Trump urges Georgia voters to preserve GOP control of Senate; pressures Pence over election protests
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” Trump told supporters in Dalton, Ga., one day before two pivotal Senate runoffs in Georgia and two days before Congress meets to count the Electoral College votes that elected Biden.
WASHINGTON – While urging Georgia voters to preserve Republican control of the U.S. Senate, President Donald Trump spent more time at a campaign rally Monday protesting his own election defeat – and putting pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to try and subvert Joe Biden’s victory.
Trump called Pence “a great guy,” but also said: “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
Some Trump supporters falsely believe Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, can throw out electoral votes from Biden states after GOP lawmakers protest. Pence lacks that legal power, and is in the awkward position of having to announce Biden’s electoral victory once the votes are counted.
Some Republicans fear Trump’s protests and attacks on the Georgia election process could dampen GOP turnout, putting both Senate seats at risk.
The pressure on Pence came during a rally ostensibly devoted to a pair of Senate runoff elections Tuesday that will determine political control of the chamber.
“Once again, he made it about himself and not the candidates who need his support,” said pollster Frank Luntz, who attended the rally in Georgia.
Trump went into detail about his election complaints during the rally before a crowd that often seemed subdued during an 80-minute speech. Trump also attacked Republican leaders in Georgia, and at one point claimed he would campaign against Gov. Brian Kemp if he seeks re-election in 2022.
In calling for an investigation, Democrats said Trump illegally demanded that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger change the results of Georgia’s election; Republicans generally defended the president, though some said the phone call also undercuts the party’s chances on the eve of the pivotal Senate races.
Trump also made fleeting reference to Sunday’s release of a tape in which Trump is heard pressuring Georgia officials to “find” votes to help him reverse his loss to Biden in the state, perhaps crossing a legal line.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., called it “a new low in this whole futile and sorry episode.”
“One of the things I think that everyone has said is that this call was not a helpful call,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a Trump ally appearing on “Fox & Friends.”
More:Trump is heard on audiotape pressuring Georgia secretary of state to ‘find’ votes to overturn Biden’s win
The Georgia rally begins a busy political week heralding the end of Trump’s presidency.
On Wednesday, Congress meets to confirm Biden’s win in the Electoral College, and some Republican lawmakers plan to challenge the results in certain states. They lack the numbers to change the outcome, but their challenges will likely lead to contentious debates among lawmakers.
More:Fact check: Trump’s made-up claims of fake Georgia votes in controversial phone call
Trump has said he will speak at a protest scheduled to be held near the White House.
Meanwhile, thousands of Trump supporters plan to stage protests throughout downtown Washington as Congress argues about the Electoral College.
In urging Congress to block Biden’s electoral victory, Trump used the rally in Georgia to echo his litany of lies and false allegations about the presidential election in several states. He did not mention his claims have been rejected by judges and elected officials across the country, though he did attack the U.S. Supreme Court for refusing to take up his case.
Some Republicans have criticized Trump and GOP colleagues for challenging Electoral College votes, saying it makes the party look anti-democratic. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called it an “egregious ploy” that “may enhance the political ambition of some, but dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic.”
Trump also talked about the Georgia Republican Senate candidates, Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former Sen. David Perdue. Both face tough election fights against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling shot down president’s claims one-by-one. “This is all easily, provably false, yet the president persists, and by doing so undermines Georgians’ faith in the election system,” Sterling said.
Harris visited Georgia on Sunday, while Biden held a rally in the state on Monday. Biden told Georgia voters that “the power is literally in your hands” to change the U.S. Senate.
If the Democratic candidates prevail, the new Senate would be split 50-50 between the parties, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris set to break the tie in favor of the Democrats.
More:Congress’ count of Electoral College votes could be most contentious in 144 years. Here are past dramatic moments
Biden also posted a tweet that seemed aimed at Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election: “In America, politicians can’t assert, take, or seize power. It has to be given by the American people. We can’t ever give that up. The will of the people must always prevail.”
Trump’s attacks on state Republicans won’t help GOP turnout, a point Trump himself made in his phone call with Raffensperger.
More:‘Wild’ protests: Police brace for pro-Trump rallies when Congress meets Jan. 6 to certify Biden’s win
The Democrats are seeking to use that call to juice their own turnout.
“Because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president,” Trump told the Georgia secretary of state, according to audio of the phone call.
“That is a direct attack on our democracy,” Ossoff said.
Ossoff called it a moment “when the President of the United States calls up Georgia’s election officials and tries to intimidate them to change the result of the elections, to disenfranchise Georgia voters.”
Trump “is unhinged and dangerous,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the intimidation of a state official “merits nothing less than a criminal investigation.”
Democrats said Trump was illegally pressuring a state official to change an election result.
During the campaign, even some Trump allies urged Republicans not to vote in the runoffs as a way to protest the presidential election.
For nearly two decades, Georgia has been considered a safe Republican state. Democrats, however, have made steady gains in recent years, and have said Biden’s win augurs more success in these two Senate races.
“If these candidates lose, he will be blamed,” Luntz said.
Luntz said Trump’s repeated attacks on the Georgia electoral system won’t help Republican turnout. Trump’s complaints, he said, could wind up sinking both Perdue and Loeffler.