January 6 is normally a rather uneventful day in American politics.
It’s usually a day when Congress convenes to quietly certify the slate of presidential electors sent to them by all 50 states, and finalize the winner of that year’s presidential election. On January 6, 2021, this formality was interrupted by a group of rioters who ransacked the Capitol in an attempt to delay the certification of now-president Joe Biden’s victory on November 3, 2020. Before January 6, numerous Republicans in the House and Senate made clear that they would object to the certification over concerns about voter irregularities in the 2020 election and demanded a debate in Congress on election integrity. Because of the Capitol riot, that debate never happened, and Congress reconvened in the early hours of January 7 to certify Biden’s victory.
However, nearly 150 Republicans in Congress still voted to object to Biden’s narrow wins in the swing states of Arizona and Pennsylvania, charging that those states violated the Constitution with their election procedures. Those Republicans were immediately branded as ‘insurrectionists’ or ‘traitors’ and major US companies vowed to never give financial support to the Republican objectors. CNN anchor Jake Tapper nicknamed the group of Republicans the ‘sedition caucus’ and has pledged to blacklist some Republicans from his show. These include the top three Republicans in the House of Representatives: minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California, minority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik of New York, all of whom voted to object to Biden’s win in at least one state, and all of whom are now regularly branded as traitors and seditionists by their political opponents. While the riots at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 were certainly shameful, objections to the results of presidential elections are hardly unprecedented. In 2000 and 2016, many House
Democrats attempted to object to Republican victories, but could not find one senator to take up their cause, as required by the Electoral Count Act. In 2004, however Democratic senator Barbara Boxer of California agreed with dozens of House Democrats to object to President George W. Bush’s victory in Ohio, claiming that irregularities propelled Bush to victory in the state, and thus to reelection.
Ultimately, 31 House Democrats voted along with Boxer not to certify Bush’s win. Those Democrats included the late civil rights icon John Lewis of Georgia and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the latter of whom was recently named the chairman of a House Select Committee tasked with investigating the ‘insurrection’ that occurred on January 6.
On January 6, 2005, Lewis took to the House floor to declare that ‘our electoral system is broken’ and pledged to fight the certification of Bush’s win. Like Biden’s, Bush’s win was ultimately certified but Democrats, including Lewis, continued to attempt to sow doubt about the legitimacy of his presidency. Lewis boycotted Bush’s inauguration in 2001 over the hotly contested Florida recount in the 2000 election, and was among several Democrats to boycott President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, spreading conspiracy theories that Russia tipped the scales of the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. Of course, none of these Democrats faced retribution for their actions. Lewis and the dozens of other Democrats who objected to Republican victories were never branded as ‘traitors’ or ‘seditionists’ for their views. They were never subjected to donor boycotts, and they were never blacklisted from cable news shows by liberal anchors like Tapper. Nor should they have been.
Certainly, you can disagree with the wisdom and prudence of members of Congress attempting to stall the certification of presidential elections, but nobody can doubt their authority to do so under both the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act. The 12th Amendment says: ‘The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President,’ while the Electoral Count Act says that ‘the two Houses concurrently may reject the vote or votes when they agree that such vote or votes have not been so regularly given by electors whose appointment has been so certified.’ It’s certainly reasonable to question the motives of members of Congress who have objected to the results of presidential elections which haven’t gone their way, but nobody can question Congress’s authority to discard electoral votes it deems illegitimate. Both the Constitution and federal law clearly give Congress this authority. In 2000, 2004, and 2016, dozens of House Democrats attempted to exercise this authority to stop Republican presidents from taking office, while nearly 150 House Republicans did the same thing after the 2020 election. None of these Democrats or Republicans are traitors or seditionists, but they have made clear the pervasive double standard that has made American politics so divisive and toxic.
In American politics, the Democratic party is held to one standard, while the Republican party is held to an entirely different one. If liberals like Tapper actually believed that objecting to the results was an act of treason, they would be forced to condemn Lewis as a traitor. Of course, that would be absurd — and the moral panic over January 6, 2021 is nothing more than a cudgel for Tapper and his allies to bludgeon their political opponents with.
Lewis lived an extraordinary life most remembered for his courageous fight for civil rights in the 1960s, a fight that almost cost him his life when he was beaten and bloodied by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. John Lewis was a patriot — and Republicans who followed his lead by objecting to the 2020 presidential results are not traitors.