Hawley now says objection to Biden's win wasn't intended to keep Trump in office despite past comments
Posted January 28, 2021 7:13 p.m. EST
Updated January 28, 2021 7:37 p.m. EST
CNN — A defiant Sen. Josh Hawley insisted on Thursday that he never intended to overturn the presidential election by objecting to President Joe Biden's victory in Pennsylvania -- despite previously suggesting that Donald Trump could stay in power if Congress acted.
In the aftermath of pro-Trump rioters storming the Capitol seeking to stop the January 6 certification of Biden's win, the first-term Missouri Republican senator has faced a barrage of criticism over his decision to contest the results of Pennsylvania -- with Senate Democrats calling on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate his actions and others calling on him and GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to resign.
But Hawley has said he has "no" regrets, telling CNN: "I was very clear from the beginning that I was never attempting to overturn the election."
Yet before January 6, Hawley didn't rule out the possibility that Congress could throw out the electoral results and keep Trump in office. On January 4, Hawley was asked by Fox News: "Are you trying to say that as of January 20th that President Trump will be president?" He responded to anchor Bret Baier: "Well, Bret that depends on what happens on Wednesday. I mean this is why we have the debate. This is why we have the votes." Hawley repeatedly declined to say Congress wouldn't be able to change the results of Biden's win.
On Thursday, CNN pressed Hawley on the discrepancy between his claim that he never attempted to overturn the election and his January 4 comments that Trump could still be President depending "on what happens" on January 6 and his refusal then to rule out Congress could change the outcome. Hawley contended he's been consistent on the point that January 6 was the final day of the electoral process, arguing his sole intention behind objecting was aimed at sparking debate over Pennsylvania's voting system.
"I said to (Baier), what I consistently said ... To me, January 6th is the end of this process, that's when the votes are counted, certified, the election winner under the Constitution is officially declared," Hawley claimed. "To, me that's the end of the line."
Hawley also would not say if he should have answered Baier differently and responded with the accurate assertion: That Biden would be the next president because there was never a chance that Congress would overturn the result. He said his words would have been twisted no matter what.
"I think that the liberal onslaught of lies to twist and misconstrue and attack me, it doesn't matter what I say or what I do, they're going to tell the lies no matter what," Hawley said as he walked through the halls of the Capitol. "They are going to say you wanted to overturn the election, they are going to say you incited violence, all of which are lies."
Hawley's objection on January 6 was significant because Congress can throw out electoral votes if at least one House member and one senator object to a state's results, followed by majority votes in both chambers. With wide bipartisan majorities opposing efforts in Congress to discard any state's electoral results, Hawley's move was bound to fail.
But after he became the first senator to announce he would object, Hawley effectively gave hope to pro-Trump activists and fervent supporters that the defeated GOP President could still hold onto power, a far-fetched idea that the then-President actively promoted.
Hawley on Thursday insisted that he was simply trying to spark a debate about voting "irregularities" in Pennsylvania -- not change the outcome.
"It's crystal clear what my intentions were, and what I was hoping to achieve, which is to draw attention to what happened in Pennsylvania and other irregularities and to try to force some congressional action, some debate," Hawley said. "I objected to that state for that reason, and that was me representing my constituents."
Yet federal and state judges rejected several GOP lawsuits alleging irregularities and illegal voting in Pennsylvania. Democratic and Republican election officials certified the results in every single county, rejecting baseless GOP claims that the outcome was tainted by widespread fraud or improprieties. Plus, Pennsylvania's vote-by-mail law — which Trump and his allies attacked as unfair and unconstitutional — was passed long before the pandemic struck with strong GOP support in the state legislature.
In his December 30 announcement that he would object to the electoral results, Hawley didn't say his goal was to overturn the election. But he also didn't mention that his effort wouldn't change Biden's Electoral College victory.
Hawley and other GOP objectors frequently point out that Democrats objected to the electoral results in 2001, 2005 and 2017. Yet, in all those races, the Democratic presidential candidate had long conceded, and the only time a senator joined a House effort was in 2005, when then-Sen. Barbara Boxer joined House Democrats in objecting to Ohio's electoral results. She was the lone senator to vote to discard that state's results.
This time, Trump mounted a months-long campaign to discredit the elections, repeating lies and conspiracies that the election was "rigged" and "stolen" while promoting the January 6 rally before the joint session of Congress met to tally the results -- all of which led to the deadly riot in the Capitol that day.
Asked if his actions perpetuated the lie that the election was stolen, Hawley pushed back.
"I've never used that rhetoric and I was very clear as to why I was objecting and what I was doing," Hawley said. "So, absolutely not."
Hawley, who is frequently seen as a possible 2024 presidential contender, insists that "I'm not" running in the next presidential election. And facing a Senate ethics complaint, Hawley says he has not yet heard from committee investigators (he filed a counter-complaint this week against the Democrats whom he accused of abusing the process in unfairly targeting him).
Last week, Hawley called Trump's remarks on January 6 to the rally "inflammatory. I think they were irresponsible. I think they were wrong." And after the rioters ransacked the Capitol, he condemned the violence and insurrectionists while arguing the proper way to mount a challenge was in the halls of Congress.
Yet despite pleas from his colleagues to drop his objection and show unity after the deadly rampage, Hawley still objected to the Pennsylvania results, which failed overwhelmingly in the Senate, 7-92. Hawley also voted for Cruz's challenge to Arizona's results, an effort that was rejected by a 6-93 vote.
"This is not about messaging," Hawley said when asked about whether he should have changed his own rhetoric ahead of January 6. "This is an attempt to silence political opponents. This is a brazen attempt to shut down democratic debate."