The chairs of Livingston County’s Democratic and Republican committees reacted to rioters’ incursion into the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
Democratic Chair Judith Hunter called it “a shameful day” and lamented that there is a group of Americans “who do not believe in democracy, who believe that only their votes are valid.”
Hunter placed blame for the riot as the feet of President Donald J. Trump who, hours before during a Save America Rally in the capital, repeated baseless claims of widespread election fraud, said he would “never concede” and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol Building.
“We’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” Trump said. “Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, you have to be strong.”
Said Hunter: “I feel like when you get up in front of a mob and tell them to march to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, you are inviting this and he’s clearly responsible.”
Asked for his reaction to the riots, Republican Chair John Pauer said it was a shame that “the far left, the far right are both out of control.”
“I think we’ve got really high tensions on both sides and it’s erupted, unfortunately,” he said. “I don’t know what they can do about it. My viewpoint is to calm the situation down and get those people out of there and then start thinking with a clear head.”
Pauer said he didn’t know enough about the situation to say whether Trump is to blame – “I’ve actually been avoiding the news for the last couple weeks... so I haven’t paid enough attention to it,” he said – but did call on the president to issue a statement instructing rioters to go home; something Trump ultimately did in a video posted to Twitter at 4:17 p.m.
“I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail,” Pauer said. “It’s an interesting time – not in a good way.”
In a statement Wednesday evening, Congressman Chris Jacobs, R-Clarence, condemned the “violence and destruction” at the capital “in the strongest possible terms.”
“While our country cherishes peaceful protest, this current behavior is unacceptable and has no place in a democracy,” said Jacobs, whose 27th Congressional District includes all of Livingston County. “I urge all protesters to immediately and peacefully leave the Capitol building and the surrounding area and to follow the instructions of law enforcement personnel.”
Earlier Wednesday, before rioters stormed the Capitol Building, Jacobs announced he would object to the certification of Electoral College votes from some states citing what he called “unprecedented changes to their electoral systems without the authorization of their respective state legislatures as the Constitution dictates.”
Jacobs announced his decision in a statement emailed out by his spokesperson at 12:59 p.m., one minute before the joint session of Congress was called into session at 1 p.m.
Jacobs did not offer any evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the results of the election, which President-elect Joe Biden won over Trump 306-232 in the Electoral College and by more than 7 million in the popular vote.
Instead, Jacobs referred to “countless reports of election irregularities” which he said have left many Americans with “very valid concerns about the integrity of the Nov. 3 presidential election...”
“The American people must have confidence in their elections, and I intend to work to restore that trust. As such, I will support efforts to achieve a full review of the actions taken by states that have led to the widespread distrust that now exists,” Jacobs continued. “I feel it is imperative to allow for this crucial national conversation to be debated in public on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Aaron Herold is an assistant professor of political science at SUNY Geneseo where he teaches courses on political theory and constitutional law. His research is on early modern political thought and American constitutionalism.
In an email Wednesday, Herold said that he couldn’t say with certainty whether Jacobs’ claim that the changes in some states’ electoral systems was unconstitutional was factually accurate
“Article II of the Constitution says that ‘Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .’ Every state legislature has obviously done so by holding elections and issuing laws governing those elections,” Herold wrote. “I assume that Jacobs’ objection is that some states, in response to the pandemic, permitted additional mail in voting or otherwise altered their voting procedures without an act of their legislature. But whether this was done improperly or not would depend on the state election laws in question (and I don’t have expertise there).”
The more important question, said Herold, is whether Congress has the Constitutional authority to disqualify a state’s certified electors.
“The 12th Amendment states only that ‘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,’” Herold said. “...I believe that a plain reading of the 12th Amendment indicates that Congress’s role in the certification process is purely ceremonial or administrative: It opens the certificates and hears the votes being counted, and that’s all. It has no power under the Constitution to disqualify a state’s certified electors.”
If Congress did have this power, said Herold, it would pose a significant threat to federalism as well as to the separation of powers.
“If Congress can throw out a state’s electoral votes then the states would effectively be deprived of their constitutional autonomy, and if it can effectively choose the President by doing the same then we would begin to approach a parliamentary system, where the executive is chosen by and responsible to the legislature,” Herold explained. “That is not the kind of government that our Founders designed. Rather, they sought to ensure that the three branches of government would remain separate so that no one would become too powerful, and a key part of that was mandating that the President would be chosen independently of Congress.”
Jacobs’ decision to object to states’ electors marks a 180-degree about face from statements he made in December explaining why he would not sign on to an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by the Texas Attorney General that sought to throw out election results in four other states Biden won.
“I believe strongly in federalism and states rights,” said Jacobs, according to the Buffalo News. “And I just felt that this lawsuit from the state of Texas really contradicted that principle of federalism and states rights by a state trying to use the Supreme Court to police another state’s election process – and elections have always been the domain of the states. So that’s why I declined to sign on to it.”
The congressman’s office did not respond Wednesday to a request to provide evidence of widespread election fraud that would overturn the results of the election.
In a joint letter Wednesday evening, the Democratic Party chairs in the seven counties that comprise the 27th Congressional District condemned Jacobs’ decision “in the strongest possible terms.”
“The verdict of the American people is clear and resounding: Joe Biden will be our president, and Kamala Harris will be our Vice President. Every single state has certified their results, and no court has found any of those certifications invalid,” read the letter. “Despite repeated Republican accusations of fraud, Republicans have been unable to produce an iota of evidence to support, much less prove, their accusations. Despite that failure, several Republican members of the House and Senate have tried to interfere today with the counting of electoral votes, a ceremonial ritual.”
The chairs accused Jacobs of dodging questions Tuesday about whether he would vote to reject election results from some states.
“Since his votes will be publicly recorded within hours, though, Chris Jacobs has finally revealed his intentions. Shamefully, he is standing with those who would overturn the will of the American voters and the voters of New York,” read the letter. “Rather than standing for democracy, he has aligned himself with the demagogues who refuse to accept their loss and are inciting violence... No one who refuses to accept election results deserves to hold elective office. Once again, the Representative of NY-27th is bringing shame upon the people of this district.
Before he resigned last month, Attorney General Bill Barr said in an interview with the Associated Press that, following inquiries, the U.S. Department of Justice had not found “fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
Before Trump fired him as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in November, Christopher Krebs called the 2020 presidential election “the most secure in American history.”