Hawley, 41, who was elected to represent Missouri in 2018 and is widely believed to have higher political ambitions, became the first senator to announce plans to object to the election results — a significant development since both a House member and a senator are required to mount an objection when Congress counts the electoral votes.
Though his objection won’t change the outcome of the election and will only delay the inevitable affirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump, his commitment to Trump’s baseless crusade to challenge the election represents perhaps his most significant political maneuvering since coming to the Senate two years ago.
On the election issue, though, Hawley is ensuring that one of the first votes his GOP colleagues will take in the 117th Congress will be one that follows them for their political careers. They’ll have to choose between siding with Trump and his base or with the popular will of the voters, which could come back to haunt them in future elections no matter how they vote.
But none of the pushback seems to have changed Hawley’s mind: on Sunday he was still reviewing how many states he might object to and whether he will object to more than just Pennsylvania, according to a source familiar with his thinking.
A play for 2024?
But his early commitment to object to Biden’s Electoral College win represents a clear bet from Hawley that the President will continue to hold considerable influence over the Republican electorate in the coming years.
Trump, even after he leaves office, will retain his Twitter account — and with it, the potential to become a GOP kingmaker.
And Hawley’s political ambitions were already tied to Trump before the 2020 election. In 2018, when he defeated Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, he ran his Senate campaign as a self-proclaimed champion of the President’s agenda who could help deliver conservative Supreme Court picks.
But while Hawley’s efforts to challenge the 2020 presidential election results are sure to cement him in Trump’s good graces for the time-being, he’s helped unleash a public rift in the Republican party that also risks alienating him from congressional allies and harming any future presidential ambitions.
GOP lawmakers have openly criticized their colleagues in recent days, as a divide emerges in the GOP over whether to follow Hawley or stand against what even Trump supporters have acknowledged is a futile effort.
“I’m concerned about the division in America, that’s the biggest issue, but obviously this is not healthy for the Republican Party either,” said Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who has been critical of Trump’s false election claims. “What’s good for America is the main question here, but this is bad for the country and bad for the party.”
Hawley, though, has only leaned further into his stance, tweeting Saturday: “It’s time to STAND UP.”
“So true,” Trump tweeted in return. “Thanks Josh!”
Missouri attorney general
Before entering the national political arena, Hawley was Missouri’s attorney general from 2017 to 2019, a role that served as a spring board for his larger ambitions even as it brought some controversy.
“You know what I’m talking about, the 1960s, 1970s, it became commonplace in our culture among our cultural elites, Hollywood, and the media to talk about — to denigrate the biblical truth about husband and wife, man and woman,” Hawley said.
He argued that there’s a “human trafficking crisis” because “our culture has completely lost its way.”
“We must also deliver a message to our culture that the false gospel of ‘anything goes’ ends in this road of slavery,” Hawley added.
A spokeswoman for Hawley’s campaign stood by the candidate’s remarks when asked for comment at the time, adding that he had aggressively cracked down on sex trafficking since he took office as attorney general.
Vocal tech critic
Hawley’s tenure in Congress has been defined by his role as a vocal tech critic eager to impose consequences on Silicon Valley over its dominance in the global economy.
He’s railed against Section 230, a law that shields internet companies from being liable for what is posted on their websites by them or third parties, which is a grievance Trump shares. The President delivered on his promise to veto the National Defense Authorization Act because it did not repeal Section 230, and in a bipartisan rebuke, the Senate overrode that veto last week — the first successful override of Trump’s presidency.
But Hawley joined with six other GOP senators in voting to let Trump’s veto of the defense bill stand.
Hawley repeatedly asked Zuckerberg if Facebook coordinates with YouTube and Twitter for “censorship” and “to control information,” citing information he had obtained from a “whistleblower.”
“Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction. Too much of the ‘innovation’ in this space is designed not to create better products, but to capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away,” Hawley said in a news release at the time.
“This legislation will put an end to that and encourage true innovation by tech companies.”
Jeremy Herb, Phil Mattingly, Lauren Fox, Manu Raju, Brian Fung, Nicole Chavez, Deanna Hackney and Victoria Stracqualursi contributed to this report.