Pennsylvania Republicans Try Out Their Own Minor League Coup!
Pennsylvania Republicans removed state Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman from the chamber today, because it doesn't matter who's legally elected to be in charge of things like "Pennsylvania state Senate" and "also the White House" when Republicans don't get their way at the polls.
State Senator Jim Brewster of Allegheny County narrowly won reelection in November by 69 votes. State officials have certified the win — we repeat, the election has been certified — but his Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli won't stop Trumping. She wants 311 mail ballots thrown out because they "lacked a handwritten date on the outer ballot envelope." If those ballots are tossed, Ziccarelli wins by 24 votes.
Ziccarelli said, "I believe we have won this election by 24 votes. When all legally cast ballots are counted, we won by 24 votes, and I will be the next senator from the 45th district."
Republicans are masters of deceptive messaging. After all, who'd be opposed to only counting “legal ballots"? But they aren't just talking about people voting twice or unregistered communist Martians voting in the wrong state. They're talking about disenfranchising people for simple, often fine print, errors. It's like when the corporate villains try to foreclose on a family's farm or small business because the absent-minded uncle filed an important paper one second after the deadline. No one likes those guys — well, maybe Ben Shapiro. What Ziccarelli's trying to do might technically be legal but it's not in the larger interests of democracy.
"We have to sign and date our ballots in Pennsylvania, period," said Ziccarelli.
This stern taskmaster, this pedant of proper penmanship, doesn't actually care what Pennsylvania thinks. The state courts have spoken: Although the impacted voters neglected to date the outer envelopes, the ballots were still received on time, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled they could be counted.
Welp. Republican majority of the Pennsylvania State Senate just removed @JohnFetterman from the chamber. Presiden… https://t.co/NoBmDaaVA5— Abraham Gutman 🔥 (@Abraham Gutman 🔥)1609870278.0
But Ziccarelli has appealed to federal court, because "states rights" conservatives' only consistent belief is that they should always win.
The federal case could take months, and in the meantime, the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate has refused to seat Brewster until the case is resolved (to their liking). Republican Senator Jake Corman insists that "our goal is to get it right, not get it fast."
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, the 2020 election's breakout star and the president of the state Senate, refused to recognize a motion this morning that would've prevented Brewster from being sworn in like someone who'd won an election. Fetterman was removed from the chamber and Corman presided in his place. Let's go to the tape.
Federal police strike protester with baton, use pepper spray and tear gas outside courthouse in Portland https://t.co/VX2xTVaaYq— Zane Sparling (@Zane Sparling)1595137543.0
Wait, wrong video.
This is moments before @FettermanLt was removed from rostrum as Senate GOP blocked swearing in of Sen. Brewster who… https://t.co/cd5zfsCFnq— Jamie Bittner (@Jamie Bittner)1609877785.0
The state constitution permits lawmakers to refuse to swear in a member who they believe doesn't meet the qualifications to serve, but that usually requires more concrete objections: Someone is literally under age or not a resident of the legislative district. Brewster's lawyer, Cliff Levine, points out that his client meets all objective qualifications.
"What is going on now is way beyond anything envisioned in the constitution," Levine said. "The Senate majority is taking it upon itself to decide an election."
This serves as a clear contrast to how Democrats operate: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seated Republican Congresswoman-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks from Iowa even though Democrat Rita Hart is challenging her six-vote loss. It would've been in Pelosi's interest to at least delay swearing in Miller-Meeks until after the (very close) Speaker vote or Wednesday's Electoral College certification. Instead, she played fair ... like a chump.
I know we shouldn't give in to our gangster tendencies, but it's hard to stick with a "West Wing" morality when Republicans are cos-playing "House of Cards."
Republican Jim Oberweis, who lost his race to unseat Rep. Lauren Underwood but showed up for new member orientation anyway like a weirdo, is still contesting the outcome. He informed the House Monday that volunteers for his campaign discovered evidence of “illegal" voting. Alleged violations include “the lack of initials on vote-by-mail ballots in Kane County and that a person from Kenosha, Wisconsin voted illegally." That's a whopping two potential votes out of Underwood's 5374 margin of victory.
There's little reason to doubt, however, that if Kevin McCarthy were once again speaker of the House, he would refuse to seat Underwood until everything was “sorted out." Trump's coup-coup plot to remain in office until Ivanka takes over might fail, but he's left behind the new voter suppression playbook: Republicans will refuse to concede, file multiple lawsuits, and raise spurious allegations of “voter fraud" to cast a cloud of illegitimacy over Democratic victories.
This is the new normal unless we vote every single Republican out of office — yes, even the seemingly “nice" ones who didn't actively help Trump overturn elections. Our democracy is at stake.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."