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Election Deniers Closer to Mainstream  05/21 06:26

   As Trump makes a comeback bid to return to power, Republicans in Congress 
have become even more likely to cast doubts on Biden's victory or deny it was 
legitimate, a political turnaround that allows his false claims of fraud to 
linger and lays the groundwork to potentially challenge the results in 2024.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- In the hours after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 
6, 2021, Ohio's then-Republican senator, Rob Portman, voted to accept President 
Joe Biden's win over the defeated former president, Donald Trump, despite 
Trump's false allegations that Biden only won because of fraud.

   But as Trump charges toward his rematch with Biden in 2024, Portman has been 
replaced by Sen. J.D. Vance, a potential vice presidential pick who has echoed 
Trump's false claims of fraud and said he'll accept the results this fall only 
"if it's a free and fair election."

   South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, other possible 
VP picks, also declined to object to Biden's victory over Trump, but have been 
less committal this year. Rubio said recently if "things are wrong" with 
November's election, Republicans won't stand by and accept the outcome.

   And the new speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, helped organize Trump's 
failed legal challenge to Biden's win. He demurred when asked if he believed 
the 2020 election was legitimate during an event with other Trump allies about 
the upcoming election.

   As Trump makes a comeback bid to return to power, Republicans in Congress 
have become even more likely to cast doubts on Biden's victory or deny it was 
legitimate, a political turnaround that allows his false claims of fraud to 
linger and lays the groundwork to potentially challenge the results in 2024.

   A new report released Tuesday by States United Action, a group that targets 
election deniers, said nearly one-third of the lawmakers in Congress supported 
in some way Trump's bid to overturn the 2020 results or otherwise cast doubt on 
the reliability of elections. Several more are hoping to join them, running for 
election this year to the House and Senate.

   "The public should have a real healthy dose of concern about the real risk 
of having people in power who've shown they're not willing to respect the will 
of the people," said Lizzie Ullmer of States United Action.

   The issue is particularly stark for Congress given its constitutional role 
as the final arbiter of the validity of a presidential election. It counts the 
results from the Electoral College, as it set out to do on Jan. 6, 2021, a date 
now etched in history because of the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by a 
pro-Trump mob.

   In its report, States United found that in Congress, 170 representatives and 
senators out of 535 lawmakers overall can be categorized as election deniers. 
Heading into the fall elections, two new Senate candidates and 17 new House 
candidates already are on the ballot this fall seeking to join them.

   It's not just Congress that has been seeded with people who supported trying 
to overturn Trump's 2020 loss, but the highest ranks of the Republican Party.

   "This is deeply alarming," said Wendy Weiser, the vice president for 
democracy programs at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. "A 
democracy can only function if the participants commit to accepting the results 
of popular elections. That is it. That's the entire political system."

   The former president picked Michael Whatley, who has echoed Trump's election 
lies, to become co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, with his 
daughter-in-law, Lara Trump. Christina Bobb, who was recently indicted for her 
alleged involvement in a scheme to recruit fake electors in Arizona, has been 
named the RNC's head of "election integrity."

   Under Trump's direction, the RNC is making the elections process its top 
priority, bringing in the new personnel and adding resources, said Danielle 
Alvarez, an adviser to both the Trump campaign and the party committee.

   "Biden is in the White House, that's true," Alvarez said, "but there were 
issues in the election."

   To be clear, there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election that cost 
Trump reelection. Recounts, audits and reviews in the battleground states where 
he contested his loss all affirmed Biden's victory, and courts rejected dozens 
of lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies.

   States United's report details how successful election deniers have been in 
bolstering their congressional ranks. It examines the results of congressional 
party primaries in the 10 states that have held them this year and found that 
in each state, at least one election denier has made it to the general election 
for a House or Senate seat.

   The report defines election deniers as people who falsely claimed Trump won 
in 2020, spread misinformation about that election or took steps to overturn 
it, or refused to concede a separate race. It finds that at least 67 will be on 
the ballot in the House in November, including 50 incumbents. Three will be 
running for the Senate -- one of whom, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, is an 

   There have been high-profile losses among election deniers, as well. Last 
week in West Virginia, Republican Rep. Carol Miller, who also voted against 
accepting Biden's victory, successfully fended off a primary challenge from 
Derrick Evans, who was convicted of a felony civil disorder charge after 
storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Numerous election deniers in 2022 lost bids for 
swing state offices such as governor or secretary of state that would have 
given them direct power over voting in 2024.

   Still, the movement has grown by dominating Republican primaries. In the 
race for the nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, 
businessman Bernie Moreno, who has previously said Trump was "right" to call 
2020 "stolen," won his primary. In Indiana, Republican Sen. Mike Braun voted to 
certify Biden's win, but he will step down this year to run for governor and is 
poised to be replaced by Rep. Jim Banks, a prominent election denier who easily 
won the GOP primary in that state.

   The report classifies neither Rubio or Scott as election deniers, but 
skepticism about the trustworthiness of voting has become an organizing GOP 
principle, particularly for the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

   Before becoming the House speaker, Johnson recruited colleagues to support a 
lawsuit, which ultimately failed, filed by Trump's allies to overturn his 2020 

   More recently Johnson met with Trump at the former president's Mar-a-Lago 
resort to shore up his own political support amid a far-right rebellion seeking 
to oust him as speaker. He emerged promising House legislation that would be 
designed to stop immigrants in the country illegally from voting.

   During a press conference on the Capitol steps to announce the bill, the 
speaker acknowledged it's hard to prove that certain immigrants are wrongfully 
casting ballots. Election experts say it is extremely rare for immigrants who 
are ineligible to vote to break federal law to do so.

   While Congress passed legislation putting in safeguards to better protect 
against interference after the Capitol attack, it's lawmakers who will 
ultimately be asked to accept the 2024 results from their states.

   Vance stood by his recent remarks. And Rubio said he expects there will be 
lawsuits in jurisdictions where the final tallies are close, as sometimes 

   "When people ask me, 'Are you going to accept the outcome?' I think what 
some people are arguing is if there's things wrong with this election, we're 
going to point it out," Rubio said in a short interview.


   Riccardi reported from Denver.



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