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       CNN - Breaking News, Latest News and Videos
       CNN | 4/12/2021 | Listen
       Big Lie? Big Whoop: Many Republicans on Capitol Hill see little reason
       to bat down Trump's election lies
       By Manu Raju, CNN Chief Congressional CorrespondentUpdated: Fri, 26 Feb
       2021 02:24:13 GMTSource: CNN
       
       The deadly January 6 insurrection in the Capitol may have caused many
       voters to recoil at former President Donald Trump's election lies.
       
       But on Capitol Hill, it's a different story. 
       
       In interviews with more than two dozen House and Senate Republicans
       this week, a wide variety of GOP lawmakers refused to debunk
       Trump's lie that the election was rigged or stolen, often
       qualifying their statements with claims that there are mass
       "irregularities" that need to be investigated and offering no
       pushback to the former President's rhetoric at all. 
       
       While the lawmakers condemn the violence that occurred on Capitol Hill,
       a number argue that Trump had no role at all, despite the
       then-President's constant rhetoric of mass voter fraud, regular
       promotion of the January 6 rally and incessant claims that Congress and
       his vice president, Mike Pence, could reverse Biden's electoral
       victory.  
       
       "Here's how I know the President didn't play a role in
       that: because if the President would have told people to sack the
       Capitol or attack the Capitol, there wouldn't have been a couple
       thousand. It would have been a couple million," said Rep. Brian
       Mast, a Florida Republican.  
       
       Asked if he believed the election was stolen, Mast said: "I think
       there's some real inaccuracies that we're not
       investigating." 
       
       For all the talk about a party divided, Republicans on Capitol Hill are
       largely in Trump's corner, with a smaller contingent eager to move
       past the tumultuous era and willing to call out his election rhetoric
       and lies. After being acquitted by the Senate following his impeachment
       on a charge of inciting the insurrection, the former President plans to
       reemerge this weekend and deliver a speech before conservative
       activists, a venue where he could very well continue his assault on the
       integrity of the elections.
       
       With polls showing roughly three-quarters of GOP voters believing there
       was widespread fraud, many Republican lawmakers show little willingness
       to set the record straight with their voters, even as court after court
       rejected one Trump-backed lawsuit after another in a futile bid to
       throw out Biden's victory. 
       
       "I have a lot of concerns about election integrity that I think
       that some of their own state election laws and computations were
       broken," GOP Sen. Roger Marshall, a medical doctor and Kansas
       freshman, said when asked if he's willing to say the election was
       not stolen. "That's why we needed to look at it." 
       
       That view is not universal among Republicans, particularly senior
       Senate Republicans who are ready to move past the tumultuous Trump era.
       
       "I am not," Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Senate GOP
       leadership, said when asked if he planned to go to Mar-a-Lago to visit
       Trump in Florida, as the top two House Republicans did in the aftermath
       of January 6. 
       
       But many others view Trump as still the dominant force and plan to stay
       allied with him.
       
       Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican up for reelection next year,
       says he plans to visit with Trump at some point, noting that
       "he's a constituent." He credits the former President
       with bringing together "common sense wisdom and working class
       values" into the GOP, saying it's "impossible" for
       Trump to not play a major role in the party. 
       
       "I don't know how that would be the case or why we would want
       that to be the case," Rubio said when asked if Trump should have
       no role in the party going forward, as Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney asserted
       this week.  
       
       Rubio, who said he's seen no evidence to suggest that the election
       was stolen, also indicated he would have no qualms if Trump asserts to
       his supporters this weekend that the election was stolen.  
       
       "He can say whatever he wants to say," Rubio said. 
       
       House Republican won't back Johnson over election claims
       
       In recent days, Trump has been in touch with his staunchest allies,
       including Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who spoke to the
       former President by phone last week. Johnson, who has been sharply
       critical of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's comments
       lambasting Trump for his role in the riot, has himself questioned
       whether Trump supporters were responsible for the violence -- all the
       while downplaying that there was indeed an "armed
       insurrection" at the Capitol. 
       
       "I think there are some real issues that have not been answered,
       and I think these are legitimate concerns about the election,"
       Johnson told CNN when asked if he believes the election was rigged.
       "I'm not afraid of the truth, OK?"  
       
       Johnson, who has yet to decide whether to run for reelection, faced a
       barrage of criticism this week for spotlighting during a high-profile
       hearing an article by a purported eyewitness suggesting that Trump
       supporters were not to blame for the violence on January 6.  
       
       Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who has become a leading
       critic of the Trump election lies, called out Johnson -- and told CNN
       "no" that he would not support the Wisconsin Republican if he
       runs for a third term. 
       
       "You can't peddle in conspiracies," Kinzinger said.
       "My basic bar for anybody now is just to tell the truth. We need
       to peddle less in fear -- peddle more in truth and inspiration." 
       
       Yet Kinzinger is in the clear minority of his party. 
       
