Republicans in Congress remain largely in line behind Trump

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Almost two weeks after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. was declared the winner of the election, top Republicans in Congress are still unwilling to acknowledge his victory, remaining silent on Friday even in the face of growing attempts more cheeky President Trump to reverse the results.

As Mr. Trump met with Michigan lawmakers in the White House hoping to overturn the state’s popular vote, a few more cracks appeared in the otherwise solid wall of Republican support for his tactics. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, outgoing Chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has become the longest-serving Republican to call on Mr. Trump to begin the transition process. And the party’s leading appropriator in the House, Representative Kay Granger of Texas, said it was time for the president and Republicans to “move on.”

“If there is a chance that Joe Biden is the next president, and it looks like he has a very good chance, the Trump administration should provide Biden’s team with all the transition materials, resources and meetings needed to ensure a smooth transition. that both parties are ready on day one, ”said Mr. Alexander, three-term senator, former governor and former secretary of education. “This should be particularly true, for example, for the distribution of vaccines.”

But overall, these and other dissent notes came from Republicans who are already retiring at the end of the year or who have no immediate plans to deal with voters, like Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse from Nebraska.

While Mr. Trump raises perhaps the most daring challenge to the democratic process in recent memory, the critical mass of the Republican Party has raised no concerns about his behavior, appearing to have given in to fears of angering him and the conservative base on which he holds a firm grip. While publicly silent, they privately fear speaking out could invite a main challenge, squander party enthusiasm ahead of two crucial Georgia Senate ballots, and undermine their message as they embark on a comprehensive effort to undermine Mr. Biden’s presidency from the start.

And after defying predictions of a descending ballot bloodbath at the hands of voters having had enough of Mr. Trump, Republicans in Congress have found that their quiet support comes at a low political cost.

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“The Republican House Conference is truly Trump’s party,” said Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a newly elected party leadership, even as he implicitly acknowledged Mr. Biden’s victory. “I’m skeptical that Joe Biden will be anything but a lame duck from day one.”

For his part, Mr Biden has largely attempted to position himself above the political fray and his 306-vote electoral college victory as unchallenged. He dove forward on Friday, meeting in Wilmington, Del., President Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrats in Congress, for the first time since his victory to discuss a one-to-one approach. end of year government. spending package and how to provide additional coronavirus relief.

Mr. Alexander’s statements stood out not only because other Congressional leaders held their tongue, but because Mr. Alexander is extremely close to Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader, and the often consults on sensitive issues.

Helpers from Mr McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House’s top Republican, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Mr McConnell, seeking to avoid a disorderly conflict with a president more popular than himself at their grassroots level, has repeatedly tried to deflect questions about Mr Trump’s refusal to concede by pointing to procedural details of the country’s electoral system. It’s a way to avoid openly challenging the president and to buy time until state electoral authorities essentially render his demands moot by officially certifying the results.

“We are going to have an orderly transfer from this administration to the next,” McConnell said this week. “What we’re all saying about it, frankly, is irrelevant.”

Many of his colleagues have taken the same approach, downplaying the importance of Mr. Trump’s language by focusing on the courts.

“He’s making his way through the court system and I have no independent way to assess him,” said Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri. Pressed by a reporter on Capitol Hill to find out if he thought Mr. Trump could win, Mr. Hawley, the former state attorney general, said: “Anything is possible.

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Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton who studied the modern Republican Party, argued that history would not look at the end of Mr. Trump’s presidency – which he called a “radical act” – as closely as Mr McConnell might wish. .

“It will not be just messy and contested elections,” he said. “It’s going to be about presidential power and the nature of the Republican Party in modern times, and what happens when there’s no one left to say ‘stop’.”

Some who have challenged Mr. Trump within his party have also scolded their colleagues in recent days, urging them to put aside political expediency for the good of the country.

“While the president has the right to legitimize legal challenges, responsible citizens cannot let the reckless actions of him and his legal team stand,” Bob Corker, a former Republican senator from Tennessee who retired in 2018 , written on twitter Friday. “Republicans have an obligation, when the subject matter is of such importance, to challenge demagoguery and blatantly false statements.”

Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, a Republican who is retiring this year, lamented in an interview the number of his colleagues who “were in hiding” rather than denouncing Mr. Trump.

“What about self-esteem or respect?” Mr Rooney said. “What are these people going to do in the long run when they think back to how they kind of slavishly devoted themselves to this guy?”

A handful of Republicans appeared to answer those calls by Friday, or at least lose patience with some of the more outlandish claims made by Mr. Trump’s team.

Mr Sasse said it was telling that the legal team refused to “actually allude to major fraud” in court, where, unlike the news media, there is a consequence in lying. Mr Romney said Thursday night that it was “hard to imagine worse and more undemocratic action by a sitting US president” than Mr Trump’s apparent attempt to pressure Michigan officials and elsewhere.

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And Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who was among the first Republicans to recognize Mr. Biden’s victory, said in a statement Friday that there was “a right and a wrong way for the incumbent president to make his case. rights to challenge what he charges. like electoral irregularities. “

“The wrong way is to try to pressure state election officials,” she said. “It undermines public confidence in our election results without evidence or court rulings to back up the claims.”

Criticism has also come from other Republicans not known to have challenged Mr. Trump. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, a member of Mr McConnell’s leadership team, on Thursday called some of the allegations of voter fraud “absolutely outrageous,” although she did not blame the president.

Ms Granger, who was re-elected to represent a Conservative district based in Fort Worth, was more blunt: She told TBEN that she had “great concerns” about what Mr. Trump was doing.

“I think it’s time to move on,” she said.

But the most scathing criticism came from lawmakers who did not have to fear an election backlash. Retiring Michigan Representative Paul Mitchell wrote in a Detroit News op-ed that “Mr. Trump’s continued refusal to recognize election results risks eroding our democracy by literally widening it.”

“If we no longer believe in our own system – with our locally elected clerks who follow the laws – then our ability to choose our leaders is at fundamental risk, as is our system of government,” he wrote in the article, which was co-authored by Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan.

Rep. Tom Reed, Republican of New York, hinted that many in his party were torn between the facts and the opinions of their constituents who believe Mr. Trump’s claims that he was deprived of the victory.

“There are millions of Americans who are represented by these people who are very frustrated,” said Mr. Reed, who praised Mr. Biden. “Maybe there is an answer to them that they feel compelled to represent as they go along.

Emily Cochrane, Carl Hulse and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.