Oregon's Rep. Bentz splits votes as Congress finalizes Biden victory
In a day scarred by a historic violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, shaken lawmakers insisted on resuming a session that went late into the night to approve the Electoral College vote for President-Elect Joe Biden early Thursday morning.
Lawmakers had come to Congress Wednesday expecting a contentious day of debate as a splinter group of Republicans said they would slow and perhaps even halt the traditional reading of the votes for president cast Dec. 14 by the Electoral College.
President Donald Trump had been ceaselessly pushing claims that the election was stolen from him despite losing to Democrat Joe Biden by more than seven million votes and a 306-232 tally in the Electoral College. Attorneys general, secretaries of state, county elections officials, nearly 100 judges, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court have all proven those claims to be lies.
Oregon's wild-card on the day was Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, the only Republican in the state's delegation to Congress, and a freshman who had only been sworn into office the previous Sunday.
Bentz had been was among a group of incoming GOP lawmakers who issued a statement last month calling for "a congressional investigation and review into what has happened in states where election irregularities have been observed." Despite no evidence of wide-spread election irregularities.
Over the next six weeks, Bentz said, he talked to constituents in Congressional District 2, which takes up most of Eastern and Central Oregon.
"I had heard many speak of distrust in the elections that were facilitated by several states," Bentz wrote. "That is why I wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month, urging for a prompt and thorough congressional investigation into voting irregularities during the 2020 presidential election. So far, my request has fallen on deaf ears."
In the end, Bentz split his votes, opposing the GOP objection to the 11 Electoral College votes for Biden sent by Arizona. But several hours later, Bentz was on the side of those Republicans objecting to the 20 Electoral College votes from Pennsylvania.
In a press release issued just before 4 a.m. in Washington, Bentz said the issues in each case were different, but his constituents believed the election was tainted by unspecified fraud.
"My goal was to protect the integrity of our elections and to prompt all states to uphold election laws as determined by their state legislatures — all in accordance with our Constitution," Bentz said.
Among the rest of Oregon's delegation, the Electoral College votes were supported by both Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley. Four of the five Oregon Democratic House members — Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, and Kurt Schrader, D-Salem — supported the slates brought to the Capitol in thick mahogany boxes.
Assault on election process
Before the delayed and historic vote in Congress, President Trump addressed tens of thousands of supporters and urged them to march on the Capitol. The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told the crowd that a "trial by combat" was needed.
Some in the crowd pushed up Capitol Hill, fighting police along the way, then smashing through the doors of the Capitol's central chambers. The National Guard and an FBI tactical squad arrived to bolster defenses and push the invaders out using a plume of tear gas in Statuary Hall, home to images of great Americans of the past.
All of Oregon's delegation got out safely, as did their staff.
After law enforcement retook the building, Congressional leaders discussed calling off the session, but opted to continue to get their job done and as a symbol of the continuity of American government.
Some but not all of the Trump supporters in Congress, who had challenging the Electoral College votes, announced they were dropping the effort after the rash of violence.
Objections to the vote totals in Arizona and Pennsylvania, a smattering of the states originally targeted, went to debates and votes in the chambers.
Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Penn., dismissed the stalling with objections and repeated recitations of legal arguments rejected more than 50 times by various courts as dangerous "lies" that were getting people killed.
"These objections don't deserve an ounce of respect, not an ounce," Lamb said. "A woman died out there tonight and you're making these objections. Let's be clear about what happened in this chamber today — invaders came in for the first time since the War of 1812. They desecrated these halls, in this chamber, and practically every inch of ground where we work."
Earlier in the debates, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chastised any of those considering an objection as setting in motion a dangerous path for democracy.
"We'll either hasten down a poisonous path where only the winners of an election actually accept the results, or show we can still muster the patriotic courage that our forebears showed, not only in victory, but in defeat," he said. "If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral," McConnell said.
Democrats — including both Oregon's Democratic senators and four Democratic House members — easily repulsed the objections when they finally came up for a vote. McConnell and several other senior Republicans, especially in the Senate, joined in upholding the Electoral College tallies.
