President Donald Trump is continuing to defy defeat and push unfounded allegations of election fraud, and most of Virginia’s Republican congressmen are reluctant to criticize the president and are sticking to the message that the election is not over.
“We have people on both sides who are getting all worked up,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said in an interview on Thursday. “Democrats think we shouldn’t be asking questions, and Republicans think that all the questions should be answered in their favor. We need to sort it out and do it right. The Republicans have been through this before, but you have to go through the process and it takes time.”
Election officials across the country have stated that they have not found evidence of fraud or irregularities that could change the outcome of last week’s presidential election. They acknowledge there were minor issues, which is typical in elections.
“What election official is going to step forward and say, ‘We ran a really poor process, and I’m not sure we did it right’?” Griffith said, suggesting officials may not be truthful with their statements.
Griffith did say he has confidence in the results for his unopposed reelection. He represents the 9th Congressional District, where 70% of voters backed Trump.
Few Republicans in Congress have publicly congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his victory. One of them is Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, who will soon leave Congress after losing a bitter renomination fight in June.
“We’ve got a new president-elect,” Riggleman said in an interview Thursday. “It’s going to happen whether you like it or not.”
Trump has refused to concede and, in an attempt to delegitimize the vote, has falsely insisted there is a multistate conspiracy by Democrats to “steal” the election.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get into that,” Griffith said when asked what he thinks about Trump’s rhetoric.
“I don’t say the things he says,” Griffith replied.
Bob Good, who will succeed Riggleman as the Republican representative for central Virginia, is echoing Trump. In the 5th Congressional District, 51% of voters chose Trump.
“We must defeat those who will lie, cheat, and steal to win an election at any cost,” Good wrote in a statement that complained about some of the lawful ways in which people could cast their ballots and included disinformation about voting.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, did not respond to an interview request, nor did he respond to questions sent to them, such as whether he backs Trump’s allegations and supports democracy. He represents the 1st Congressional District, where 51.2% of voters chose Trump.
“We must ensure the integrity of our elections and we must follow the laws on the books,” Wittman wrote on social media this week.
Top Republicans in Congress have stood by Trump’s refusal to concede. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor this week Trump was “100% within his rights” to use the court system to challenge the election results.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., had a different message on the Senate floor Thursday.
“With COVID cases rising, hospitalizations increasing, deaths tragically multiplying, and people and businesses still suffering, we should be laser focused on crushing this virus and rebuilding the American economy. The U.S. does not have the luxury to engage in conspiracy theories and multiple bogus election challenges,” Kaine said. “To my colleagues, especially my Republican colleagues, the nation needs the Senate right now to send a message of calm transition to a new administration. Please put our country first.”
Republicans have been leery of criticizing Trump and risking alienating his loyal supporters. The election highlighted Trump maintaining popularity, with rural voters flocking to the polls to vote for him.
“Trump is a soon-to-be-former president and Republican leaders in Congress still don’t have the courage to stand up against him on behalf of the country,” Rep. Don Beyer, D-Alexandria, one of Virginia’s nine Democrats in Congress, said in a statement.
Trump’s team has engaged in several legal moves to challenge the outcomes in key states. But Biden has won enough states by enough votes that Trump can’t overcome those deficits and win enough states to win the election, even with the legal challenges.
Riggleman said Republicans have been inconsistent with their positions on voting, depending on whether the outcome could be in their favor, like Trump’s calls to continue counting votes in some places but not in others. Riggleman is concerned about the effect the sound and fury and disinformation throughout this process will have on Americans.
“It doesn’t matter what is proved, it’s what you make people believe,” Riggleman said.
Griffith, Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, and other Republicans wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr last week to request that he have the Justice Department get involved in reviewing the election.
This week, Barr authorized federal prosecutors across the country to pursue “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities, if they exist, before the election is certified, despite no evidence of widespread fraud.
“The president wants to ensure a fair and legal process, and I think no matter which side you’re on, at the end of the day, you want public confidence in the result,” Cline said in an interview Thursday. “That is to ensure the process is transparent, all laws are followed and the public has confidence in the result. I think everybody, no matter which side you’re on, would want the end result to be one in which the public can have confidence.”
Griffith wasn’t concerned that Trump’s handling of the results would damage Americans’ trust in the Democratic process in the future.
“This is a situation that always happens in republics since we started having elections, there’s always been this issue, foreign influence, who did what and when, these are standard types of problems,” Griffith said. “We may not have seen them recently. But a study of this republic and other republics would reveal this is always a concern. You just have to get through the process.”
Riggleman worries that attempts to sow distrust in the election system could have ramifications for future elections when there are domestic or foreign disinformation campaigns.
Asked if he would help build confidence in the election process and the results with a public declaration if the Electoral College chooses Biden, Cline reiterated his position that this is an ongoing process and he was waiting on all of the votes to be counted.
“At that point, I would assume there would be confidence among the American people in the results of the election,” Cline said. In the 6th Congressional District Cline represents Trump won 59% of the vote.
States are in the middle of certifying their votes, which has a Dec. 8 deadline set by federal law. Once the results are certified, the Electoral College will cast the votes that will officially choose the next president, on Dec. 14.