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Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP) Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP)

Supporters of President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 24, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • Most top Republicans now agree that the 2020 election was legal and valid.

  • Some Republicans  show reluctance to disavow the myth of election fraud. They prefer to focus on tightening election rules.

More than a month after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, some Republicans still have trouble saying his November election was valid, giving air to the lie that the election was fraudulent.  

In an interview on ABC News’ This Week, Rep. Steve Scalise, second in command of the House Republicans, refused to acknowledge that Biden won fair and square. Here are the key moments in the Feb. 21 exchange between Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl and Scalise.

"Joe Biden won the election," Karl asked. "He is the legitimate president of the United States. The election was not stolen, correct?"

"Look, Joe Biden's the president," Scalise replied."There were a few states that did not follow their state laws. That's really the dispute that you've seen continue on."

Karl tried again.

"Congressman, I know Joe Biden's the president," Karl said. "He lives at the White House. I asked you, is he the legitimate president of the United States, and do you concede that this election was not stolen? Very simple question. Please just answer it."

"Look, once the electors are counted, yes, he's the legitimate president," Scalise said. "But if you're going to ignore the fact that there were states that did not follow their own state legislatively set laws, that's the issue at heart, that millions of people still are not happy with and don't want to see happen again."

Courts at every level, though, have not validated those concerns, including most recently the U.S. Supreme Court, and have rebuffed legal challenges to the 2020 election. 

Members of the mob that stormed the Capitol might have marched under "Stop the Steal" signs, but no investigation in any state has uncovered more than a handful of false ballots. Theories of systemic vote manipulation have crumbled under examination by state officials.

Scalise avoided the positive affirmation that trickery played no role. We wanted to know: What about other congressional leaders? 

While some Washington Republicans share his view, among Republican leadership, Scalise stands out. Few have faced the pointed questioning he encountered on ABC — it’s possible they’ve purposefully avoided questioning — but post-impeachment, we found no comparable claims from GOP leaders in Congress. (We’ve found no Democrats who have questioned Biden’s election.) 

The three top Senate Republicans, Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., John Thune, R-S.D., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., acknowledged Biden’s victory, at the very latest by Dec. 15, after the Electoral College voted. As early as Nov. 6, Thune told reporters that he had seen no evidence that Biden benefited from improper ballots.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, did object to counting Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes during the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress. His reasons were similar to Scalise’s answer on ABC: He said he thought people should follow state law, and that people in Pennsylvania hadn’t. (We’ve rated a similar claim Mostly False.) 

On the House side, Scalise has company in House members such as Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who said Jan. 13 that former President Donald Trump "correctly pointed out unconstitutional behavior, voting irregularities, concerns over tabulations, dead people voting."

So Gaetz went beyond Scalise’s words and affirmed the lie of election fraud.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was another who refused to discard the election fraud myth.

In a Jan. 12 House committee hearing, Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., repeatedly pressed Jordan to "make a statement that the election was not stolen."

"Joe Biden is going to be sworn in as president," Jordan said, and would go no further.

But neither Gaetz nor Jordan holds party leadership positions. The top Republican, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has in the past advanced the theme of an improper election. He signed on to a multi-state lawsuit led by Texas that sought to overturn Pennsylvania’s election. He rejected the Electoral College results from both Pennsylvania and Arizona.

His actions come close to affirming fraud, but we were unable to find a moment since inauguration when McCarthy was asked point blank if he believes the election was fair and honest.

The third ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., became a pariah among many in her party when she stated plainly that there was no evidence of fraud, and that Trump incited the attack on the Capitol.

If no steal, then what?

Scalise’s determined pivot on ABC’s This Week points to the Republicans’ preferred focus going forward. They say the issue is not stolen votes, but the rule of law. Pennsylvania and other states must follow their own rules. The pandemic that prompted states to modify voting to protect public health is insufficient reason.

"That's the issue at heart, that millions of people still are not happy with," Scalise said.

Scott of Florida has adopted that outlook and would impose federal rules. The general concept is a popular theme among Republicans. At the state level, there are over 130 laws under consideration to tighten voting rules.

It’s a cause that enjoys greater support among Republicans than affirming that the 2020 election was legal and valid.

 
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Our Sources

ABC News, This Week, Feb. 21, 2021

Business Insider, Mitch McConnell for the first time appears to accept Biden's election victory over Trump, Dec. 2, 2020

New York Times, McConnell congratulates Biden and lobbies colleagues to oppose a final-stage G.O.P. effort to overturn his victory., Dec. 15, 2020

The Hill, McConnell declines in floor speech to congratulate Biden as president-elect, Nov. 9, 2020

AP, Supreme Court rejects Trump election challenge cases, Feb. 22, 2020

Argus Leader, No evidence shows Biden benefitted from voter fraud, South Dakota Senator John Thune says, Nov. 6

Cowboy State Daily, Barrasso Accepts Biden As President-Elect, Dec. 21, 2020

AP, In a first, leading Republicans call Biden president-elect, Dec. 14, 2020

Politico, Sen. Blunt deflects on calling Biden 'president-elect', Nov. 29, 2020

New York Times , Fox News Host Faces Backlash for Questioning A Trump Lawyer's Claims, Nov. 21, 2020

Miami Herald, How do Miami's Republican leaders view Trump's efforts to overturn the election? Nov. 20, 2020

CNN, False fraud claims fanned Capitol riot. Now they're fueling GOP efforts to restrict voting., Jan. 12, 2021

Politico, Scott's convoluted explanation for election vote, Jan. 22, 2021

Axios, Mitch's heads-ups, Dec. 16, 2020

CNBC, Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy backs Texas’ long-shot Supreme Court bid to overturn Biden wins, Dec. 11, 2020

AL.com, All 6 of Alabama’s GOP House members will challenge Joe Biden’s win, Jan. 6, 2021

Congressional Record, Impeachment of Donald Trump, Jan. 13, 2021

Yahoo News, Rep. Jim Jordan refuses to acknowledge Biden legitimately won the election, Jan. 12, 2021

Brennan Center for Justice, Voting Laws Roundup: February 2021, February 2021

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