On January 6, Congress will gather to formally count the Electoral College votes and announce the winner of the 2020 election, Joe Biden. Republican representatives and senators will object to the count, but their efforts are likely to fail. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) explained what he plans to do about it.
Sasse is a principled conservative who vocally opposed Biden in the 2020 election. While he did not support President Donald Trump’s reelection, he did write in Vice President Mike Pence. Sasse did not want Joe Biden to win, but it is not his role to override the will of the American people.
Sasse released a powerful statement explaining why he will not be joining the effort to block the counting of Electoral College votes. Many Republicans will consider him a traitor for this stance, but before you do so, dear reader, please consider the senator’s reasons for taking his stance, and remember that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has also opposed the effort to block the count.
Sasse began his statement by explaining that 160 million Americans voted on November 3, and members of the Electoral College gathered to vote on December 14. On January 6, Congress will “formally count” the votes. While many Nebraskans have asked Sasse to join in objecting to the count, Sasse will not do so.
“Having been in private conversation with two dozen of my colleagues over the past few weeks, it seems useful to explain in public why I will not be participating in a project to overturn the election – and why I have been urging my colleagues also to reject this dangerous ploy,” he announced. “Every public official has a responsibility to tell the truth, and here’s what I think the truth is – about our duties on January 6th, about claims of election fraud, and about what it takes to keep a republic.”
Sasse posed seven questions and provided deep answers to each of them.
1. Is there a constitutional basis for Congress to dismiss Electoral College votes?
“Yes,” Sasse wrote, there is a constitutional basis to object, but he argued that it is “absolutely not” wise.
“Since the Electoral College Act of 1887 was passed into law in the aftermath of the Civil War, not a single electoral vote has ever been thrown out by the Congress,” the senator noted. He did mention that the “goofy” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) “attempted this maneuver after George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, but her anti-democratic play was struck down by her Senate colleagues in a shaming vote of 74-1.”
2. Is there evidence of voter fraud so widespread that it could have changed the outcome of the presidential election?
“No,” Sasse wrote. He noted that Trump would need to flip multiple states to overturn Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory, claiming that “not a single state is in legal doubt.”
Sasse noted that many Trump supporters may not trust him, so he cited National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and Trump supporter.
Sasse ran through each of the states Trump is contesting.
In Pennsylvania, he admitted that “lots went wrong. Specifically, a highly partisan state supreme court rewrote election law in ways that are contrary to what the legislature had written about the deadline for mail-in ballots – this is wrong.” However, Biden won Pennsylvania by 81,000 votes, and only 10,000 votes came in after Election Day. Sasse also cited Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephanos Bibas (a Trump appointee), who wrote that “calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
The Trump team initially contested Biden’s 154,000-vote margin in Michigan with almost no particular claims, and then highlighted “discrepancies in certain counties and precincts, some more reasonable than others.” Even if every single discrepancy was resolved in Trump’s favor, “It would potentially amount to a few thousand votes and not come anywhere close to changing the state’s result.”
As for Arizona, Sasse cited a federal judge who wrote that “allegations that find favor in the public sphere of gossip and innuendo cannot be a substitute for earnest pleadings and procedure in federal court. They most certainly cannot be the basis for upending Arizona’s 2020 General Election.”
The senator acknowledged irregularities in Nevada but again noted that “the numbers appear to have been very small relative to Biden’s margin of victory. It would be useful for there to be an investigation into these irregularities, but a judge rejected the president’s suit because the president’s lawyers ‘did not prove under any standard of proof’ that enough illegal votes were cast, or legal votes not counted, ‘to raise reasonable doubt as to the outcome of the election.'”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that even re-calculating all the votes in question in a generously pro-Trump fashion would not erase Biden’s recorded margin of victory, about 20,000 votes.
Finally, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation audit of more than 15,000 votes found only one irregularity.
“At the end of the day, one of the President Trump’s strongest supporters, his own Attorney General, Bill Barr, was blunt: ‘We have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.'”