       "I agree that the election was compromised in several of the
       southern states," said Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican.
       "I look forward to get that down accurately." Asked if he
       believed Biden was legitimately elected, Higgins said: "I believe
       that the election was compromised and investigations take time." 
       
       "I want the states to look into it -- so I'm not going to
       pre-judge," said Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican said
       when asked if he believes the election was stolen. 
       
       Many Republicans won't adopt the Trump line to say the election
       was "stolen." But at the same time, they suggest that
       something went terribly awry in November. 
       
       Rep. Jim Jordan, who helped lead the charge on the House floor to
       overturn the election results in six states, said he's
       "never" said on the floor that the election was
       "stolen." But he quickly added: "Fifty million
       Republicans have real concerns -- over one-third of the electorate. And
       several states, the key states, changed their election laws in an
       unconstitutional fashion." 
       
       Yet efforts in the courts to challenge those state election rules were
       roundly dismissed -- even rejected by Trump-appointed judges, including
       at the US Supreme Court.  
       
       Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the Senate GOP's campaign arm,
       voted to overturn Pennsylvania's election results even after the
       riot happened on January 6. Scott said "no" on Thursday when
       asked if he regretted that vote, arguing that the state
       "didn't follow the law" in accepting ballots after
       Election Day, though courts upheld Pennsylvania's actions. 
       
       Asked if he agreed with Trump that the election was rigged or stolen,
       Scott would only say: "We'll see what he says. I know that
       Joe Biden is the President."
       
       Republicans on Capitol Hill often say that they are simply reflecting
       concerns voiced by millions of Trump supporters about mail-in voting
       problems and concerns about potential fraud that need to be fully
       investigated. A recent Quinnipiac poll said that 76% of Republican
       voters believe there was widespread fraud -- even though clear
       majorities of Americans believe the election was free and fair. 
       
       Yet critics blame top Republicans for feeding that misperception by
       refusing to say the election was free and fair. House Republican Leader
       Kevin McCarthy joined efforts to overturn the electoral results after
       January 6, and signed onto a Texas lawsuit to invalidate millions of
       votes, as did his No. 2, Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who
       refused to say over the weekend that the election was not stolen. 
       
       A minority of House Republicans believes that their party's
       leadership should be clear that the election was legitimate and it
       wasn't stolen. 
       
       "I think we need to move forward," said Rep. Tom Reed, a New
       York Republican who co-chairs the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. 
       
       "We're not going to try to compete and gain power by blaming
       stolen elections," Kinzinger said. Asked if he could back McCarthy
       for speaker if the GOP takes back the majority next year, Kinzinger
       suggested it depended on the message embraced by the House's top
       Republican. 
       
       "That's two years from now," Kinzinger said. 
       
       Anxiety in the ranks over Trump's speech and 2022 prospects
       
       Indeed, Republicans have concerns that the party's split over
       Trump could endanger their prospects at retaking the majority in both
       houses come 2022, something exemplified last week when the former
       President lashed out at McConnell in strikingly personal terms after
       the Senate leader accused Trump of a "disgraceful dereliction of
       duty" and for being responsible for the events of January 6.
       McConnell declined to comment this week when asked if he regretted his
       remarks about Trump. 
       
       "I do believe it would be a lot cooler if we tried to get along
       and if we stopped kicking our own ass," said Sen. John Kennedy, a
       Louisiana Republican. 
       
       Asked if he believes the election was stolen, Kennedy didn't want
       to engage. "I've said all I want to say on this issue. At
       some point you have to stop talking about yesterday," he told CNN.
       
       
       Yet Trump could very well bring attention back to the election results
       when he speaks Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference
       in Orlando, even as several Republicans don't want him to suggest
       the election was stolen.
       
        
       
       "That would be a big mistake," said South Carolina Sen.
       Lindsey Graham, a close Trump confidant who said he's encouraged
       the former President to avoid saying the election was rigged and
       instead focus on comparing his policies with Biden's. 
       
       "The election is over, and losses are tough," said Sen.
       Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican and part of
       McConnell's leadership team. "I think the healing part of the
       nation is unity that the President could serve the nation better by
       accepting that fact." 
       
       But some Republicans see it differently. "I'm OK with him
       saying that," Mast said when asked about the potential that Trump
       could tell the CPAC crowd that the election was stolen. 
       
       Cheney, for one, said the decision is up to CPAC about whether he
       should speak there, but added: "I don't believe that he
       should be playing a role in the future of the party or the
       country." 
       
       But Cheney's Wyoming senator, freshman GOP Sen. Cynthia Lummis
       disagrees. "I don't agree with Liz Cheney on that at
       all," Lummis said. 
       
       And indeed, Cheney is outnumbered when it comes to her views about
       Trump among Republicans in the Capitol -- even more than a month after
       he's left office.
       
       "She's an outlier in the party," said Sen. Rand Paul, a
       Kentucky Republican. 
       
       
       
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