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GOP leader isn't ready yet to move on from party's Big Lie

Despite all the GOP talk about "moving on," the #2 House Republican, even now, questions the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.
Image: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise speaks with the media in the Capitol on Oct. 29, 2019.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise speaks with the media in the Capitol on Oct. 29, 2019.Patrick Semansky / AP

As Donald Trump's recent impeachment trial got underway, several Republicans denounced the proceedings, insisting that Democrats should simply "move on" rather than holding the former president accountable. After all, the deadly insurrectionist riot that Trump incited was a whole month ago, so why should Congress maintain such a retrospective focus?

Former Ambassador Nikki Haley told Fox News, reference to her former boss, "I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on." Around the same time, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also appeared on Fox News and used similar phrasing. "[T]o coin a phrase, I think it's time to move on," the Republican senator said. "It's time to move on."

There's no shortage of problems with such a defense, but among the most obvious is that Republicans aren't moving on at all. At the state level, for example, GOP officials aren't just resisting the idea that the political world should move past last month's events; they're still acting on the ridiculous idea that Trump's Big Lie is true.

Making matters slightly worse, those same attitudes also continue to linger on Capitol Hill.

President Joe Biden is the legitimate winner of the November election now that electoral votes have been counted, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week," but he would not say the election wasn't "stolen." ... Scalise did not concede on the legitimacy of the election after being asked by ABC Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl.

The host, referring to the 2020 presidential election, asked a straightforward question: "The election was not stolen, correct?" Instead of answering it correctly, Scalise, the House's second most powerful Republican leader, responded, "Look, Joe Biden's the president. There were a few states that did not follow their state laws. That's really the dispute that you've seen continue on."

He then tried to change the subject to complaining about the Paris climate accord.

Pressed further by Karl, who again asked the Louisiana Republican whether he'll concede that "this election was not stolen," Scalise replied, "Once the electors are counted, yes, he's the legitimate president. But if you're going to ignore the fact that there were states that did not follow their own state legislatively set laws, that's the issue at heart, that millions of people still are not happy with and don't want to see happen again."

Or put another way, the Big Lie Brigade, even now, isn't prepared to move on.

More than a month after Inauguration Day, the #2 GOP leader in the U.S. House can't quite bring himself to acknowledge the legitimacy of his own country's presidential election. To hear Scalise tell it, he's clinging to his skepticism because states violated their own election laws -- a bogus claim that Trump's legal team took to multiple courts after the former president's defeat. It failed because the argument has no merit.

But there was the House minority leader -- one of the many congressional Republicans who voted to reject the results of President Biden's victory -- echoing the claim to a national television audience anyway.

There may be some debate about the motivations behind such rhetoric. Some will no doubt suggest, for example, that Scalise and others on the Big Lie Brigade know the truth, but they're too afraid -- of Trump, of the GOP base, of conservative media, et al. -- to acknowledge reality.

But the motivations are increasingly irrelevant. I care less about why Scalise won't accept the results and more about his willingness to perpetuate such an undemocratic idea.

As House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) put it in response to Scalise's on-air comments, "Failure to confront [Trump's] Big Lie about the election led directly to January 6. These conspiracies chip away at the very foundation of our democracy."