3. What about Trump’s lawyers’ claims that the election was stolen?
“From where I sit, the single-most telling fact is that there a giant gulf between what President Trump and his allies say in public – for example, on social media, or at press conferences outside Philadelphia landscaping companies and adult bookstores – and what President Trump’s lawyers actually say in courts of law. And that’s not a surprise,” Sasse argued.
The senator noted that “there are no penalties for misleading the public,” but that there are serious penalties for misleading a judge. For this reason, Trump’s lawyers “have repeated almost none of the claims of grand voter fraud that the campaign spokespeople are screaming at their most zealous supporters.”
Sasse claimed, “this isn’t really a legal strategy – it’s a fundraising strategy.” He noted that Trump and his organizations have raised over $500 million from supporters “who have been led to believe that they’re contributing to a ferocious legal defense. But in reality, they’re mostly just giving the president and his allies a blank check that can go to their super-PACs, their next plane trip, their next campaign or project.”
“That’s not serious governing. It’s swampy politics – and it shows very little respect for the sincere people in my state who are writing these checks,” the senator argued. I would counter that many of the lawyers — and likely Trump himself — truly believe that Trump should have won, that there are serious doubts about the election, and that Trump can win this way. Sasse is likely right that some are using this as a fundraising scheme, but I think people like Jenna Ellis are sincere.
4. Are you claiming there was no fraud of any kind this year?
Sasse was again unequivocal: “No. 160 million people voted in this election, in a variety of formats, in a process marked by the extraordinary circumstance of a global pandemic. There is some voter fraud every election cycle – and the media flatly declaring from on high that ‘there is no fraud!’ has made things worse.”
The legacy media’s denial of fraud “heightened public distrust, because there are, in fact, documented cases of voter fraud every election cycle.”
However, Sasse focused on two questions: how much evidence of fraud there is, and whether that evidence “support the belief in fraud on a scale so significant that it could have changed the outcome.” He claimed that there is “little evidence” of fraud and that the evidence available does not add up to a Trump win.
5. Should Americans investigate these claims more thoroughly?
Sasse noted that “actual voter fraud — and worries about voter fraud — are poison to self-government.” Americans should investigate fraud claims, but we must avoid the “destructive, vicious circle” of Trump’s current rhetoric: allege widespread fraud, fail to offer specific evidence of widespread fraud, demand investigation on the grounds that there are “allegations” of voter fraud.
“We have good reason to think this year’s election was fair, secure, and law-abiding. That’s not to say it was flawless. But there is no evidentiary basis for distrusting our elections altogether, or for concluding that the results do not reflect the ballots that our fellow citizens actually cast,” the senator argued.
6. Do your fellow senators disagree?
“When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one,” Sasse confided. “Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.”
The senator noted that many Nebraskans disagree with him and have “in-the-belly distrust” when it comes to the legacy media’s blanket claims of fraudlessness. “What so much of the media doesn’t grasp is that Trump’s attacks are powerful not because he created this anti-media sentiment, but because he figured out how to tap into it.”
Sasse said he must tell the truth as he sees it, and in his view, “President-Elect Biden didn’t simply win the election; President Trump couldn’t persuade even his own lawyers to argue anything different than that in U.S. federal courts.”
7. Where do we go from here?
Sasse warned that “the president and his allies are playing with fire. They have been asking – first the courts, then state legislatures, now the Congress – to overturn the results of a presidential election.”
He attacked his fellow senators and representatives who plan to block the Electoral College vote count as “a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage.” He warned that “they’re wrong – and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions.”
“Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government,” Sasse warned.
“We have a deep cancer in American politics right now: Both Republicans and Democrats are growing more distrustful of the basic processes and procedures that we follow,” Sasse warned. “All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party. We ought to be better than that.”
“If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud – a house hopelessly divided,” he explained.
America must transcend its divisive partisanship and tribalism, engaging in the hard work of restoring trust across political lines. Sasse is rightly calling for this restoration, but polarization is not going away. Joe Biden claims to be a president of healing, and I pray that he truly will be. However, I would wager his presidency will only fan the flames of division, from Marxist critical race theory to transgenderism to abortion and attacks on religious freedom.
None of this means Trump really won the election, even though I think Americans made a serious mistake by electing Biden. Elections have consequences, and it’s time for Republicans to move on.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.