Donald Trump has attacked Republicans who plan to certify Joe Biden’s election as US president as members of a “surrender caucus”, deepening the intraparty split over the looming transfer of power in Washington.
In a series of tweets on Monday morning, the outgoing US president pressured lawmakers from his own party to join his attempt to overturn the results of the November election, just days before Congress is to meet to formally certify the result.
Mr Trump is facing a backlash from across the political spectrum over a call he made during the weekend to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, urging him to “find” extra votes to reverse Mr Biden’s win in the southern state.
During a press conference on Monday, Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia election official, accused Mr Trump and his allies of peddling debunked conspiracy theories and other disinformation as part of his push to change the state’s result.
He said the president’s legal team had edited a video to suggest vote tampering during the November election and spread other verifiably false allegations, including switched votes by the state’s voting machines and shredded ballots.
“This is all easily, provably false. Yet the president persists, and by doing so undermines Georgians’ faith in the election system,” Mr Sterling said.
A joint session of Congress is expected on Wednesday to certify Mr Biden’s electoral college victory. Twelve Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, have said they would object to Mr Biden’s win based on unfounded allegations of voter fraud. Many other Republicans, including longtime Trump allies, are expected to accept the election result — which triggered the president’s wrath.
“The ‘Surrender Caucus’ within the Republican party will go down in infamy as weak and ineffective ‘guardians’ of our Nation, who were willing to accept the certification of fraudulent presidential numbers!” Mr Trump wrote.
Mr Trump has singled out Tom Cotton — typically a reliable conservative ally on Capitol Hill — after the Arkansas senator said he would not join other Republican objectors to Mr Biden’s win.
“@SenTomCotton Republicans have pluses & minuses, but one thing is sure, THEY NEVER FORGET!”, the president wrote.
In a statement on Monday, Rob Portman, a senator from Ohio, became the latest Republican to defy Mr Trump, saying he would not object to Mr Biden’s certification.
“The constitution created a system for electing the president through the Electoral College that ensures the people and the states hold the power, not Congress. I cannot support allowing Congress to thwart the will of the voters,” he said.
But Kelly Loeffler, the Georgia Republican senator facing a tough run-off race for re-election on Tuesday, said in a statement that she would join the challenge to the November election result.
Mr Trump’s increasingly frantic efforts to avoid leaving the White House on January 20 have created a febrile atmosphere in Washington and stoked new fears over the prospects for a smooth transition on inauguration day.
They have also prompted warnings from business that some Republicans were threatening democracy by attempting to oppose certifying the presidential election results.
“Efforts by some members of Congress to disregard certified election results . . . undermines our democracy and the rule of law and will only result in further division,” said Tom Donohue, chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce, the business lobby.
Almost 200 business leaders signed a separate statement from the Partnership for New York City, warning that attempts to thwart certification of the results “run counter to the essential tenets of our democracy” and would distract from responding to the country’s health and economic crises.
Democrats said they were disturbed by Mr Trump’s approach. At a rally ahead of two pivotal Senate run-off races in Georgia on Tuesday, Kamala Harris, the incoming vice-president, attacked Mr Trump for his call to Mr Raffensperger.
“It was certainly the voice of desperation, most certainly that. And it was a bald, bald-faced, bold abuse of power by the president of the United States,” she said on Sunday night.
Ted Lieu, a Democratic lawmaker from California, and Kathleen Rice, a Democratic lawmaker from New York, on Monday asked the FBI to open a criminal investigation into Mr Trump’s call for “solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes”.
Foley & Lardner, a US law firm, on Monday attempted to distance itself from one of its partners, Cleta Mitchell, who joined Mr Trump on the call. The firm said it was “concerned” by Ms Mitchell’s participation in the call and was “working to understand her involvement more thoroughly.”
The firm said it was not representing any parties seeking to contest the result of the election.
Mr Trump’s most loyal backers on Capitol Hill have stuck by him. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican senator from Tennessee and one of the upper-chamber lawmakers intending to object to the certification of Mr Biden’s victory, told Fox News on Monday that the president’s call to Mr Raffensperger searching for votes was “not a helpful call”.
But she reaffirmed the plan to object to Mr Biden’s victory and establish a commission to report back on fraud claims within 10 days.
“When there are allegations of fraud and when there’s all this conversation that is taking place around the election results, one of the things that we should do is define the problem and then offer an action item that will get us to a solution,” she said. “And that’s exactly what we are doing.”