I keep on my desk a copy of the oath my great-great-grandfather signed when he re-enlisted in the Union Army in 1863. Like the oath given by all those who serve in government and every member of our armed forces,
Samuel Fletcher Cheney
swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” Generations of Americans have sworn that same oath and given their lives to defend the Constitution and our nation.
Last week, former Vice President Mike Pence spoke about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. President Trump was “wrong,” he said, to insist that Mr. Pence or any vice president could “overturn” the election by refusing to count certified slates of electoral votes. That notion was, as Mr. Pence said, “un-American.” What Mr. Trump had insisted that Mr. Pence do on Jan. 6 was not only un-American, it was unconstitutional and illegal.
Article II and the 12th Amendment govern how the nation selects the president. Congress doesn’t select the president; the states do. Every state in the union now selects a presidential candidate through a popular vote. And every state identifies the manner in which disputes regarding the election are addressed under state law. Those laws set forth a process for challenging an election when concerns arise, including potential recounts or audits and an opportunity to litigate disputed issues in court. When courts have resolved any election challenges, and the election result has been certified by the governor of a state, the election is over. That is the rule of law.
The 12th Amendment also leaves little doubt that Congress must count the certified electoral votes it receives from the states: “The president of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes for president, shall be the president.” This provision doesn’t say, for example, Congress must count certified electoral votes unless it has concerns about fraud allegations, or unless it disagrees with the outcome of state or federal court litigation. And the vice president, as president of the Senate presiding over the count, can’t simply refuse to count a state’s certified slate of electoral votes—either under the Constitution or under the Electoral Count Act of 1887.
Republicans used to advocate fidelity to the rule of law and the plain text of the Constitution. In 2020, Mr. Trump convinced many to abandon those principles. He falsely claimed that the election was stolen from him because of widespread fraud. While some degree of fraud occurs in every election, there was no evidence of fraud on a scale that could have changed this one. As the Select Committee will demonstrate in hearings later this year, no foreign power corrupted America’s voting machines, and no massive secret fraud changed the election outcome.
Almost all members of Congress know this—although many lack the courage to say it out loud. Mr. Trump knew it too, from his own campaign officials, from his own appointees at the Justice Department, and from the dozens of lawsuits he lost. Yet, Mr. Trump ignored the rulings of the courts and launched a massive campaign to mislead the public. Our hearings will show that these falsehoods provoked the violence on Jan. 6. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have begun to pay the price for spreading these lies. For example
license to practice law has been suspended because he “communicated demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former President
Donald J. Trump,
” in the words of a New York appellate court.
The Jan. 6 investigation isn’t only about the inexcusable violence of that day: It is also about fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law, and whether elected representatives believe in those things or not. One member of the House Freedom Caucus warned the White House in the days before Jan. 6 that the president’s plans would drive “a stake in the heart of the federal republic.” That was exactly right.
Those who do not wish the truth of Jan. 6 to come out have predictably resorted to attacking the process—claiming it is tainted and political. Our hearings will show this charge to be wrong. We are focused on facts, not rhetoric, and we will present those facts without exaggeration, no matter what criticism we face. My friend the late
once said: “The lesson of our history is that the task of merely maintaining strong and sturdy the structures of a constitutional order is unending, the continuing and ceaseless work of every generation.” Every generation of Americans has fulfilled its duty to support and defend the Constitution. That responsibility now falls to us.
Ms. Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, is a U.S. representative and vice chair of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack.
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