|Dear Readers: Last night, UVA Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato interviewed Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) about last week’s chaos on Capitol Hill, the moment he “knew there was a massive disaster that was underway,” possible sanctions for fellow lawmakers who participated in instigating the Capitol insurrection, the Democrats’ priorities in the Senate now that the party has nominal control of the chamber, and much more. To watch, see here or visit our YouTube channel, UVACFP.
And in case you missed it, make sure you check out last week’s Democracy Dialogues, in which Prof. Sabato discussed the Capitol attack, the Georgia Senate runoffs, and much more with former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ), CBS News’ Margaret Brennan, CNN’s Don Lemon, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs, and commentators Paul Begala and Tara Setmayer. That program is also available on our YouTube channel and at this direct link. UVA Today and the Cavalier Daily also recapped the program.
In this week’s Crystal Ball, we’re taking a closer look at something many of you have heard a lot about but perhaps, because of everything else, did not get a chance to examine in detail: how individual House members voted in last week’s Electoral College certification vote, and what the votes indicate about the Republican House caucus.
— The Editors
KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— Roughly two-thirds of House Republicans backed at least one of two objections to a state’s presidential results last week. And a clear majority backed both.
— Generally speaking, members who backed both objections come from more Republican-leaning districts than those who opposed both.
How House Republicans voted on Electoral College disputes
Hours after rioters and terrorists sacked the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, the House of Representatives and Senate voted to certify the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden. The outcome of this process was never in doubt, but more than half of the Republican House caucus voted to object to the results in Arizona, Pennsylvania, or both.
This may end up being one of the most consequential votes some House Republicans will take. One can imagine vulnerable House Republicans having to deal with attacks from Democrats on their votes, and there may be more fallout as well. Some major companies, such as Marriott and Blue Cross Blue Shield, are halting donations to anyone who voted in favor of these objections. Incensed House Democrats may freeze objectors out of the legislative process, with some proposing that the House expel objectors.
Some House Democrats objected during the electoral vote certifications in Congress in the 2000, 2004, and 2016 elections, when Republicans won the presidency. They were joined by then-Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in 2004, triggering the same kind of two-hour debate in the House and Senate over a state’s results that we saw last week because of the need for both a House member and a Senate member to object to a state’s results in order to force a debate on that matter (in 2004, the state was Ohio).
The difference, of course, is that those objections were not championed by the losing presidential candidate as well as by some top leaders in the party, unlike in 2020.
Nor did those objections occur mere hours after a throng of dangerous lunatics descended on the Capitol, fueled by a misguided belief that the election was robbed from their candidate.
Let’s take a look at how Republican House members voted on these objections, and then see if there are any patterns in who voted yes on both objections, who voted no, and who split their votes.
First of all, here’s the basic math. Currently, there are 211 members of the House Republican caucus. There is one vacancy, in heavily Republican LA-5, after Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R) died from COVID-19 complications before taking office. That seat will be filled in a special election later this year. One race also remains uncalled as a sloppy and very close vote count continues under the guidance of a court: NY-22, between former Reps. Claudia Tenney (R) and Anthony Brindisi (D).
Of the 211 Republican members, 120 voted in favor of both objections, while 63 voted against both. Another 18 voted against the objection to the Arizona results, but in favor of the objection to Pennsylvania. A handful of others either didn’t vote, didn’t vote on one of the two objections, or — in the case of Reps. David Valadao (R, CA-21) and Maria Elvira Salazar (R, FL-27) — had not been sworn in yet because of COVID-19. Valadao and Salazar are noteworthy because they are two of the handful of Republicans who won districts that Joe Biden carried in the presidential race (more on that below).
Table 1 lays out how all the GOP members voted by category. Every Democrat voted no on both objections, with a few not voting on one or both.
Table 1: How Republican House members voted on Electoral College objections
Note: “District rated comp.?” column indicates whether the district was rated as something other than Safe in the final 2020 Crystal Ball House ratings.
From here on out, we’ll use “double objectors” to denote the Republicans who objected to both the Arizona and Pennsylvania results, and “double rejecters” to describe the Republicans who voted against both objections. In other words, the double objectors supported President Trump on these votes, and the double rejecters did not.
Generally speaking, the districts of the double objectors are redder than those of the double rejecters.
