WASHINGTON – Seven Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint Thursday against Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, accusing them of peddling lies about election fraud, prompting a riot on Jan. 6, then escalating the crisis when a mob stormed the Capitol hoping to avert Donald Trump’s electoral defeat by persisting in their efforts to overturn the election.
Cruz denounced the violence in real time, and since then, and has vehemently denied any responsibility for the deadly events as Congress was reviewing President Joe Biden’s victory.
Hawley, a Missouri senator, had pumped his fist at the crowd before pro-Trump attackers smashed in windows, scuffled with Capitol Police and marauded through the halls of the Capitol. Secret Service agents whisked Vice President Mike Pence off the Senate floor just in time to avoid the mob, and lawmakers fled to safe rooms for hours before reinforcements arrived and reclaimed the building.
“When Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley announced they would object to the counting of state-certified electors on January 6, 2021, they amplified claims of election fraud that had resulted in threats of violence against state and local officials around the country,” the Democrats wrote to the leaders of the Senate ethics committee, demanding an investigation and penalties that might include censure or expulsion. “While Congress was debating Senator Cruz’s objection, a violent mob stormed the Capitol. These insurrectionists ransacked the building, stole property, and openly threatened Members of Congress and the Vice President. Dozens of police officers were injured; five people died, including U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
“By proceeding with their objections to the electors after the violent attack, Senators Cruz and Hawley lent legitimacy to the mob’s cause and made future violence more likely,” they wrote.
The Texas Democratic Party has demanded Cruz’s resignation, as have the editorial boards of the Houston Chronicle, his hometown paper, and the San Antonio Express-News.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Cruz told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday, accusing adversaries of playing politics. “The people of Texas elected me and sent me here to fight for 29 million Texans. And that’s a responsibility I take very seriously.”
The liberal group MoveOn called on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday to deny committee seats to Cruz and other “insurrectionist senators” who voted to reject Biden’s electors in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
The riot began as the House and Senate were debating an objection against the Arizona electors, lodged by Cruz and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.
Hawley had been the first senator to declare he would object to Biden electors, initially outflanking Cruz, a potential rival for Trump voters’ support in the 2024 GOP presidential scramble.
Cruz countered by unveiling a group of 11 senators who likewise said they would object, to force an emergency inquiry into election misconduct — allegations that 60 state and federal courts had already rejected — and a 10-day delay, which would have kept Biden from securing final congressional affirmation of his victory until just four days before his inauguration.
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The riot interrupted the debates for hours. When members of the House and Senate emerged from hiding, after the rioters had been cleared, both chambers voted to accept the Biden electors from Arizona.
Four senators joined Cruz and Hawley in voting against the Arizona electors. Seven others who had planned to vote no changed their minds after the riot; all but one had been part of the group of 11 Cruz had unveiled days earlier.
Among those in the Cruz group who abandoned the effort after the riot: Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, vice-chair of the ethics committee that received Thursday’s complaint.
“Rather than following their colleagues’ example, Senators Cruz and Hawley continued to amplify the claims of fraud that they likely knew to be baseless and that had led to violence earlier that day,” the seven Democratic senators wrote in their ethics complaint, which also noted that both used their objections to Biden’s victory to court campaign donations, and “these solicitations continued during and after the insurrection.”
Late that evening, Hawley objected to the Pennsylvania electors.
Cruz joined him in voting no. Both the House and Senate approved those electors by wide margins, though for both Arizona and Pennsylvania, most House Republicans voted no, including most from Texas.
The Democrats seeking sanctions against Cruz and Hawley are Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Tim Kaine of Virginia, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2016.
“While it was within Senators’ rights to object to the electors, the conduct of Senators Cruz and Hawley, and potentially others, went beyond that,” they wrote. “Both senators announced their intention to object to the electors after baseless claims of election fraud ... had led to threats of violence. Both senators persisted in their objections after those threats came to fruition. Their actions lend credence to the insurrectionists’ cause and set the stage for future violence. And both senators used their objections for political fundraising.”