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Trying to understand Rep. Steve Scalise’s refusal to say the 2020 election was not stolen

You may have heard this one before. I guess I hadn’t. And it’s not at all clear to me what Scalise thinks should be done. It’s also not clear that he even has a point.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise speaking during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise speaking during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol.
REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

To be clear, but not terribly clear, in an interview Sunday with Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, would not say that Joe Biden is the rightfully elected president of the United States, nor would he say that the election was stolen.

Scalise’s position is that the election was unconstitutional because many states failed to follow their own laws for how to conduct the election.

You may have heard this one before. I guess I hadn’t. And it’s not at all clear to me what Scalise thinks should be done. It’s also not clear that he even has a point. At least I can’t find the specific constitutional language that would justify Scalise’s bizarre claim. 

I don’t know if this dodge will catch on with other Republicans looking for a novel theory to undermine Biden’s status as president. But, in case you find it interesting or amusing, I’ll try to explain Scalise’s position.

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Because of COVID-19, many states adopted changes in their voting procedures, although in some cases, these procedural changes were not adopted by the state legislatures but by state offices or agencies running the election.

Scalise’s position is (or seems to be) that the U.S. Constitution leaves it up to state legislatures to decide how to run elections in each state (he’s more than half wrong about that) and that many states made changes to their election procedures to deal with COVID that were not mandated by the state legislatures, therefore the entire 2020 presidential election was invalid.

In the interview, Wallace points out that the states have all accepted and certified the final results of November 2020.

But Scalise dismissed that point, seeming to cling to the idea that special rules were implemented and they were not based on laws passed in advance of the election, at least in some states, so the whole election was invalid. He didn’t specifically explain why the official acceptance by each state of its certified results didn’t change anything. His bizarre position, which he stated to Wallace:

“At the end of the day, are we going to follow what the Constitution says, or not? I hope we get back to what the Constitution says.”

If so, would that mean that nobody is president? Nothing in the Constitution says that in the event the election has been held improperly, the previous president continues indefinitely. Perhaps Scalise thinks Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is next in line to serve as president after the president and vice president, should be in the Oval Office. But I doubt it.

For those interested, here’s a clip of the full exchange.