WASHINGTON — One way or another, the public hearings Thursday night will make history — but in the lead-up, claims about committee members’ past actions have raised eyebrows. Are lawmakers being hypocritical in their investigation of Jan. 6?
Did Representatives Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) vote to overturn previous elections?
Not technically—while they opposed the electoral certification of certain states, that is a relatively common process that would not have been enough to overturn an election.
WHAT WE FOUND:
This is a Tweet from former White House Communications Strategist and political commentator Mercedes Schlapp:
“Reminder that the Jan. 6 committee is being led by Rep. Bennie Thompson, who voted to overturn the 2004 election, Rep. Jamie Raskin, who voted to overturn the 2016 election, and Rep. Adam Schiff, who claimed for years that he had proof of Russian collusion.”
This particular Tweet has been shared nearly 4,000 times, and people were also making similar claims following the events on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rewinding to that morning: before members of Congress were fleeing to safety, they were voting to “certify” the electoral results of the 2020 election, as they do after every presidential contest.
“It is a legal requirement, but just a formality where the vote counts are read,” said Anita Manion, University of Missouri political scientist. “But there have been a handful of times in our history, mostly in our recent history, where we've seen members of the House and or Senate object to the certification of particular states.”
Manion says typically those objections to electoral counts are made for political purposes, to make a point.
“In the modern era, really, the first objection we saw using this process was in 1969,” said Manion. “It was really focused in on one what we call faithless elector, what that means is that elector in the Electoral College didn't vote for the candidate who won the state. In this case, it was an elector whose state had chosen Richard Nixon, but the electorate instead voted for the third-party candidate, George Wallace. And so there were bipartisan objections to this faithless elector. And really the focus was, we need to reform the Electoral College, and we're going to use this faithless electors example.”
In 2016, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin did that, objecting to Florida’s count—but then-presiding Senate president Joe Biden pushed past it for procedural reasons.
"Throughout history, we've seen more so members of the House objecting, but to have that debate, you have to get a member of the House and the Senate to sign on," said Manion.
During the certification of the 2004 election, Ohio representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones and California Senator Barbara Boxer teamed up to formally oppose the certification of Ohio’s electoral votes.
“They were saying we have evidence, we believe that Ohio has disenfranchised black voters, and we want debate around that,” explained Manion. “And in that case, you did have a senator sign-on, so there was debate.”
In the subsequent hearing to debate the opposition’s merits, Representative Jones attempted to make clear that she was standing up due to concerns over fairness of her state’s process.
“This objection does not have at its root the hope or even the attempt at overturning the victory of the president, but it is a necessary, timely, and appropriate opportunity to review and remedy the most precious process in our democracy,” she said.
Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson did vote to support the objection—he was in the minority, though, and Ohio and the election were certified.
“Technically, if you had enough votes, you could prevent the certification of the electors from a particular state,” said Manion. “Now, they weren't close to coming to that.”
She says individual state opposition typically seen during these proceedings feels very different than what happened the last electoral certification when Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were among those who mounted an effort against multiple states’ electoral results.
“I would say in 2020, objecting to so many states, basically, any state that was closed that President Trump lost, was a different approach than it has been used in the past,” said Manion. “In previous elections, there was no major effort to overturn the election results. The candidates, whether it was Hillary Clinton in 2016, or Al Gore in 2000, had already conceded, and were moving on from that. And as we know now, in 2020, not only was President Trump making very public statements that he did not believe in the election results, and that they needed to change, but we also now know that there were a lot of different efforts and strategies behind the scenes to overturn those election results.”
As for the Tweet’s claims about Adam Schiff? The House Intelligence Committee Chairman often called out then-President Trump for dealings he, his family, and his associates had with Russians. As for whether or not it was criminal, he said it was up to Robert Mueller to investigate.
“You might think that’s ok—I don’t,” said Schiff in a House Committee meeting defending himself against Republican calls for his resignation. “I have always said that the question of whether this amounts to conspiracy was another matter. Whether the special counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the proof of that crime would be up to the special counsel and I would accept his decision and I do….but I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is ok.”
The charge of the Jan. 6 committee doesn’t directly deal with the electoral vote certification that was happening that day: their focus is on the coinciding attack on the Capitol and the communications, security, and procedures leading up to it.
The first public hearing begins Thursday, June 9 and 8:00 EST.