Several Republican members of Congress plan to formally object to the outcome of the 2020 election today. The move is controversial, even among Republicans. “Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government,” wrote Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska in an open letter to his colleagues at the end of December.
Republicans didn’t invent the idea of holding up election certifications with this kind of objection, however. In 2017, Democratic representatives including Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Barbara Lee of California attempted to challenge Trump’s presidential victory, citing voter suppression and Russian interference. A dozen or so Democrats tried something similar in 2001, after George W. Bush’s controversial win. The challenge that got the furthest came in 2005, when then–California Senator Barbara Boxer joined Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a congresswoman from Ohio, to dispute electors from Ohio, triggering a debate on the Senate floor. Boxer used her time to air concerns about long voting lines and the lack of ballot boxes in heavily Black precincts.
To justify their current actions, some of the Republicans who plan to challenge the 2020 results have pointed out that Boxer and other Democrats have previously raised questions about presidential elections. Those legislators “were praised by Democratic leadership and the media when they did. And they were entitled to do so,” said Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, the first senator to declare his intention to object, in a statement. So I called up Boxer to ask: Is this actually so different?