As the last Congress got underway two years ago, it was clear that Republicans had a problem with election denialism: Most of the House GOP conference voted to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election, signed on to a misguided legal brief that asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the presidential election results, or both.
As the new Congress gets underway, there’s ample reason to believe that problem is actually worse because many of the lawmakers who refused to accept the results of a free and fair election are now in positions of real power: Most of the House’s new committee chairs are election deniers. What’s more, election deniers now dominate the GOP contingent serving on panels such as the House Intelligence Committee and House Oversight Committee.
It was against this backdrop that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy appeared yesterday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” and Margaret Brennan noted that the California Republican has put election deniers in key positions of authority. “Why are you elevating people who are denying reality like that?” the host asked. The GOP congressman immediately responded by going after his rival party:
“Well, if you look to the Democrats, their ranking member, Raskin, had the same thing, denied Trump when Bush was in there. Bennie Thompson ... these individuals were chair in the Democratic Party. ... Democrats have done the same thing.”
McCarthy’s syntax is often problematic, and it wasn’t altogether easy to follow the details of the House speaker's pitch. But the bottom line seemed straightforward enough: McCarthy isn’t denying the scope of election denialism within his Republican conference; he simply expects the public to believe it’s a bipartisan problem.
When he told Brennan, for example, that members such as Rep. Jamie Raskin “had the same thing,” what McCarthy seemed to be saying was that the Maryland Democrat, much like the speaker’s own far-right members, doesn’t accept election results he doesn’t like. (I honestly don’t know what “denied Trump when Bush was in there” meant.)
Clearly, this is the line GOP members have been told to push. Indeed, a week earlier, Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the new Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, appeared on the same program and declared, “There are election deniers on both sides of the aisle.”
A month earlier, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican National Committee targeted House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries as an “election denier” because the New York Democrat was among the many who raised serious concerns about the 2016 election.
But that does not an election denier make.
Circling back to our recent coverage, it important not to define the label down to the point that it no longer has any meaning. After the 2020 race, Republicans opposed the certification of election results. And helped file lawsuits asking courts to throw out votes they disapproved of. And claimed that the losing candidate secretly won based on evidence that only exists in the imagination of fringe conspiracy theorists. And described legitimate votes as “fake.” Some even went so far as to express sympathies for insurrectionist rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol in response to discredited election conspiracy theories.
If McCarthy or his cohorts have proof of Raskin, Thompson or other congressional Democrats doing “the same thing,” they've kept that evidence to themselves.