It was during the Arizona debate earlier on Wednesday that tens of thousands of pro-Trump demonstrators streamed up Pennsylvania Avenue where more militant activists in the group stormed the capitol, attacking police and crashing their way into the heart of the building.
Lawmakers in the chambers barricaded the doors, while those in their offices were told to shelter in place. Police, aided by the National Guard and an FBI Tactical Weapons unit were able to extract the demonstrators from the Senate and House galleries.
Demonstrators had broken up and carted off furniture from leadership offices, set small fires and left behind at least two explosive devices.
Sen. Jeff Merkley reported that equipment was stolen and his office was trashed. "They smashed the door off its hinges. It was unlocked. They could have simply opened the door," Merkley said.
A billowing cloud of tear gas was needed to push the stragglers out of the Statuary Hall, ringed by images of famous Americans such as Samuel Adams, Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham, Thomas Edison and Kamehameha I.
Leaders of both chambers in both parties decided they wanted to resume the votes, not only to fulfill their constitutional duty, but also to send the message of continuity of government to the American public.
With less than two weeks until the inauguration, CNN at 4:30 a.m. reported that top government officials, including unnamed Cabinet members, were discussing the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which would allow the neutralization or removal of President Trump from authority.
After about 20 hours of debate in Congress, interspersed with the attack on the Capitol, the final ceremonial acts of the day were closed, leading to the finalization of the votes to elect President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. They will be sworn into office on January 20 on the same steps of the Capitol occupied by rioters. Officials promise a much heavier security presence.
Full Statement Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, Thursday, July 7
"The violent events that took place yesterday on the Capitol grounds are a stain on the history of our country. There is absolutely no excuse for protests to turn into riots, and I condemn the actions of the rioters in the strongest terms possible. I call on all Americans to choose peaceful protests over violence, chaos, and anarchy. I commend Capitol Police for their brave efforts to end yesterday's incident and enable Congress to return to our important work.
"As the Representative of Oregon's Second District, I am committed to listening to the opinions of my constituents, upholding the Constitution, and engaging in the deliberative process entrusted to the United States House of Representatives. I have heard many speak of distrust in the elections that were facilitated by several states. That is why I wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month, urging for a prompt and thorough congressional investigation into voting irregularities during the 2020 presidential election. So far, my request has fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, the duty has fallen on Congress to begin restoring faith in our representative form of government and to ensure the voice of the American people is heard through the Electoral College certification process.
"After seeking the opinions of constitutional experts, listening to my constituents, and many conversations with Members from the states in question, I cast my vote in support of the objection to the certification of the Electors from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In doing so, my goal was to protect the integrity of our elections and to prompt all states to uphold election laws as determined by their state legislatures — all in accordance with our Constitution.
"Article II of the Constitution sets forth that each state legislature is entrusted with the authority to establish and facilitate elections within that state. In Pennsylvania, the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the state's Supreme Court did not adhere to the statutes set forth by the legislature when they extended deadlines for the return of absentee ballots. This action violated the principles of Article II of the Constitution because the state legislature had not previously delegated broader authority to the Secretary. Ultimately, this change in voting procedures by a non-legislative body contributed to a widespread loss of faith by many Americans in the integrity of the 2020 election — including many in my district. Such a violation of our Constitution must be discouraged in the strongest terms possible.
"I could not support objections to the certification of Electors of any other state — including Arizona. Like many states in question, the Arizona legislature had in fact delegated broader authority to administer elections to other state and local agencies, and I found little evidence supporting an argument that Article II of the Constitution was violated.
"As we conclude the Electoral College certification process, we can accept that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. I am committed to a peaceful transfer of power, but I continue to empathize with those whose frustrations with the electoral system remain unresolved. I share their frustrations, and as the Representative of Oregon's Second District, I will do my best to address their concerns."
Reporter Courtney Vaughn contributed to this article.
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