Walberg, Bergman plan to challenge Biden victory as Michigan GOP reps split

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan Republicans in Congress are divided over plans to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s win on Wednesday when Electoral College votes are counted during a joint session of lawmakers. 

Reps. Tim Walberg of Tipton and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, in addition to a number of other Republican allies of President Donald Trump, say they intend to object to the electors from certain disputed states, although the largely symbolic action is not expected to keep Biden from taking office later this month.

At least two other House members from Michigan, GOP Reps. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and Lisa McClain of Bruce Township, said they are open to hearing evidence Wednesday and potentially voting against the validity of electoral votes from one or more states.

U.S. Rep Tim Walberg

But others in Michigan's delegation say the effort — which Trump is encouraging in a last-gasp effort to overturn Biden's victory — would endanger the country's democratic foundation.

“It's the voters, not judges or politicians, that must decide elections. This would reverse that," said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Michigan's most senior Republican in Congress.

"These objections would establish a new precedent allowing the Congress to supersede the will of the people. There have been no cases of fraud discovered that would overturn President-elect Biden’s 154,000 vote victory in Michigan," Upton added. 

"The voters spoke. That’s what our country is about. You may not like the result but you live by the rules."

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph

Walberg and Bergman in a joint statement Monday cited concerns raised by poll challengers and said Americans "deserve to know only legal votes are counted and reports regarding irregularities, fraud and failure to follow election laws are thoroughly investigated."

“While the easy answer is ignoring election irregularities — we will not stand idly by without taking every lawfully available option to ensure the outcomes of our elections can be trusted. This includes objecting to the electoral votes from disputed states where there is evidence warranting an investigation," they said. 

"Our options are not binary — Congress has an obligation to the tens of millions of Americans who have lost faith in our election process to prove that our elections are free, fair, and follow laws in place."

Walberg and Bergman's statement followed the news over the weekend that a coalition of 11 senators, led by Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, also intends to reject electors from certain states, citing distrust among voters about the legitimacy of the election. 

Like the Cruz-led group, Walberg and Bergman called Monday for an electoral commission to perform an "emergency" audit of election results in the 10 days before inauguration.

U.S. Rep Jack Bergman, R-Watermeet

Michigan a flash point

It was not clear which states the Trump allies intend to object to, but Michigan is expected to be among them after a flurry of lawsuits were tossed out of state and federal courts. Bergman referenced alleged irregularities in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada.

Biden won Michigan by over 154,000 votes, 51% to 48%, though Trump has continued to make false claims about "massive" fraud. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has urged GOP senators not to try to overturn the vote. And Wyoming U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who chairs the House GOP Conference and is the third-ranking House GOP lawmaker, cautioned her colleagues in a Sunday memo that objections to the Electoral College results “set an exceptionally dangerous precedent.”

Cheney also said those lawmakers backing an election commission "were in essence proposing to delay the inaugural," since the commission's work and debate over it would take months.

Upton was the first House Republican to congratulate Biden on his victory in early November, and he intends to vote to affirm the Electoral College results Wednesday, he said. 

Virtually no one expects that any state's Electoral College votes will be denied or thrown out Wednesday, Upton said, because challenges to their validity would have to pass both chambers, and lawmakers will vote them down. Democrats control the House, while control of the Senate will be determined this week by Georgia runoff elections.

"So I don’t know if people have false hope but it’s not going to happen," Upton said. "But if it did, the politicians would in fact overturn the vote, which I don’t think is right or appropriate." 

While Trump has assailed the absentee ballot voting process in Michigan, Upton said he will share with his GOP colleagues Tuesday a copy of the absentee ballot application sent to his home last year by the Trump campaign itself. 

"I am a bit of a pack rat. I still have it," Upton said. "I would also note that the Michigan absentee ballot process was defined by Michigan voters in 2018, allowing folks to vote absentee for no reason."

Huizenga, who campaigned for Trump, said he's not seen the kind of systemic fraud that has been claimed in Michigan specifically. 

"I’m out trying to seek the truth. I’m open to evidence and, so far, the evidence that’s been presented coming out of the Second District of Michigan is false and not true," Huizenga said. 

"I hear in Arizona and some other places that some of my colleagues claim there’s real hard evidence. I’m looking forward to hearing it."

