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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., speaks during a news conference after a tour at the Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

More than six months after voters elected Joe Biden as president, Tennessee's congressional Republicans continue to raise questions about the way the November 2020 election was conducted and want electoral changes before the mid-term congressional election next year.

"We had a fundamentally flawed process in many states. I fervently believe that," said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah. "I'm going to work for election integrity."

Fleischmann said he wants to see every American's right to vote protected and that all votes are properly counted, and he objects to how some states changed the process of absentee balloting and other election rules during the coronavirus pandemic last year without proper approval of their state Legislatures.

"We've got to restore credibility and sanctity to the system and we lost that during the last election," Fleischmann said. "Congress should make sure that states fulfill their obligation and we can't sit back and allow the states to do some of the things that I felt were not following the legal process."

"Never give up!"

Last week, former President Donald Trump in five separate emails from his political action committee repeated his claims of "massive election fraud" and a "rigged election" last November. Trump denounced the U.S. Supreme Court, former Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for not doing more to stop the certification of the presidential election results in January. Trump called McConnell, the top-ranking GOP senator, "gutless and clueless" for not doing more to review or change the election certification.

Trump, who left the White House without ever acknowledging defeat, implored Republicans to "Never give up!" and many of his supporters in Tennessee have not — even though his allegations of fraud were rejected by state election officials, the courts, Trump's own election security and justice officials and the Electoral College.

In Tennessee, all seven Republicans in the U.S. House voted in January against certifying the election of Biden as president.

U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, both Tennessee Republicans, initially said they would vote against certifying the election but ended up voting to ratify the Electoral College vote of 306 to 232 in favor of Biden after the Capitol was attacked on Jan. 6 by those wanting Congress to certify Trump as the election winner.

Ultimately, a majority of both the Senate and House confirmed the election results and Biden took office on Jan. 20 after winning the popular vote by a more than 7 million-vote margin over Trump.

election audit

Hagerty, the former Japanese ambassador in the Trump administration who was elected to the U.S. Senate last year with Trump's endorsement, met last month with the former president at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and outlined his plan for election reform in response to what he said was a questionable election.

Hagerty said last week he wants an audit of the 2020 election and he is proposing legislation to cut off election funding for states that are found not to have followed the proper constitutional process for changing how elections were conducted during the pandemic.

"I believe that there are several places where the constitution was violated and those states that violated the constitution will not get any federal dollars to execute their elections until those problems have been rectified," Hagerty said. "You have a tremendous number of Tennesseans and a tremendous number of Americans who are very concerned about election security right now, and they are very concerned about what transpired in 2020. We need to fix that and restore confidence in our electoral system, and that's exactly what my legislation will do."

Democrats say GOP is lying

Democrats insist that last year's election was one of the fairest ever and succeeded in attracting record voter turnout even amid the pandemic with few verified instances of voter irregularities. Despite Trump's repeated claims of massive fraud that changed the result of the voting, voter recounts in Georgia and court reviews and election audits in other states have found no evidence of voter fraud sufficient to change any state's outcome.

"Unfortunately, Republicans continue to tell the big lie," said Hendrell Remus, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. "It's disheartening that we have members of our state's congressional delegation that know the claims of Donald Trump are not true but are willing to be dishonest and claim they are."

Remus said the "reforms" pushed by Republicans, in most instances, are attempts to suppress voter turnout and help Republicans get elected with a minority of people supporting their candidates. He said the GOP "is showcasing what it's like to be a sore loser and anytime something doesn't go your way you throw a temper tantrum."

The Republicans are undermining trust in the democratic system, Remus said.

But U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Ashland City, said voters are distrustful because of the changes made in absentee ballots, early voting and other voting procedures last year during the pandemic.

"Biden is the president and let's move on, but we need to fix those things that are broken about our election system," Green said. "I think what [Trump] is doing now to get us to look at election integrity is a good thing. There should never be a question mark in an American's mind about an election."

Green said the election reform measures recently adopted in Georgia, Florida and Kansas and still being debated in Texas are needed to help ensure voter confidence in the election process "and I think that is a good thing."

He said people need an ID to get on an airplane or pick up a Social Security check in person, so proper identification should be required for voting, as well. Democrats have countered that voting is a constitutionally protected right, unlike flying.

Green and Fleischmann both voiced support for Tennessee's voting process and its ID requirements.

"This is not about the last election; it's about fixing it for the future," Green said.

Battle in the GOP caucus

In the U.S. House, Trump's response to the last election has split the GOP caucus. Most Republicans appear to be ready to oust House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, a representative of Wyoming, who voted to impeach Trump over his continued claims of election fraud that some claim helped spark the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

As soon as Wednesday, Republicans in the House, including most of the GOP representatives in Tennessee, are expected to vote to remove Cheney from her House leadership post and replace her with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. Rep. Stafanik has a more moderate voting record than the more conservative Cheney, but she has been more loyal to Trump.

"Liz has lost the confidence of the conference, so it is time for her to step down," Green said.

A survey of Republicans in March by the Pew Research Center found that 56% of GOP voters said the party should not be accepting of people who openly criticize Trump, and 64% of Republicans indicated that the party shouldn't be accepting of any Republican in Congress who voted to impeach or convict Trump.

"This is still the party of Donald Trump," Fleischmann said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.

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