Rallying Behind Trump, Most House Republicans Joined Failed Lawsuit

WASHINGTON — In the hours before the Supreme Court rejected it, another 20 House Republicans — including their top leader — joined a legal brief on Friday supporting an extraordinary lawsuit seeking to overturn President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory, underscoring the increasingly extreme lengths to which many in the party are willing to go to invalidate the election results.

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected the suit brought by Texas to throw out the results in four battleground states won by Mr. Biden, but not before more than 60 percent of House Republicans had signed onto the effort. The group reached beyond Mr. Trump’s staunchest allies and included powerful figures such as the chamber’s top two officials and the leaders of influential committees, all of whom put their official stamp on a brazen effort to upend millions of legally cast votes.

The court declined to do so, but the number of House Republicans who backed the effort highlighted their unflagging willingness to stand in support of Mr. Trump no matter how audacious the test — even during his waning days in the White House — and foreshadowed a toxic dynamic awaiting Mr. Biden when he takes office.

The effort to rally lawmakers around the lawsuit had begun earlier this week when Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana sent an email to his Republican colleagues soliciting signatures for the legal brief in support of it. The initiative had been personally blessed by Mr. Trump, Mr. Johnson wrote, and the president was “anxiously awaiting” to see who in Congress would step up to the plate to defend him.

By Friday afternoon, 126 lawmakers had done so, including Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader. Some conceded openly that they did not expect the effort to succeed. Others privately characterized it as a recognition that many of their constituents believed Mr. Trump’s false assertions that he was the true winner of the election.

“A lot of people saw that as a threat to their very existence being in Congress,” Representative Denver Riggleman, Republican of Virginia, said of Mr. Johnson’s email. “They’re getting pressure from multiple angles. They can come out and say they’re defending the president, knowing that it’s a fool’s errand, but that it allows them to stay in good graces with a certain segment of the voting population.”

Mr. Johnson’s call to arms, reported earlier by CNN, amounted to the latest in a series of loyalty tests for elected Republicans that Mr. Trump has effectively laid out on his way out of power, which have exposed divisions in the party that are likely to outlast him. The vast majority of Republicans have been unwilling to question Mr. Trump’s fictitious claims of having won the election. Many have eagerly taken up the allegations themselves, while a small and increasingly marginalized minority has raised alarms about the party’s efforts to sow distrust in the election.

Republicans who signed the brief claimed that the election had been “riddled with an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities” and argued that it was reasonable to ask the justices to review them. There has been no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities, despite Mr. Trump’s allegations, and nearly every one of the signers was just re-elected in the same balloting they claimed was invalid.

“My personal hope is that drawing additional attention to it forces states to clean up their act, and adopt far better and more secure systems going forward that will garner the kind of faith in our elections our nation so desperately needs,” said Representative Dan Crenshaw, Republican of Texas, who signed onto the brief.

But other Republicans on Capitol Hill had been scathing in their condemnations of the suit, which legal experts criticized as lacking merit and as a baseless attempt to indulge Mr. Trump’s fantasies that he won the election.

On Friday, some of them cheered the ruling and suggested members of their own party had played a role in misleading Americans about the election.

“Since election night, a lot of people have been confusing voters by spinning Kenyan birther-type, ‘Chavez rigged the election from the grave’ conspiracy theories,” said Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska. “But every American who cares about the rule of law should take comfort that the Supreme Court — including all three of President Trump’s picks — closed the book on the nonsense.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski, a centrist Republican from Alaska, told reporters Friday on Capitol Hill that she had been “surprised and disappointed” by the actions of the House Republicans.

“I was just really disappointed that this is continuing in this way,” she said.

Republican critics of the lawsuit had been particularly concerned that it violated their party’s longstanding support for the principle of states’ rights.

“This was almost a certainty,” Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, said Friday night of the Supreme Court’s rejection of the challenge. “But the harm was spinning people up for grandstanding while tossing federalism on its head.”

In the end, that was the rationale the court gave for rejecting the suit, in an unsigned order that said Texas had “not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.”

While the legal case may be over, the reverberations were still being felt within the party and across the country. The Orlando Sentinel took aim at Representative Michael Waltz, Republican of Florida, who had signed onto the brief, in a blistering editorial apologizing for endorsing him in his 2020 campaign.

“We had no idea, had no way of knowing at the time, that Waltz was not committed to democracy,” the editorial board wrote.

Democrats joined in the rebukes, calling Republicans’ actions dangerous and destructive. Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey called on House leaders not to seat the Republicans who signed onto the brief in the new Congress, accusing them of traitorous behavior. In a letter to colleagues on Friday before the Supreme Court ruled, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California called the lawsuit “an act of flailing G.O.P. desperation.”

“Republicans are subverting the Constitution by their reckless and fruitless assault on our democracy,” Ms. Pelosi wrote, “which threatens to seriously erode public trust in our most sacred democratic institutions, and to set back our progress on the urgent challenges ahead.”

Polls show that most Republicans do not believe the election was legitimate, and the participation of members of Congress in the lawsuit reflected their refusal to stand up to Mr. Trump or challenge their constituents’ beliefs, fueled by the president’s claims and amplified in conservative media.

“House Republicans wake up in the morning afraid of being primaried,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. “In 2022, loyalty to Trump could be a litmus test in the primary. Republicans aren’t signing on because they’re impressed with the legal argument. They’re signing on because they’re afraid of their base.”

Time and again throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has challenged Republicans to support him in his often outlandish behavior, lashing out at those who do not go along and threatening them with electoral defeat. Most recently, the president has attacked Republican officials in Georgia over failing to subvert the will of the voters.

“There is barely a Republican leader in the country who has accepted the results,” Mr. Conant said. “If you’re a Republican voter, there aren’t a lot of Republican leaders telling you the election was fair.”

Courts in at least eight key states across the country have rejected challenges waged by the Trump campaign in an attempt to throw out the results of the election. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court unanimously refused a long-shot request from Pennsylvania Republicans to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in the state.

Mr. Trump has not come close — even once — to overturning the results in a single state, let alone the results in at least three states that he would need to take a victory from Mr. Biden. This month, Attorney General William P. Barr acknowledged that the Justice Department had uncovered no voting fraud that would have changed the results of the election.

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