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GOP-led committee tries to create, not examine, an election problem

Ron Johnson and his Republican brethren weren't investigating an election problem, they were creating an election problem.
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Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., center, listens during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced plans to hold a hearing to investigate "election irregularities," there was no great mystery about the point of the partisan exercise. Even Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a member of the Republican-led panel, conceded, "I don't see the purpose of a hearing other than to stir up controversy."

Alas, that was precisely the point: Johnson desperately wants to stir up controversy, so he held a hearing to help perpetuate one that need not exist. As the Associated Press reported:

Republican senators on Wednesday further perpetuated President Donald Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, two days after Democrat Joe Biden's victory was sealed by the Electoral College.... The session, held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee over Democratic protests, elevated the groundless claims of fraud to the highest levels of government and provided two of Trump's lawyers with one more public opportunity to make the false assertions after repeatedly losing in court.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the GOP-led Senate Homeland Security Committee -- a panel that has actual work it can and should be doing -- made every effort to perpetuate a fraud yesterday. Ron Johnson and his Republican colleagues weren't investigating an election problem; they were trying to create an election problem.

To that end, the chairman invited Ken Starr, Trump ally Francis Ryan, and Trump lawyer James Troupis to peddle anti-election claims that have already been discredited, and which have already failed spectacularly when subjected to scrutiny in dozens of courtrooms.

At one point, Johnson, perhaps feeling a little defensive about his ugly attacks against his own country's democracy, asserted, "I don't see anything dangerous about evaluating information." In theory, of course that's true. But on Capitol Hill yesterday, the far-right Wisconsinite wasn't evaluating information; he was putting on a sad little show intended to undermine public confidence without cause or evidence.

And he was hardly alone. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), indifferent toward reality, told Americans that the 2020 election was "in many ways was stolen." Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) compared the United States' system of elections to a South American dictatorship. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), ostensibly one of the less reckless members of his party, raised the prospect of creating a special commission to investigate anti-election claims -- as if a commission would see wrongdoing that 86 judges, many of whom were appointed by Republican presidents, concluded does not exist.

When 126 House Republicans last week signed their names to a ludicrous attack against our democracy, it was heartbreaking for those who care about the state of civic society, but it was also notable that their Senate Republican brethren showed some restraint, hedging before throwing their support behind the anti-election lawsuit.

Yesterday, however, that restraint was gone. The Senate Homeland Security Committee's hearing was as brazen an effort to undermine our democracy as the amicus brief filed by two-thirds of the House Republican conference.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) added during the proceedings, "Yesterday, I was talking with some of the constituents back at home -- a group of about 30 people -- every single one of them, every one of them, told me that they felt they had been disenfranchised, that their votes didn't matter, that the election had been rigged. These are normal, reasonable people, these are not crazy people."

The point is not to question the mental health of people who've fallen for a con; the point should be to hold responsible those who've perpetrated the con, convincing these people to believe nonsense to advance their partisan interests.

Indeed, in a situation like this, it was up to Hawley to explain to these people that they weren't disenfranchised, that their votes do matter, that the election wasn't rigged. Or put another way, the Missouri Republican could have told these non-crazy constituents the truth about reality.

But he didn't. Instead, Hawley linked arms with the likes of Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Rick Scott, attended a sort of show trial in support of discredited garbage. The consequences of such a charade are predictable: more cynicism, more division, more ignorance, more cracks in our democracy, and more threats of violence against election officials who've done nothing wrong.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) tried to explain yesterday that the hearing itself was "dangerous," a point he re-emphasized with Rachel on the show last night. The Michigan Democrat was right. The trouble is, his Republican colleagues don't care.

As Dana Milbank noted, "Finally, significant fraud has been identified in the 2020 election. It is being perpetrated by Sen. Ron Johnson."