Just months into Barack Obama's first term as president, a group of far-right House Republicans unveiled a "birther" bill in Congress, requiring presidential candidates to prove they're native-born citizens. As its proponents knew, the proposal stood no chance of success, but these GOP lawmakers wanted to go on record, associating themselves with the ugly conspiracy theory.
The list of co-sponsors, however, was quite small. In fact, only 11 House Republicans endorsed the measure. (One of the 11 was Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, who's since been promoted to the Senate.) To be sure, 11 was too many, but there were 178 GOP House members at the time. Those backing the "birther" bill represented the fringe: 94% of the House Republican conference wanted nothing to do with the legislation.
A decade later, the line between the Republican fringe and the Republican mainstream no longer exists. The Washington Post reported overnight:
A majority of House Republicans have signed onto an amicus brief in a Texas lawsuit seeking unprecedented judicial intervention in disallowing millions of votes and the election results from four key swing states that went for President-elect Joe Biden.... In all, 106 of the 196 House Republicans signed on to the amicus brief filed to the Supreme Court.
A few days ago, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) reached out to his GOP colleagues, seeking signatories to a brief endorsing the crazypants lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Johnson told House Republicans that he'd been in direct contact with Donald Trump, who was "anxiously awaiting the final list to review," checking which members were on board with the anti-election effort, and which were not.
The pitch apparently proved persuasive: more than half of the House Republicans in Congress attached their names to this transparent nonsense. The list includes a member of the House GOP leadership (Louisiana's Steve Scalise), a former member of the House GOP leadership (Washington's Cathy McMorris Rodgers), the current chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (Minnesota's Tom Emmer), powerful former committee chairs (Texas' Kevin Brady), and even members with reputations for relative moderation (Florida's Mario Diaz-Balart).
The Atlantic's David Graham wrote in response yesterday, "This embrace of the president's attempt to overturn the results of the election is both shocking and horrifying.... Republican officials have gone from coddling a sore loser to effectively abandoning democracy."
Quite right. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 presidential election with 306 electoral votes. Their popular vote margin stands at 7 million American ballots. Each state has already certified its vote totals. Trump, his lawyers, and his allies have filed dozens of outlandish lawsuits, which even conservative judges have dismissed as ridiculous.
And it's against this backdrop that most of the Republicans in the U.S. House decided to publicly sign on to a legal filing, insisting that millions of American ballots should be ignored, lies should be believed, wild-eyed conspiracy theories should be believed, and the loser of the election should be handed illegitimate power.
It's likely that some will offer a tacit defense of these 106 GOP lawmakers, arguing that they don't genuinely believe the garbage lawsuit; they merely signed onto this brief for political reasons. Maybe they fear Trump and his followers. Maybe they want a fundraising boost. Maybe they're worried about a primary challenge in 2022.
But ultimately, what these Republicans believe is less important than what these Republicans have done. An organized attack on our democracy is underway, and 106 elected federal lawmakers made a conscious and deliberate choice to stand on the wrong side.
In the not-too-distant past, news consumers routinely saw headlines saying, "House Republicans support [crazy thing]." We'd click the link, read the article, and see that the GOP lawmakers in question were really just Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert, at which point we'd shake our heads, shrug our shoulders, and move on.
Those days are over. On Capitol Hill, the Republican fringe is now -- quite literally -- the Republican majority.
A total of 106 House members are on board with asking the judiciary to overturn their own country's election, invalidating results they don't like. They're watching Donald Trump and his pals challenge the foundations of our system of government, and they decided to help his crusade.
There is a toxicity in the body politic, and it's poisoned more than half of the House Republican conference.