Based on Daily Kos Elections’ calculations of the 2016 presidential results — we’re using 2016 because 2020 calculations are not yet complete — Donald Trump won the 211 GOP-held House districts (excluding the vacant LA-5) by an average of 24.5 points.
In the 120 double objector districts, Trump won by an average of 28.8 points. So these districts are more Republican than the average.
Meanwhile, in the 63 double rejecter districts, Trump won by a still impressive but markedly smaller average margin of 18.6 points. (As an aside and just for some perspective, Hillary Clinton won the 222 Democratic House seats by an average of 29.8 points.)
Republicans hold 60 districts that were rated as at least somewhat competitive in the final 2020 Crystal Ball House rankings (a rating other than Safe). There is an almost equal number of members in these seats in both the double objector (26) and double rejecter (25) columns, but because there are roughly two times the number of double objectors compared to double rejecters, vulnerable seat-holders make up about 40% of the double rejecters as opposed to just about 21% of the double objectors. It makes some intuitive sense that members in potentially vulnerable seats would be likelier to vote against the objections.
Based on the best available information we can glean from Daily Kos Elections and others who are calculating the presidential results by congressional district, there are just nine House Republicans who represent districts that voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race. Hypothetically, these are the most vulnerable House Republicans. Interestingly, their votes were all over the map, although COVID-19 played a role in how they voted.
First of all, the aforementioned Valadao and Salazar have not been sworn in yet, so they did not vote. Valadao indicated that he would have rejected both objections had he been in Congress. We have not seen any indication from Salazar as to how she might have voted. The same is true for Rep. Michelle Steel (R, CA-48), who also missed the votes because of COVID-19. Rep. Young Kim (R, CA-39) missed the first vote, on Arizona, because of possible COVID-19 exposure, but she voted against the Pennsylvania challenge. Salazar, Kim, and Steel are new members; Valadao lost in 2018 before regaining his seat in November.
Reps. Don Bacon (R, NE-2), John Katko (R, NY-24) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R, PA-1) were unsurprising double rejecters: All three have won multiple elections in tough districts, and they sometimes look for ways to distinguish themselves from their party.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Garcia (R, CA-25) was a double objector despite winning by only a few hundred votes in a district that backed Biden by about 10 points. Additionally, Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R, TX-24) backed the Pennsylvania objection while voting against the Arizona objection. These two members stand out as those who could potentially be the most hurt by their votes, although we have to remember that we are heading into a redistricting year: Van Duyne, in particular, could see the Republicans who run Texas redistricting make her seat, which flipped from Trump 2016 to Biden 2020, much easier to defend.
Some other observations:
— The top two House Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R, CA-23) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R, LA-1), were double objectors, but the No. 3 House Republican, Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R, WY-AL), was a double rejecter.
— Rep. Tom Emmer (R, MN-6), the current chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was a double rejecter, as was his predecessor, Rep. Steve Stivers (R, OH-15). However, the other two House members who are former chairs of the House Republican campaign arm, Reps. Pete Sessions (R, TX-17) and Tom Cole (R, OK-4), were double objectors.
— Rep. Chris Smith (R, NJ-4), who is tied with Rep. Hal Rogers (R, KY-5) as the second-longest serving House Republican, was a double rejecter. Meanwhile, party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R, NJ-2), the only other New Jersey House Republican, was a double objector. The Dean of the House, Rep. Don Young (R, AK-AL), was a double rejecter; Rogers of Kentucky, meanwhile, was a double objector, while his four other less-tenured Kentucky Republican House colleagues were double rejecters.
— Vice President Mike Pence’s brother, Rep. Greg Pence (R, IN-6), was one of the 18 members who split their votes, objecting to Pennsylvania but not Arizona.
— Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R, IA-2) was a double rejecter. She won by just six votes, and her opponent, former state Sen. Rita Hart (D), argues that 22 legally-cast votes were not counted and that she should have won. Hart has asked the U.S. House, controlled by Democrats, to intervene on her behalf. The matter is pending. Iowa has certified the IA-2 results, and House Democrats overturning certified results to seat one of their own might undercut their own criticisms of Republicans for denying Biden’s victory. In any event, Miller-Meeks likely was wise to vote the way she did: She voted against Congress sticking its nose into elections conducted in other states just as she surely hopes Congress backs off of the election conducted in her state.