Just hours after GOP leadership in the state House indicated they would not move to upend Pennsylvania’s election results in Harrisburg, Speaker Bryan Cutler and Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff joined more than 60 Republican colleagues Friday in calling on members of Congress to do it instead.
In a letter Democrats dismissed as a stunt, the GOP lawmakers disavowed the election’s outcome — an 81,000-vote victory for President-elect Joe Biden — and accused Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, of “undermining the many protections” they had written into a law passed a year ago to expand widespread voting by mail.
“For these reasons,” they wrote to the state’s congressional delegation, “We the undersigned members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly urge you to object … to the Electoral College votes received from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
The letter came as President Donald Trump continued his attempts to cast doubt on the integrity of the election, despite a lack of evidence to support his claims of widespread fraud.
But the missive’s release Friday also capped a dizzying few hours marked by intraparty Republican sniping and stinging accusations lobbed by the president’s closest allies.
Just a day earlier, Cutler (R., Lancaster) and Benninghoff (R., Centre) had unequivocally stated — in a memo cosigned by Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) and President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) — that state legislators had no authority to ignore certified election results and appoint Pennsylvania’s delegates to the Electoral College themselves, despite repeated calls from the president and some within their own party to do so.
“It would … set a precedent that a simple majority of the General Assembly can override the will of the people as evidenced by the popular vote,” the GOP leaders said.
That statement drew a swift rebuke from top Trump advisers on Friday. Lawyer Rudy Giuliani accused them in a tweet of “covering up for Dem[ocrat] crimes” and misleading the president. He said he was ashamed of them for “let[ting] America down.”
Legal adviser Jenna Ellis went further, retweeting a stinging rebuke from another Giuliani ally who called the GOP leadership team in Harrisburg “liars,” “cowards,” and “traitors.”
Within hours of those attacks, Cutler, Benninghoff, and the other House Republicans issued their letter urging Congress to block the awarding of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes.
In it, they reiterated many of the complaints featured in the Trump campaign’s unsuccessful legal challenges, including disputes over the access that partisan monitors had to the vote-counting and the fact that some counties had allowed voters to correct mail ballots that were in danger of being disqualified.
When it was first released Friday the letter originally included 75 signatories. But when the Pennsylvania Capital-Star contacted some of them, at least seven House members said their names had been added to the letter without their consent.
House Republicans later issued a revised version late Friday evening with only 64 names attached and blamed a clerical error for the earlier mistake.
No matter how many names were attached, Wolf dismissed the efforts as “a shameful attack on democracy.”
“Pennsylvania had a fair and secure election,” the governor said. “Pennsylvanians deserve better from their elected officials. It’s time to move on.”
Election law experts described the extreme remedy the state House Republicans proposed Friday — asking Congress to block the awarding of Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes — as unlikely to succeed.
The proposal relies on a rarely used maneuver in an obscure federal law detailing how presidential election results are officially certified at the national level after the Dec. 14 Electoral College vote.
On Jan. 6, the U.S. House and Senate meet in a joint session to sign off on those results. Normally, this process plays out as a formality and the electors’ decision is accepted.
But all it takes is one member of the House and one senator to object to any state’s slate of presidential electors to potentially gum up the works.
If a challenge is filed to Pennsylvania’s electors, the full House and the full Senate would have to debate the issue and cast separate votes on whether to accept that objection. It would take a simple majority for both chambers to sustain it.
The House, controlled by Democrats, will almost certainly vote down any such challenge. And while Republicans will hold a slim majority in the Senate at the time the vote takes place, no senator has publicly entertained supporting such a challenge. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said flatly Friday that he will not be objecting to Pennsylvania’s electors.
Even if other senators were to do so, it is unlikely they could persuade a majority of their colleagues to back the effort. So, while it is possible that some member of Congress will object to Pennsylvania’s electors on Jan. 6, especially in the House — where Trump allies like Mike Kelly (R., Pa.) have already sued in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the state’s vote through the courts — it is extremely unlikely that such a challenge will be any more effective than those lawsuits, said Josh A. Douglas, an election law expert at the University of Kentucky.
“There is no way this gambit will impact Joe Biden becoming president,” he said. “It’s absurd.”
But Kelly, in particular, has not flinched thus far in the face of long odds. He continues to press his legal bid to throw out every mail ballot cast in Pennsylvania this year despite the state’s highest court rejecting his suit.
He turned Thursday to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to declare the state’s vote-by-mail law unconstitutional and to “decertify” the state’s results.
Just hours after the congressman filed that appeal, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. issued a schedule for the case that appeared to foreclose any chance of the justices weighing in before the Electoral College vote had been finalized.
Alito, who handles emergency matters arising out of Pennsylvania for the court, gave state officials until Dec. 9 to file their reply — one day after the federal deadline for locking the state’s slate of electors in place.
Meanwhile, Trump lawyers Giuliani and Ellis have vowed to take the Trump campaign’s own legal challenge — one rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit last week — to the Supreme Court as well.
But despite confidently predicting that the 6-3 conservative majority the president helped cement there would rule in its favor, Trump’s legal team has taken no steps since then to actually file that appeal.
Staff writer Jonathan Lai and Marie Albiges and Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA contributed to this article.
Read the state House members’ letter to Congress: