Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and a group of other Senate Republicans finally acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory this week — and then Johnson’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a Wednesday hearing aimed at undermining it.
Biden’s decisive Electoral College victory on Monday forced Johnson and some of his Republican colleagues to belatedly recognize the reality of President Donald Trump’s defeat, after weeks of suggesting Trump might still somehow be declared the winner of November’s election. Now unable to deny Biden will be the next president, the hearing basically served as a platform for Republicans to lie about Biden’s win being tainted.
“The election in many ways was stolen,” claimed Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at one point, in the bluntest example of how Republicans tried turning reality on its head.
But Paul didn’t even try to offer evidence to back his assertion up. And state officials spanning the political spectrum have one and all reported no irregularities that affected the result — many swing states held multiple recounts to ensure that this was the case.
"The election in many ways was stolen," Rand Paul lies, citing no evidence pic.twitter.com/G4m7mU7qRV— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 16, 2020
The witness list illustrated how Johnson tried to stack the deck. Among them were two attorneys for the Trump campaign, a Republican state legislator from Pennsylvania, and Ken Starr, the former Bill Clinton investigator who is perhaps best known these days as a Trump-friendly talking head on Fox News.
All of those witnesses either had obvious bias or little to no firsthand information about the security of the 2020 election. But the exception to that was Chris Krebs, the former head of the Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) who Trump fired by tweet last month after he refuted Trump’s lies and conspiracy theories by calling the election “the most secure in American history.”
Krebs, a Republican, repeatedly knocked down suggestions from Johnson and others that the election results were somehow manipulated by pointing out that the counts in all the states the Trump campaign contested are backed up by paper ballots.
Ron Johnson looks like he has indigestion as Krebs denounces Republican election fraud lies that have resulted in him and other officials receiving threats pic.twitter.com/hVjVwp1rVN— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 16, 2020
“It’s important to step back and actually look at how votes are cast in the country, particularly with paper ballots, and that regardless of any internet connections, regardless of foreign hacking, as long as you’ve got the paper receipt ... you can check your math.”
“Georgia did that three times and the outcomes were consistent,” Krebs added, alluding to the repeated recounts in Georgia that all showed Biden defeating Trump.
Krebs: "That's why it's so important to have a paper trail & paper ballots. So even if there was foreign interference of a malicious algorithm nature, you can go back to the receipts. You can check your math, and Georgia did that 3 times & the outcomes were consistent." pic.twitter.com/1Rq4FYnCsO— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 16, 2020
Krebs tried to patiently explain the safeguards that were in place to prevent election fraud, but at other points he didn’t try to hide the fact that he thinks Republicans needs to move on.
“I think we’re past the point where we need to be having conversations about the outcome of this election,” Krebs said, adding later: “We have to stop this. It’s undermining confidence in democracy.”
Much of Johnson’s hearing could’ve been mistaken for a Fox News segment
The ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), began the hearing by castigating Republicans for wasting time with a hearing aimed at delegitimizing President-elect Biden in particular and US elections in general.
“Whether intended or not, this hearing gives a platform to conspiracy theories and lies and is a destructive exercise that has no place in the US Senate. Joe Biden won the election,” Peters said during his opening statement.
“There were no widespread election irregularities that affected the final outcome. These claims are false. And giving them more oxygen is a grave threat to the future of our democracy,” he added.
Peters: "There were no widespread election irregularities that affected the final outcome. These claims are false. And giving them more oxygen is a grave threat to the future of our democracy... we have seen democracies around the world crumble b/c of similar words and actions." pic.twitter.com/ioGyB1Qxkr— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 16, 2020
But those comments didn’t sit well with Johnson, who called them “galling” and sparked a heated exchange with Peters by calling him a liar.
“This is not about airing your grievances,” Peters fired back, prompting Johnson to repeatedly bang his gavel in an effort to silence him.
A very heated moment between Ron Johnson and Gary Peters pic.twitter.com/e1zuGb9Kbr— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 16, 2020
In fact, Johnson’s hearing did appear to be mostly about airing grievances. For instance, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) made a case that Republicans raising conspiratorial questions about the election results is no different from Democrats’ “Russia hoax.” An important difference, however, is that while there’s lots of evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, there’s no evidence of significant election irregularities.
Hawley also shared that “yesterday I was talking with some of the constituents back at home — a group of about 30 people — every single one of them, every one of them, told me that they felt they had been disenfranchised, that their votes didn’t matter, that the election had been rigged. These are normal, reasonable people, these are not crazy people.”
Josh Hawley's "these are not crazy people" shirt raises a lot of questions answered by his shirt pic.twitter.com/tikoLawsyG— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 16, 2020
But the fact that Trump voters believe the conspiracy theories Republicans have been pushing about election fraud is not evidence that they’re true. And when Republicans have been challenged in courtrooms and elsewhere to produce evidence that rises beyond insinuation and anecdote, they’ve come up with nothing.
If there was any doubt that Hawley’s comments about election fraud were coming from a place of bad faith, it was resolved by the fact that he directed each of the string of loaded questions he asked to cable news talking head Ken Starr — and not a single one to Krebs, the witness with by far the most firsthand information about the election.
By pandering to Trump, Republicans are putting themselves in bind
Even as more Republicans succumb to the reality of Biden’s win, Wednesday’s hearing illustrated how many of them continue to try to curry favor with Trump, whose lies about the election continue to get more outlandish.
On Tuesday night, for instance, Trump tweeted a debunked conspiracy theory about voting machines switching votes from Trump to Biden — a claim not backed up by any of the recounts that have taken place, including recounts of the paper ballots Krebs mentioned.
“Study: Dominion Machines shifted 2-3% of Trump Votes to Biden. Far more votes than needed to sway election.” Florida, Ohio, Texas and many other states were won by even greater margins than projected. Did just as well with Swing States, but bad things happened. @OANN— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2020
As if on cue, Trump wasted no time after the hearing ended highlighting how effortlessly he lies about anything and everything. He tweeted that Krebs “was totally excoriated and proven wrong at the Senate Hearing,” even though anyone who watched it knows that nothing of the sort happened.
Chris Krebs was totally excoriated and proven wrong at the Senate Hearing on the Fraudulent 2020 Election. Massive FRAUD took place with machines, people voting from out of state, illegals, dead people, no signatures—and so much more!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2020
The defeated president has obvious self-interested reasons for falsely insisting that he only lost because of cheating, but Republican senators are playing a dangerous game. Not only are they delegitimizing US elections, but they’re running the risk of demoralizing Republicans votes who are being told voting doesn’t matter because election results are predetermined.
Just weeks ahead of Georgia runoffs in which control of the US Senate is at stake, the conspiracy theories Republicans like Johnson, Paul, and Hawley are pushing could do serious damage to their cause. But whether they’re thinking beyond crafting the perfect 30-second soundbite for Sean Hannity’s Fox News show is unclear.