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Hawley, Cruz face new ethics complaint filed by 7 Senate Dems

Hawley and Cruz recently led an indefensible crusade against the election results. Seven Senate Democrats made clear that they're not letting this go.
Senate Judiciary Markup
Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently earned pariah status by leading an indefensible crusade to reject President Joe Biden's election victory, democracy be damned, and voting against the election results, even after a deadly attack on the Capitol. The far-right Republicans have since lost political support, faced calls for their resignations, and even heard talk about possible expulsion from Congress.

Yesterday, seven Senate Democrats made clear that they're not letting this go. NBC News reported:

A group of Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint against Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz on Thursday calling for an investigation to determine whether they coordinated with the organizers of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally that preceded the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. The Senate Ethics Committee "should also offer recommendations for strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure, if warranted by the facts uncovered," the seven Democrats, led by Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, said in a letter to the committee's chair and vice chair.

Sen. Whitehouse was joined by Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Tim Kaine (Va.), Tina Smith (Minn.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.). Their joint letter to the ethics panel insisted that Cruz and Hawley "lent legitimacy to the mob's cause and made future violence more likely."

The complaint added, "The question the Senate must answer is not whether Sens. Hawley and Cruz had the right to object to the electors, but whether the senators failed to '[p]ut loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or Government department' or engaged in 'improper conduct reflecting on the Senate' in connection with the violence on January 6."

The seven Senate Democrats went on to say the Republican duo touted their plan to challenge the electors to drum up campaign contributions," even though it is "probable" that both knew the underlying election fraud claims were false. "These solicitations continued during and after the insurrection," the complaint noted.

Hawley and Cruz have denied wrongdoing.

In case this isn't obvious, while ethics controversies are not uncommon on Capitol Hill, it's very unusual for a sizable group of senators -- from either party -- to file a complaint like this against other members. That said, nothing about recent events is common.

For those eager to see Cruz and Hawley face additional consequences for their actions, the filing probably seems encouraging as a first step toward official accountability. But as a practical matter, it's probably best to keep expectations low.

For one thing, the Senate Ethics Committee has earned a reputation for not doing much. The body is evenly divided -- each party has three members -- and senators are generally reluctant to break ranks and punish allies for transgressions. As Roll Call noted yesterday, the panel received 251 complaints last year and dismissed nearly all of them.

For another, the vice chair of the Senate Ethics Committee is Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who happens to be one of the far-right Republicans who initially joined Cruz's anti-election crusade. To be fair, the Oklahoman ultimately backed off following the insurrectionist riot, but the fact that he signed onto to Cruz's crusade in the first place suggests he's unlikely to hold the Texan responsible for his misconduct.

As for what's next, Roll Call's report added, "When the ethics panel receives a complaint, it can undertake a preliminary inquiry to see whether there is enough evidence for the committee to conclude there was a relevant violation that occurred." The scope of that review will be shaped by Lankford and Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Chris Coons (D-Del.).