November 11, 2020
There are two reasons why most Senate Republicans refuse to acknowledge Joe Biden as president-elect: Georgia and Georgia.
Simply put, the party needs President Donald Trump’s help to clinch two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 that will determine the fate of the Senate GOP’s majority. And accepting the presidential results ahead of Trump, a politician driven by loyalty, could put Republicans at odds with the president and his core supporters amid the must-win elections down South.
On Tuesday, most GOP senators continued to support Trump’s legal fights against his electoral losses, despite no evidence of the widespread voting malfeasance that Trump claims has swung tens of thousands of votes to Biden in multiple states. That’s because when the presidential election is finally certified, Republicans hope that Trump will put on his red jersey this winter and help deliver his conservative base for Georgia’s Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
“We need his voters. And he has a tremendous following out there,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota. “Right now, he’s trying to get through the final stages of his election and determine the outcome there. But when that’s all said and done, however it comes out, we want him helping in Georgia.”
Vice President Mike Pence told Senate Republicans at a party lunch Tuesday he will head to Georgia to campaign for the GOP candidates on Nov. 20, and some Republicans believe Trump will eventually follow.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said that even if Biden officially clinches the election Trump will want to make sure his legacy is “not completely undone” by a Democratic Senate.
“He’s got a vested interest in making sure we keep the majority,” Cornyn said.
While Republicans spent Tuesday celebrating a number of battleground state wins and reelecting the Senate GOP’s leadership team, the party has unmistakably shifted its attention to the Peach State. The topic dominated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s meeting with his top lieutenants on Monday evening and spilled over into Tuesday’s party meetings, according to two people familiar with the gatherings.
A handful of Republicans have acknowledged Biden as the president-elect in recent days, while others have embraced Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election. But most Republicans are saying the president’s legal fights should play out and simply won’t congratulate Biden yet, even as some concede the vote tallies are unlikely to be reversed.
As unusual as that position is, GOP senators hope it mollifies the president enough to turn him into an ally at a critical moment.
“We have two races in Georgia, and we don’t want people thinking: ‘Well shit, my vote doesn’t matter, so why should I turn out?’ So we’re going to just hang on and be supportive where we can,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to explain the GOP’s thinking. “That’s what our base needs to see. We know by Jan. 20, it’s gotta happen, the hammer’s going to fall. So if they’re going to file lawsuits, they better come up with evidence right away.”
McConnell has led the charge on this position, delicately acknowledging that Trump has the right to legal challenges while declining to endorse baseless accusations of voter fraud being leveled by the White House and Trump’s allies. He said if Trump loses, Biden’s transition to power will not be affected by the series of legal challenges. And he dismissed concern over the president’s tactics: “It’s not unusual. It should not be alarming, at some point we’ll find out who is certified.”
No one pays closer attention to Senate races than McConnell. And he knows that Trump will be important in Georgia. Republicans need to win at least one of the races to keep the majority. A Democratic sweep would mean a 50-50 tie and throw the Senate to Democrats with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker.
Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said “it would be my hope” that Trump aids Loeffler and Perdue and added: “That’s the feeling of the majority leader also.” Other senators are assuming Trump — who loves to campaign — will come through for them at crunch time.
“I can’t imagine he’s not going to. I’d be surprised” if Trump doesn’t rally in Georgia, said Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who will campaign there later this week and take over the National Republican Senatorial Committee next year. “I hope the president is active and he’ll be a positive influence.”
“I expect he would. But my guess is he’s primarily focused on the legal matters that they’re pursuing,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He said Trump’s legal challenges are totally normal: “What do you think election lawyers do all day?”
In some ways the GOP’s strategy is reminiscent of how they might handle an incendiary Trump tweet: Avoid breaking with the president and hope it goes away, knowing some new controversy is always around the corner. But Democrats say their stance is dangerous, and that Republicans’ refusal to stand up to Trump and maintain the election’s integrity will have lasting negative consequences far beyond two Senate races in a swing state.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said if Trump’s voters lose faith in the election, then “I’m not sure democracy hangs around for 100 more years.”
“There is an epidemic of delusion that is spreading out from the White House and infecting the entire Republican Party in the wake of this election,” Murphy said in a floor speech on Tuesday afternoon. “President Trump didn’t win the election. Every single one of my colleagues knows this.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.