This article has been updated with additional claims from Perry's floor speech
Some Cumberland County lawmakers are at the center of the storm surrounding Wednesday’s riots at the U.S. Capitol, with signs that the backlash could endanger the GOP at the local level.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), who was at the pro-Trump rally that turned violent, faces more calls to resign over his past rhetoric and his trip to Washington on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R) served as the point-man for an unsuccessful attempt to reject Pennsylvania’s presidential vote during the Electoral College certification early Thursday morning.
Local Republicans’ role in the matter already may be having a measurable effect.
County Commissioner Gary Eichelberger - a Republican who has been vocally opposed to those in his party who have spread election fraud conspiracy theories - said Friday that the county’s board of elections staff reported a spike in phone inquiries after Wednesday’s riots, and “virtually all the people calling were people saying ‘I no longer want to be a Republican, how I do change it.’”
“If party regulars and party activists want to double down on the fraud message, they need to understand the consequences,” Eichelberger said.
The joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College returns was halted for several hours Wednesday after a pro-Trump protest turned violent. A mob broke into and ransacked the Capitol building, resulting in the death of at least five people, including one police officer.
Several Republicans who had planned to challenge the Electoral College vote dropped their objections after the attack. But in the early hours Thursday morning, eight of Pennsylvania’s nine House of Representatives members followed through on objecting to their state’s result.
The objection to Pennsylvania was raised in the Senate by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, and in the House by Perry, whose district includes Carlisle and eastern Cumberland County.
In his floor remarks, Perry raised the same issues that the Trump campaign has argued since the election, to no legal avail, claiming that Pennsylvania’s election process was tainted by “multiple constitutional infractions” by state authorities and the state Supreme Court.
Perry claimed, for instance, that Pennsylvania law does not allow for ballot deposit boxes, which is not true. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the law does not disallow them and clearly devolves to counties the administrative decision of how to collect ballots.
Perry also said during his speech early Thursday morning that the state “co-mingled” late-arriving ballots “in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court order that all ballots arriving after Election Day be segregated," which is not true.
The state, in fact, did follow that order and report the results from late-arriving ballots separately, with the expectation of further litigation as to whether the three-day extension for mail-in ballots is legally permissible.
In a Nov. 7 letter to Gov. Tom Wolf regarding election procedures, Perry and the rest of the state's GOP House delegation acknowledged that they were aware the order would be followed. The state has "indicated this has already been occurring in Pennsylvania's 67 counties," they wrote regarding the ballot segregation rule, but added there was not yet evidence of such. That evidence was provided once counties submitted separately certified results for those ballots that arrived within the window in question.
That charge by Perry and Hawley was forcefully rebutted earlier in the process by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Toomey said that, while he thought the three-day extension was legally unsound, only 10,097 ballots had been received in that window, compared to President-elect Joe Biden’s margin of victory in Pennslvania of over 80,000 votes.
“How could we possibly invalidate the entire Pennsylvania election over 10,000 votes that were not even included in the vote count?” Toomey asked his colleagues.
"Even if Congress did have the constitutional responsibility to judge the worthiness of a state’s election process, which it does not, rejecting Pennsylvania’s electoral votes would still be wildly out of proportion to the purported offenses and very damaging to our republic," Toomey said.
Perry also repeated the claim that 205,000 more votes were cast in Pennsylvania than voters who voted – a number that is inaccurate, even using the same flawed comparison some GOP legislators have been making.
The claim is based on vote date records from the state’s SURE database, which continues to be updated as counties complete the laborious task of scanning their poll books; as of this week’s update, thousands more voters had their status updated to reflect having voted on Nov. 3,2020, reducing the discrepancy.
On Friday, the Capitol news service Punchbowl News, an outlet founded by former Politico editors, published a video of Perry and other Republican legislators declining to wear masks while gathered in a densely packed room.
The video was taken in a lockdown room during the assault on the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, according to Punchbowl.
Perry’s office did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Also on Friday, several more state senators joined calls for Mastriano to resign after it was confirmed that he was at Wednesday’s rally; 16 state senators on Thursday formally requested an investigation into his conduct. Mastriano did issue a press statement saying he was not personally involved in the attack on the Capitol and left the area when it began.
A Facebook page purporting to be associated with Mastriano’s campaign had organized a bus trip to the event. But more importantly than that, Mastriano’s critics have said, is that the senator has spent several weeks using rhetoric that his supporters have clearly taken as a literal call to arms.
“What are you going to do about it? Are we going to stand aside and let these shenanigans go?” Mastriano said during a Dec. 12 pro-Trump rally in D.C., according to C-Span footage. “Are we going to stand aside and let the republic be ripped out of our hands? It’s time to rise up, Americans.”
“Make no mistake, since Election Day, Mastriano openly conspired with Donald Trump to lay the foundation for yesterday’s attempted coup,” state Sen. Vincent Hughes said Friday in a statement joining calls for Mastriano to step down.
Eichelberger said Republican leadership was in danger of not doing enough to recognize the gravity of the situation; rioters “didn’t go in there to ransack the building, they went in there to disrupt the constitutional function of government,” Eichelberger said.
If GOP leaders at higher levels fail to recognize the damage, it’s going to make it more difficult for local Republicans to get citizens involved with the party and with local public offices, Eichelberger said.
The county’s elections office said Friday afternoon that 141 change-of-party applications had been received in the past 48 hours, although a breakdown was not yet available as to what parties were being changed. Only 57 changes-of-party occurred in Cumberland County in the seven days ending Jan. 4, according to state data.
“It seems pretty obvious, in light of recent events,” what is causing the surge, Eichelberger said.
even if Congress did have the constitutional responsibility to judge the worthiness of a state’s election process, which it does not, rejecting Pennsylvania’s electoral votes would still be wildly out of proportion to the purported offenses and very damaging to our republic