These lawmakers are vacillating between loyalty to a president with the power to turn their voters against them and their duty to protect guardrails of democracy that are facing a stress test in the middle of an economic and public health crisis.
“We’re going to have an orderly transfer from this administration to the next one,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters on Tuesday. “What we all say about it is, frankly, irrelevant.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who narrowly won his re-election race, told NBC News that Biden is “probably” the president-elect based on the results, but added that Trump is “entitled” to mount legal challenges.
“I know everybody wants it to be over but Inauguration Day is January 20,” he said. “I think we have time to settle things to make sure that both sides are comfortable with the outcome.”
President-elect Joe Biden has voiced concern that his administration still can’t begin the official transition, including his lack of security briefings and inability to begin understanding the the Covid-19 vaccine distribution plan. And some Republican lawmakers have echoed those concerns, but few have called for Trump’s administration to allow the transition to start.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a staunch Trump ally, said he has launched a one-man effort to inquire on Trump’s behalf in states about ballot counting.
But even Graham indicated he sees the writing on the wall.
On Tuesday, he walked up to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the vice president-elect, on the Senate floor and gave her a fist bump and a friendly pat on the back.
It’s an awkward dance for senators like Tillis and Graham, who won their races on the same ballot as Trump and aren’t contesting the result. Republican House candidates also over-performed and gained seats.
Trump’s team has pursued litigation in numerous states that isn’t showing signs of success but could continue into December. He has made baseless charges of widespread voter fraud that many in his party have declined to denounce, even as some think his pursuits aren’t going anywhere.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has said it’s likely that Biden will be president, told a Capitol Hill reporter he didn’t think much of Trump team’s lawsuit in his state.
“I don’t think they have a strong case,” he said.
GOP senators largely shrugged that off.
“You know what? I think we’re going to be just fine in Georgia,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a staunch Trump ally.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., one of the senators in the runoff, is simultaneously backing Trump’s unfounded allegations of fraud while implying that Biden will be the next president.
Senate Republicans are “the firewall against socialism in this country,” she told Fox News on Wednesday, before warning of a series of policy changes, such as tax hikes and Supreme Court expansion, that could only occur under full Democratic control.
Asked if the president’s repeated cries of election fraud may dampen turnout, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, suggested Trump is merely speaking for his voters.
“I lost track but 72 million people voted for him so there are a lot of people who support this effort,” Cornyn told NBC News, adding that the timeline for all election-related issues to be resolved ultimately extends to next year. “I’m confident on January 20 we’ll have a peaceful transition of power and that’ll be the next normal, whatever it turns out to be.”