This story was updated at 11:11 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, with more information.
NASHVILLE — Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and U.S. Sen.-elect Bill Hagerty of Tennessee on Saturday joined a Senate GOP effort to oppose certifying President-elect Joe Biden's election victory over President Donald Trump, a move also supported in the House by Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Ooltewah.
The Senate effort, which 11 Republicans joined in a joint letter, calls on Congress to immediately appoint an "Electoral Commission" with "full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states," Blackburn and Hagerty said in a joint statement.
"On behalf of Tennesseans, we are taking a united stand against the tainted electoral results from the recent Presidential election," Blackburn and Hagerty said in their statement.
Fleischmann earlier said he "will support efforts by my colleagues in the House and Senate to cast light on concerns about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election by objecting during the Electoral College certification," which is expected to take place Wednesday.
The House effort is widely expected to fail given Democrats' majority in the chamber. While Republicans are now in control of the Senate, Georgia's twin elections on Tuesday — in which incumbent GOP Sen. David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, and Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock — will determine who runs the chamber, where the GOP now has 52 of the 100 seats.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said, "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election. As of today, Donald Trump has lost 60 out of 61 lawsuits contesting the results, and countless state election officials — both Republican and Democrat — have demonstrated the integrity of the November election.
"There is simply no proof that the results are anything but the legitimate will of the American people," Mancini said. "The decision by Senators Blackburn and Hagerty to refuse to accept the results of this fair and free election undermines the electoral process we have relied on for more than two centuries. That they would bend their conscience and character to please one man, Donald Trump, is un-American, a betrayal of the oath they took to defend and protect the constitution, and a slap in the face of the Tennesseans they swore to serve."
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has publicly acknowledged Biden as president-elect, has tried to discourage colleagues from objecting, warning it would be a "terrible" vote because GOP lawmakers would split. Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-South Dakota, told reporters a challenge would "go down like a shot dog."
But Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, earlier announced he would file a challenge to the certification of Biden's victory. Biden won 306 electoral votes — including 16 in Georgia — while Trump received 232. Trump has claimed cheating and fraud in key swing states, including Georgia, but he and his allies have been rebuffed at virtually every step by courts. Republican officials such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger have said there is no evidence of widespread fraud.
Other Tennessee GOP congressmen who say publicly they will join President Trump's last-ditch bid to overturn Electoral College results are U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais of Sherwood and Mark Green of Ashland City. U.S. Rep.-elect Diana Harshbarger of Kingsport has said she, too, will vote against certification. Among Georgia Republicans opposing certification is U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Fleischmann said in a statement, "I continue to stand with President Trump. We must have one person, one vote. That's why I will object to the Electoral College certification. We must count only legally cast ballots."
The congressman said "a large number of Americans do not have faith in the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, including many of my own constituents, who have voiced their concerns to me and my office."
Blackburn was strongly supported by Trump in her 2018 slugfest with Democrat and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, while the president also played a critical role in Hagerty's 2020 GOP primary contest victory over rival Manny Sethi.
In their joint statement, Blackburn and Hagerty wrote, "American democracy relies on the consent of the governed. Allegations of voter fraud, irregularities and unconstitutional actions diminish public confidence in what should be a free, fair and transparent process. Protecting the integrity of the electoral process is paramount to preserving trust and legitimacy in the final outcome."
But, they continued, many remain skeptical of the election results, which Trump has repeatedly attacked.
"Whether or not our elected officials or journalists believe it, that deep distrust of our democratic processes will not magically disappear," Blackburn and Hagerty wrote. "It should concern us all. And it poses an ongoing threat to the legitimacy of any subsequent administrations."
They also said that "ideally" courts would have heard evidence and resolved claims of serious election fraud. No trial judge or appellate court did. The U.S. Supreme Court — where six of nine seats are held by Republican-appointed justices, including three Trump picks — has twice declined to hear challenges.
So, Blackburn and Hagerty said, "it is incumbent on Congress to vote on whether to certify the 2020 election results. That vote is the lone constitutional power remaining to consider and force resolution of the multiple allegations of serious voter fraud."
Citing what they called a "long precedent" of Democratic lawmakers raising objections to presidential election results, Blackburn and Hagerty noted that in both 1969 and 2005, a Democratic senator joined with a Democratic House member to force votes in both chambers.
Blackburn and Hagerty cited what happened aftert the 1876 election, which resulted in the leading candidate falling short of an electoral vote majority by one vote with a number of disputed contests in Southern states. Congress appointed an Electoral Commission — consisting of five senators, five House members, and five Supreme Court justices — to consider and resolve the disputed returns.
"We should follow that precedent," Blackburn and Hagerty wrote, saying "Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission's findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed."
So, they said, "we intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not 'regularly given' and 'lawfully certified' [the statutory requisite], unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed.
"We are not naïve," Backburn and Hagerty continued. "We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise. But support of election integrity should not be a partisan issue. A fair and credible audit — conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20 — would dramatically improve Americans' faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People."
But Tennessee Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro in a tweet charged the effort is a "failure to respect State determinations of elections" and "wipes out the constitutional justifications for the Electoral College in the first place. This stunt shows it is being used merely [as] a tool for a national minority to block a national majority."
Yarbro said, "it's sad Tennessee has two United States senators on this disgraceful list. It's hard to imagine a single other senator in Tennessee history who would go down this unpatriotic, party-over-country path."
Earlier, Congressman DesJarlais' office said in a statement the congressman "has been long engaged with the Trump campaign and also has concerns about the conduct and transparency of many of the electoral processes in the most recent election.
"An overwhelming number of people in Tennessee's Fourth District have asked for a full debate and vote, and the Congressman believes that it is worthy of discussion, evaluation, and debate by the House before a vote on certification. He has agreed to join the effort," the statement added.
Green said in a statement that he, too, is supporting objections that U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, and Sen. Hawley plan to file, which he said are intended to "force the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to examine and debate the evidence from each state."
Former U.S. Rep. Zack Wamp, a Republican who from 1995 to 2011 held the seat Fleischmann currently occupies, on Saturday tweeted about his disappointment in Tennessee GOP members supporting the challenge.
Wamps' tweet read: "Over 40 years with the party of Reagan but sad+homeless today. From my own Congressman to some close friends, republicans are caving to lunacy+conspiracy driven efforts to overturn the will of the people. Shame on them all! #TruthMatters #CountryOverParty."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.