Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pressed Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley on a Thursday morning conference call to explain his plans to object to the Electoral College vote next week, which sets up an awkward vote for Hawley’s fellow Senate Republicans while boosting the Missourian’s national profile.
But McConnell was met with silence. Hawley — unbeknownst to some on the call, which was attended by Senate Republicans — was not present. He later emailed GOP colleagues to outline his decision to oppose final certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
The Missouri senator has rankled senior Republicans with his maneuver, and McConnell has made the case that voting to object to the election results — which is likely doomed to fail because of opposition from Democrats as well as some Republicans — will force senators to choose between defying President Donald Trump and taking the unprecedented step of overturning an election.
McConnell has also expressed concern that the vote could hurt GOP senators facing tough general election fights by alienating moderate voters. Opposing the GOP-led objection, meanwhile, could jeopardize Republicans’ primary prospects by turning off voters who are convinced the election was stolen from Trump.
The clash illustrates the emerging tensions between Hawley and Republican leaders. While the Missouri senator is trying burnish his anti-establishment credentials and fill his fundraising coffers ahead of a potential 2024 presidential bid, the GOP hierarchy is looking to protect incumbent senators. Regardless of the outcome of next week’s Georgia runoff elections, neither party will have firm control of the Senate heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
A Hawley spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
During the call, McConnell described Wednesday’s vote as among the most monumental votes the senators would ever cast. According to multiple people familiar with the discussion, the Senate GOP leader also asked Hawley several times to walk through how his objection would play out.
As they awaited a response from the absent Hawley, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Todd Young (Ind.) remarked, “Surely Josh Hawley is having technological issues because he would want to speak on such an important matter.”
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey pushed back on Hawley during the conversation, delivering what one person briefed on the remarks described as a forceful denunciation. The Missouri senator has focused his objections on Pennsylvania, arguing that it and other states failed to adhere to their own election laws.
A Toomey spokesperson confirmed the account, saying: “Sen. Toomey made his views on Senator Hawley’s planned objection clear. He strongly disagrees.”
Some Republicans expressed annoyance that Hawley missed the call, noting that the senator announced his plans a day earlier and should have anticipated questions about it. Some say they have struggled in recent days to nail down Hawley’s thinking.
Hawley instead sent an email to Senate Republicans after the call wrapped.
“If you’ve been speaking to folks at home, I’m sure you know how deeply angry and disillusioned many, many people are – and how frustrated that Congress has taken no action,” Hawley wrote in the email, which was first reported by Axios.
“I strongly believe there should be a full-fledged congressional investigation and also a slate of election integrity legislation,” Hawley added. “I intend to object during the certification process on January 6 in order to force these issues to the fore, and to point out the unprecedented failure of states like Pennsylvania to follow their own election laws and the unprecedented efforts of Big Tech corporations to interfere with the election.”
Hawley has begun to use his high-profile maneuver to fill his fundraising account. On Thursday afternoon, he sent out an appeal to donors asking for their support.
“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. But I do not answer to any establishment, I answer to hardworking American people,” Hawley wrote in the email.
The 41-year old has made a splash since entering the Senate two years ago, casting himself as an outsider determined to take on tech companies. He has also closely aligned himself with Trump, whose support helped catapult Hawley to victory in 2018.