NEW YORK — Nobody condones the storming of the U.S. Capitol building last week. President Donald Trump cannot escape responsibility for sparking the chaos.
But we’re walking a scary line in America when we say lawmakers lodging perfectly legal objections to a presidential election are traitors who are suborning insurrection against our country.
Given the chaos we saw last Wednesday, a lot of people have rushed to lump every election objector in the Senate and House in with the mob.
They will tell you that every lawmaker who voted to object to certifying Joe Biden’s presidential win was inciting a coup.
Don’t you believe it.
It wasn’t the lawmakers and their objections who were responsible for the chaos at the U.S. Capitol. It was the fault of Trump, for riling his supporters up and then returning to the White House to watch the conflagration on television as if he had nothing to do with it.
The chaos was the fault of those protestors who breached the very seat of American democracy, leaving death, injury and vandalism in their wake.
The Electoral Count Act of 1887 lays out the procedure for counting Electoral College votes and Congress’ role in settling any disputes. Senators and House members are allowed by law to lodge objections to slates of electors.
The law came in response to one of the most corrupt presidential elections in American history, the 1876 contest that put Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House over Democrat Samuel Tilden.
Tilden won the popular vote and was one vote shy of prevailing in the Electoral College. But amid widespread fraud and voter intimidation, the results from Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina were in dispute.
After much backroom wheeling and dealing, including a Hayes pledge to remove federal troops from the former Confederacy, Hayes got the backing of Southern Democrats, who turned on their own party’s candidate, and was declared the winner.
If you think the Florida recount of 2000 was hinky, just do some reading about 1876.
So challenges are perfectly legal under the law. Democrats in the House in 2016 tried unsuccessfully to challenge Trump’s election. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) challenged some of President George W. Bush’s electoral votes in 2005.
None of these challenges changed the outcome of a presidential election. And nothing was going to change the outcome of the 2020 race. Trump had exhausted his legal challenges and the electors had met to cast their votes. The counting in Congress was a mere formality, as it always is.
And after the carnage we saw at the U.S. Capitol, it was even less likely that any electoral challenge would pass either house of Congress.
You could argue that Republican objectors should have just stood down and bowed to the inevitable: Biden would be declared the winner of the White House. They should have counted themselves lucky to have escaped the mayhem and tabled their objections.
I would have. It was more than plain that any high ground that had once existed, and it was very scant real estate to begin with, was utterly destroyed by the actions of the Capitol mob.
But objections were lodged and voted upon. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R- Staten Island/Bklyn.) was among the 148 Republicans who voted in favor.
You can question their wisdom in carrying on with any challenges given what had happened at the Capitol. You can accuse them of cravenly pandering to Trump voters back home. You can say they should be ashamed of themselves. You can work to defeat them when they’re up for re-election. You can call on them to resign.
But you can’t call them traitors. You can’t put them on trial. What they did was perfectly legal. If you don’t like the law, change the law.
But don’t get the pitchforks and torches out.
(Tom Wrobleski is a columnist for the Staten Island Advance.)