But Huizenga questioned why the state legislatures in those states didn't assert themselves and challenge the results or take other action. 

"They had that ability and didn't do that in Michigan and in these other states," he said. 

Huizenga said he’s also sympathetic to the argument made by Republican U.S. Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky that it’s not the job of Congress to decide which electors to seat — only to count the electors submitted by the states.

'A dangerous precedent'

“Four years ago, Nancy Pelosi was speaker of the House, and Donald Trump won because of the Electoral College and not the popular vote. Would it be OK if Pelosi were throwing out Michigan’s votes then?” Huizenga said. “It’s a dangerous precedent.”

Freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, who was sworn into office Sunday, also is not intending to object Wednesday and suggested he would vote to affirm the Electoral College vote. 

"At this point, I struggle to find the grounds to not vote to certify the Electoral College," Meijer said. "I will go into the discussion with an open mind, but I'm also very mindful of my role and responsibility to the Constitution and to the rule of law in this country."

Meijer, an Iraq veteran, said he would not be surprised if he ends up delivering remarks during Wednesday's debate. 

Rep. Peter Meijer

"To me, this is a moment that's a lot less about politics than it is about what the Constitution prescribes what is dictated in our society," Meijer said. "We are, as

John Adams said, 'a government of laws, not men.' To me, that's a sentiment I carry with me every day."

Freshman Rep. McClain said Sunday she supports her colleagues who intend to raise concerns Wednesday about the the 2020 election process, but she would not say how she intends to vote before hearing the "evidence."

"If there are issues, I will examine the evidence, and if the issues is warrant, I will contest. Absolutely. Yes," McClain said. 

"What I've seen so far is a lot of irregularities. I've also seen a lot of Americans that are distrustful in the election process, and that's the piece that concerns me" she added, noting concerns voiced by her constituents.

Lisa McClain is a businesswoman and newcomer to politics who is competing for the GOP nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, who decided against running for re-election, in Congress. She is seen at her desk in her Bruce Township home on Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

"If we don't have fair elections in a process in which people can trust, that really speaks to our democracy, and then how are we different than other countries like Russia and Venezuela? We have to give people that peace of mind that the election is fair."

Michigan Democrats including Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township blasted the GOP plans. Peters said Sunday he intends to push back on any false information put forth about Michigan's election. 

"It's fundamental in a democratic republic that people believe that elections are free and fair — which they were in this election — and to sow mistrust damages our democracy," Peters said.

He noted that even Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump's former director of homeland cybersecurity have confirmed there was no widespread fraud that would change the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.

'Every day is a fight'

Michigan House Democrats met Monday with party leadership to review the plan for countering a potential objection to Michigan's electors. 

"This is an attempt to undermine the votes of the people, undertake a coup d'etat —literally to overthrow the government of the United States and replace the candidate elected by the people," said Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township.

"If that happened that would be the end of democracy we know it in the United States. You bet I will be there with bells on and mask on safely socially distanced on Wednesday and ready to defend the votes of the state of Michigan."

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said he also intends to factually refute disinformation about Michigan's election if it comes up on the House floor Wednesday.

"Part of me doesn't want to validate these really insane arguments that they're offering, but my concern is that the record of the House be clear," said Kildee, who is chief deputy whip for the House Democrats.

"They keep referring to how there are these continuing allegations or claims of problems in the election — none of which is factually correct. There are claims, but there's no evidence. That's the problem," he added. "It's just such a circular argument."

Kildee said it's disingenuous and hypocritical that lawmakers who are opposing the results of the Nov. 3 election on Sunday took their oath of office based on the same election.

"If members from Michigan or some other state don't believe that the election had integrity, what kind of impostors are they by being willing to take their own oath?" Kildee said.

"It just shows that they really don't believe it. They are just pandering to the loudest voices not exercising leadership."

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, suggested Wednesday’s planned objections are all about fundraising for Trump. 

"What they're saying is that the people — they're demanding that this happen. And I'm saying, 'OK, but what about the people who voted to have Joe Biden elected? What about those people?' But their world, there's only Donald Trump and there's only Donald Trump followers," Lawrence said.

"Because when you operate with a 'divide America agenda,' you really don't care about anyone who's not on your team. Everyone else is an enemy," she added. 

"We just wake up and put on our armor and get ready to fight. Every day is a fight."