concede next Monday, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said bluntly: “No. No way, no way, no way.”
“We should still try to figure out exactly what took place here. And as I said that includes, I think, debates on the House floor – potentially on January 6,” Jordan, a trusted Trump confidant, told CNN.
It is not unusual for a losing candidate’s most fervent supporters to take their case to the House floor – something that occurred after the 2016, 2004 and 2000 presidential races. But it is unusual for the losing candidate to mount a weeks-long public campaign aimed at sowing discord and distrust over a pillar of democracy, something that Trump has done relentlessly since losing the race.
Even if Trump loses a bevy of GOP support for his unprecedented quest after next week, the backing of his staunchest supporters is likely to only encourage the mercurial President to continue his barrage of attacks against the integrity of the elections.
Indeed, the efforts to change the outcome of the election are destined to fail but are bound to engender distrust over the election results despite Republican and Democratic assertions that the election was safe and secure and that no amount of fraud had been discovered that would change the ultimate result that Biden had been elected the 46th President of the United States.
“That’s a ways away,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican another close Trump ally, said when asked if Trump should concede after next week. “There are members who believe there could be value in having substantive debate of what occurred in states with substantial irregularities,” he said. “I don’t believe that 10 hours of debate on that subject would impair the union.”
Asked if he considers the election over on December 14, Rep. Andy Biggs, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, said: “I’m exhausting every option before I consider that.”
Biggs was just reelected to a third term in Arizona, a state where Trump disputes, without evidence, that Biden won the race.
Biggs told CNN he doesn’t dispute that he won his own race, but “I dispute the presidential election results,” arguing it’s “almost inexplainable” since Republicans were successful in key races across the board in Arizona other than for the White House, though they lost a Senate race too.
“What you have is the very top of the ticket – that’s where the problems were,” he said.
But Democratic and Republican officials in Arizona reject that charge, which has yet to gain any traction in the courts.
“The problems that exist in other states simply don’t apply here,” said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, after the state certified Biden the winner last week.
There’s little that House Republicans can do to change the outcome of the presidential race. But there’s plenty of room for them to make lots of noise before the results are certified by Congress in January.
House GOP leaders are not yet indicating they will try to head off those efforts.
“What I’ve said all along is there’s a legal process that President Trump has been following, and that’s what the law allows and let’s let the process run through,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, the House GOP whip, sidestepping questions on whether Republicans should challenge state election results on the House floor.
Asked if he views December 14 as the end of the race, Scalise said: “Let’s let the legal process work through.”
Next Monday, the states will all meet separately where the electors will cast votes for president and vice president. Those votes are delivered to the required officials, and then a joint session of Congress is held on January 6, for Congress to count the electoral votes and declare the results, as required under the Constitution.
Joint session of Congress
At the joint session, however, any member of Congress can object to a state’s results. All it takes is one House member and one senator to challenge a state’s electors, and the House and Senate are required to stop the joint session to separately deliberate on the matter for two hours and vote on whether to exclude the contested state’s results.
It’s not clear if any Senate Republicans will join their House colleagues to lodge an objection that would spark a formal debate, though several have entertained Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud. And top Senate Republicans have repeatedly pointed to December 14 as the end of the elections as they’ve sought to give Trump space to mount his legal battles and refused to recognize Biden as President-elect.
Asked last week if he considers Biden the President-elect, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the most senior Republican in the chamber, said: “Two weeks from today he will be,” referring to December 14.
“It’ll all be decided on the 14th,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who sits on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team.
Four years ago, House Democrats objected to the results of roughly a dozen states that went for Trump, making claims about Russian election interference and violations of the Voting Rights Act.
But each time the House Democrats – including Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Barbara Lee of California and Maxine Waters of California – tried to raise an objection, they were stopped because no Democratic senator would sign on to the objections.
And it was Biden, who presided over the session as vice president, who shot down the Democratic attempts to contest the results.
“There is no debate,” Biden said repeatedly, gaveling down the lawmakers. “The objection cannot be received without a signature of a senator.”
At one point, Biden responded to an objection by saying, “it is over,” prompting cheers on the Republican side of the chamber and a laugh from then-House Speaker Paul Ryan seated behind him.
This time around, it will be Vice President Mike Pence who will preside over the joint session and would be tasked with responding to objections raised by House Republicans.
Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said he had not yet talked to Pence about the House GOP’s strategy on the House floor, but he said there should be a debate.
“I know we have members who feel that way, feel very strongly about we should be debating what took place in Pennsylvania,” Jordan said. “But, you know, you had all kinds of crazy things happening in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, all these in Nevada.”
Jordan added: “So everything you look at doesn’t make sense.”
Trump’s allies, especially attorney Sidney Powell who has closely aligned with but is not officially part of the presidential campaign, continue to allege nefarious activities changed the result of the election and try to overturn Biden’s popular vote win in court. Federal and state judges have repeatedly rejected the efforts as the states have each certified Biden as the winner and as Trump’s legal team has failed to produce any evidence of widespread voter fraud in court.
Still, Republicans from states Trump is contesting continue to be placed in a bind, including in Georgia where GOP Gov. Brian Kemp has resisted Trump’s stunning demand to call a special legislative session to name a new slate of electors, a move that that would provoke an uproar and immediately be litigated in court.
Rep. Buddy Carter, a Republican of Georgia, wouldn’t say Monday if he sided with Kemp or Trump.
“There are obviously questions about the result,” Carter said when asked if he agrees with his state’s results. “And I applaud the President for what he’s doing. I think he has the right and the responsibility to question, as we all do, as citizens.”
Asked if he would try to object to his state’s results on the House floor in January, Carter said: “There’s a lot to do between now and then so we’ll see.”
In 2001, a group of House Democrats tried to object to George W. Bush’s win in Florida, but no Democratic senator joined. Vice President Al Gore, who lost to Bush, was in the position of ruling against the Democrats’ objections and declaring the ultimate win for Bush. In 2005, then-California Sen. Barbara Boxer joined her House Democratic colleagues to field an objection over Bush’s decisive win in Ohio over John Kerry, leading to votes in both chambers that easily rejected the objection.
Even if a senator does join in with the GOP House members, it’s highly likely to fail this time around, with Republicans holding a narrow 50-48 majority in the chamber – the joint session is the day after the two Georgia Senate runoff races. Plus at least a handful of Republican senators have rejected Trump’s fraud claims, saying that Biden won and is President-elect.
Still, Trump’s allies aren’t giving up hope yet.
“The runway is getting shorter, but I think there’s still some runway that we can land on,” Biggs said.
CNN’s Lauren Koenig contributed to this report.