Let me also add a thought or two to Ben’s excellent essay and Greg’s thoughts on it.
I think Ben is right in essentials: There is nothing for Congress to decide here. Congress is simply counting the electoral votes, which have been certified by the states. And part of what is crucial about this, as Ben argues, is that under the separation of powers Congress does not get to decide, in the ordinary course of events, who becomes president. That goes doubly for the Vice President’s acting to accept or reject electoral votes. I concur with both Ben and Greg that this could have been a moment of civic education. Republicans could have instructed their voters about the constitutional process, and explained the reasons we ought to adhere to this process and understand its logic. (To my surprise, Senator Tom Cotton has actually made an effort in this regard even if he also feels obligated to repeat misleading claims of electoral “irregularities.”) As Greg says, this is the sort of representation Madison envisioned. Representatives ought to act in such a way as to enlighten the public, not traffic in and give voice to its misunderstandings.
But Republicans should go further. It’s not enough to explain they have no constitutional authority to accept or reject the states’ certified electoral votes. They need to explain that the accusations of fraud are themselves fraudulent. Republican voters believe the election might be stolen because that is what President Trump and too many other Republicans are telling them. They believe these lies and conspiracies being passed on to them. The antidote to this is to call the real fraud out. Take a look at this from GA election official Gabriel Sterling (a Republican), who masterfully calls out Trump’s lies. GA secretary of state Brad Raffensperger has similarly debunked the conspiracy theories and held firm against Trump’s lies.
What Jonathan Rauch has called the firehouse of lies is a challenge to the future of constitutional democracy. On this, let me second Jeff Tulis’s recommendation of Russ Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum’s A Lot of People are Saying. It’s a terrific analysis of how conspiracy theories harm democratic government. That’s what we’re really seeing as Republicans line up to question Biden’s electoral victory. They are, as Rauch argues, willing agents in Trump’s disinformation ploy.
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