The Republican senator from Missouri said he wanted to draw attention to problems with election laws. But critics insist his bid has more to do with serving his own political ambitions.
WASHINGTON — Senator Josh Hawley has never equivocated about his disruptive intentions in Washington. A Theodore Roosevelt-admiring populist with Ivy League credentials and lofty ambition, he has spent his first two years in the Senate trying to solder an intellectual framework onto President Trump’s freewheeling brand of politics — occasionally singeing his own party in the process.
There have been noisy fights with tech behemoths, unlikely alliances with liberal economists and ample criticism for the Republican establishment. Mr. Hawley, Republican of Missouri and the Senate’s youngest member, opined in a speech last year that the party had been captured by a “cosmopolitan agenda” that left working people out in the cold.
But his plan to formally object on Wednesday when Congress meets to certify President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory, delivering a defiant Mr. Trump one final stand, promises to make Mr. Hawley’s earlier exploits look like a warm-up act.
The effort is all but certain to fail in the end, with bipartisan majorities of the House and Senate determined to reject Mr. Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. But by joining House Republicans challenging the results in key swing states, Mr. Hawley, a potential presidential contender in 2024, will force a public debate and vote on the matter — possibly several.
His gambit will ensure a final, messy showdown of the Trump era that Republican leaders fear will cleave the party in two and set the stage for a bloody internecine fight over its future.
Already, 12 other senators and dozens of members of the House have stated they intend to follow suit, including a group led by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who himself harbors ambitions of making another run for president.
It was an outcome Republican leaders in the Senate had desperately tried to avoid. House members frequently object to the certification of results they do not like, but they can only halt the counting process and force a full congressional debate and vote if a senator joins them.
In the days since Mr. Hawley, 41, announced he would, the criticism has been swift and withering. Many fellow Republicans regard his move as a cynical ploy by an astute lawyer meant to consolidate support among Mr. Trump’s base and position him for a 2024 run for president.
The conservative Wall Street Journal Editorial Board accused Mr. Hawley and Mr. Cruz of pursuing “their own presidential calculations” at the country’s cost. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a fellow young Republican also believed to harbor presidential ambitions, was harsher, writing in a letter to constituents last week that they were all but pointing “a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.”
And on Monday, Mr. Hawley’s maneuvering drew a stern rebuke from John C. Danforth of Missouri, a Republican elder statesman who helped recruit him to run for the Senate in 2018. Mr. Danforth suggested the electoral challenge was part of a “populist strategy to drive America even farther apart by promoting conspiracy theories and stoking grievances.”
“Lending credence to Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen is a highly destructive attack on our constitutional government,” he said in a statement. “It is the opposite of conservative; it is radical.”
Mr. Hawley appears unfazed. He quickly fired off a fund-raising solicitation last week, asking donors to back him up. “As you can imagine, I am being pressured from the Washington and Wall Street establishment to ignore the will of the people and avoid raising this issue,” he wrote.
He declined to be interviewed for this article, but in public comments, he has said he is not running for president and conceded there is little chance of disqualifying any state’s electoral votes. He has also stepped around claims made by Mr. Trump and some House Republicans that the president was the victim of widespread fraud.
Instead, Mr. Hawley has insisted that his own goal is to use the process to highlight insecurities in the voting system, the failure by certain states to follow their own election laws and what he called election “interference” on behalf of Mr. Biden by companies like Twitter and Facebook.
He has repeatedly said he decided on his own to challenge the election results and is responding to the concerns of his constituents alarmed by allegations of widespread voting fraud, which are unsupported by evidence but which Mr. Trump has perpetuated for months. Aside from giving Senate leaders a courtesy heads-up, his aides said he had not discussed the matter beforehand with fellow senators or House members prepared to back a challenge, or with Mr. Trump.
“His conscience is his conscience,” said Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota. “We can all disagree, and not necessarily anybody be really wrong.”
But others have grown frustrated that Mr. Hawley thrust the party into a lose-lose choice, and that he has done little to explain his actions. When Republican senators convened a call on New Year’s Eve to discuss the looming certification process, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, twice called on Mr. Hawley to explain his views. The requests were met with silence; Mr. Hawley was not on the line, aides said, because of a scheduling conflict.
He still has not said which states he plans to object to. House Republicans are eyeing six — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But Mr. Hawley has so far singled out only Pennsylvania, where he argues that a law loosening restrictions on mail-in voting violated the state’s Constitution.
Mr. McConnell had strenuously discouraged senators from joining the House’s objections, warning it could put Republicans in a tight spot, particularly difficult those up for re-election in 2022. Senator Roy Blunt, the senior senator from Mr. Hawley’s state, is among them.
“I think that if you have a plan, it should be a plan that has some chance of working,” Mr. Blunt told reporters on Sunday, though an aide declined a request for an interview about Mr. Hawley.
In the face of Republican criticism, Mr. Hawley wrote to colleagues saying he would prefer to have a debate on the Senate floor “for all of the American people to judge” rather than “by press release, conference call or email.”
It is a position other senators might hesitate to put their colleagues in, but like Mr. Trump, Mr. Hawley prides himself on not playing by Washington conventions.
He often promotes his small-town upbringing in western Missouri, inveighing against coastal elites who he says used big business, technology and media to slowly marginalize working people. Though he holds deeply conservative views on abortion rights and other cultural issues, he speaks comfortably about the dignity of work and labor unions in language often used by the left. When the coronavirus pandemic began ravaging the economy last year, he pushed first for government-sponsored wage replacement, and later $2,000 direct payments to Americans, teaming up with Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont.
Mr. Hawley’s path has been more rarefied than that presentation would suggest. After attending a Jesuit prep school in Kansas City, he earned degrees at Stanford and Yale. He spent a year teaching at an elite boys prep school in London; later served as a law clerk to Chief Justice John G. Roberts of the Supreme Court, where he met his future wife; and wrote a well-received biography of Roosevelt, whose peculiar mix of ideology has arguably shaped Mr. Hawley’s views on corporate power and the role of government in society.
Mr. Hawley invoked Roosevelt in a speech at the 2019 National Conservatism Conference to explain his own political theory, quoting the former president’s theory that the fall of the Roman Republic was linked to the decline of the plebeians, something like the American middle class.
“Our present-day leaders seem determined to repeat the experiment,” he said. “Is it any surprise that in the last half-century, as our leaders have pursued a program the American middle does not espouse, does not support, and does not benefit from, that public confidence in American government has collapsed? Is it any wonder that American voters regularly tells pollsters they feel unheard, disempowered and disrespected?”
News – With Objection to Biden’s Win, Josh Hawley Puts His Party in a Bind