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Republican Bill Hagerty meets with Middle Tennessee supporters on Oct. 22 during early voting in his successful 2020 campaign for U.S. Senate. (Photo by Andy Sher/Chattanooga Times Free Press)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee's new U.S. senator, Republican Bill Hagerty, is defending his and a dozen or so fellow GOP lawmakers' plan to object Wednesday to certifying Democrat Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Donald Trump.

"I have a very hard time putting a rubber stamp on what happened in this election," the freshman lawmaker told Cleveland-based Mix 104.1 WCLE host Steve Hartline on Tuesday in an interview. "You know what happened. The Democrats used the pandemic as an excuse, as a lever to go in and end-run the United States Constitution."

Hagerty's remarks came after being specifically asked about a Monday tweet from former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Chattanooga Republican. Corker stated he was "saddened that some senators plan to undermine our democratic process that gives the American people, not politicians, the right to elect our president."

Although Biden won by 7 million votes, Trump has alleged widespread voter fraud and systemic problems in battleground states like Georgia in the Nov. 3 election. The president has continued to press the matter even as judges, state elections officials, the Electoral College and the U.S. Supreme Court have rejected his claims.

Hagerty and fellow Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who replaced Corker when he didn't seek a third term, have backed Trump to the hilt, saying they will "stand against tainted electoral results from the recent presidential election."

Many Republicans supporting the president have focused on whether pandemic-related accommodations for voters were put in place without the proper procedures, an argument that failed in court.

The president's attorneys and allies have lost some 60 such court challenges in multiple states, including Georgia, where voters went Tuesday to the polls to vote in two U.S. Senate runoff elections that will also decide which party controls the Senate.

Trump's campaign has won just once, a Pennsylvania case in November in which the judge ordered the state not to count some mail-in ballots that were missing proof of identification that the state "cured" during an extended deadline — a process of notifying voters of the errors on their ballots and allowing the voters to correct them. The ruling did not affect Biden's victory there.

Hagerty, who served as Trump's U.S. ambassador to Japan after helping to run Trump's presidential transition in 2016 and early 2017, said the Constitution "is clear, it's the responsibility of state legislatures to set up and put the rules in place, operate presidential elections.

"It's not in the domain of activist judges, it's not in the domain of the executive branch officials like secretaries of state, certainly not in the domain of bureaucrats," Hagerty continued. "It is in the domain of state legislatures. And what's happened here is we've had a violation of the Constitution that's taken place. And if someone doesn't stand up to this, if we just rubber-stamp it, we will allow it to stand."

If that happens, the Republican argued, "it will essentially allow them to institutionalize this chaos. And what will happen next in the next election? We've got to take a stand now."

That's "why we want to form this commission, to get to the bottom of what happened," Hagerty added. "We want it to happen very quickly. We put a 10-day limit on it — it could happen even sooner — but get to the bottom of what's happened and put it back to the state legislatures, to have them do their duty, follow their constitutional responsibility and truly assess what's happened here. The states have to clean this up."

Trump handily won Tennessee and results here haven't been questioned.

Tennessee state Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville Democrat and attorney who until recently served as House minority leader, sharply criticized Hagerty's comments, saying, "I think people should pay close attention and remember the position that Sen. Hagerty took, which is the election in which he was elected is illegitimate.

"Notice that he in a lengthy diatribe didn't provide one iota of evidence," Stewart added. "We've had multiple courts look at this and had courts with both Democratic and Republican judges rule that there is nothing to the 'fraud.'"

Moreover, Stewart said, Corker is right in saying Republicans have "chosen to undermine the democratic process that has made this country great. It's really the worst act of a U.S. senator I believe I've seen in my lifetime."

Praising what he characterized as the "bravery" of Corker as well as former Republican U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, who have publicly opposed the effort to block the electoral vote certification, Stewart said "making obviously unfounded allegations is just as irresponsible an action as one can take.

"I have to assume that [Hagerty's] old boss, Gov. Bill Haslam would be appalled. This is a new level of lawlessness which heretofore has been found only below the Mexican border, not above," Stewart added.

Four of Tennessee's seven GOP congressmen, U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais, Mark Green and Diana Harshbarger, signed onto the effort to reject the election over the weekend. Republican Reps. Tim Burchett, John Rose and David Kustoff have not.

The move Hagerty and Blackburn signed on to was initiated by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. It's actually the second effort by Republicans to attempt to block Congressional certification of Biden as president based on his 306 electoral votes and Trump's 232 votes.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, announced his planned challenge first. Both efforts are opposed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and a number of other Republican senators.

In opposing Hawley's effort, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, warned "we have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there's a quick way to tap into the president's populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they're wrong — and this issue is bigger than anyone's personal ambitions. Adults don't point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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