Michigan Congressman Paul Mitchell is leaving the Republican party and changing his affiliation to “Independent” over concerns that the House GOP’s participation in Donald Trump’s 2020 election conspiracy theories is causing “long-term harm to our democracy.”
Mr Mitchell, who won his first congressional election in 2016, the same year Mr Trump won the presidency, did not run for re-election this year and is retiring in January.
In a letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, obtained exclusively by CNN, Mr Mitchell touted his record over the last four years helping fundraise for other Republican candidates, voting with Mr Trump 95 per cent of the time, and even voting for the president’s re-election this past November.
But the outgoing congressman told Ms McDaniel and Mr McCarthy he is “withdrawing from my engagement and association with the Republican Party at both the national and state level” due to concerns with how the party has behaved since the election.
“If Republican leaders collectively sit back and tolerate unfounded conspiracy theories and ‘stop the steal’ rallies without speaking out for our electoral process, which the Department of Homeland Security said was ‘the most secure in American history,’ our nation will be damaged. I have spoken out clearly and forcefully in opposition to these messages. However, with the leadership of the Republican Party and our Republican Conference in the House actively participating in at least some of those efforts, I fear long-term harm to our democracy,” Mr Mitchell wrote in his letter.
The Michigan congressman has written to the US House clerk asking her to change his party affiliation effective immediately.
Mr Mitchell is the second Republican to defect from his party this Congress. Fellow Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, a self-styled libertarian, dropped his affiliation with the GOP shortly before voting to impeach Mr Trump in December 2019.
Last week, 126 of Mr Mitchell’s Republican colleagues signed on to a legal case brought by Texas GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton challenging the results of the 2020 election in the four decisive swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia.
The Supreme Court ruled that Mr Paxton and his state did not have standing to challenge how other states ran their elections.
That legal defeat was one of dozens the GOP has suffered in the weeks following the election, as party figureheads, led by Mr Trump, have cried foul about voter fraud for which they have provided scarce evidence.
Mr McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have insisted that Mr Trump’s behaviour is normal, even though a US president has never exhausted this many legal and rhetorical dead-ends trying to cling to power. Mr Trump is still refusing to admit he lost the election, telling Fox News over the weekend the crusade to stay in office is “not over.”
Meanwhile, some of the president’s most ardent backers in the House have been trying to convince their fellow Republicans to back a plan to nullify Monday’s Electoral College results that moved President-elect Joe Biden one step closer to formally securing the presidency.
For weeks, it has been a foregone conclusion that Mr Biden, a Democrat, will become the 46th US president.
Mr Mitchell has been one of just a handful of Republicans who have actively confronted Mr Trump over his comments throwing the validity of the US elections into question despite providing scant evidence to support his claims.
While GOP leaders have reportedly acknowledged Mr Trump’s legal challenges to the election results lack merit, they have taken the course of letting him pursue his cases without public opposition.
GOP Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah have also expressed their displeasure at the outgoing president’s rhetoric, which polling shows has divided the US public mostly on party lines on its faith in the integrity of the election results.
Last week, Mr Romney told reporters it was “madness” that some House Republicans, led by Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, were trying to toss the Electoral College votes into the furnace over specious election fraud claims.
“This is madness. We have a process. Recounts are appropriate. Going to the court is appropriate. Pursuing every legal avenue is appropriate. But trying to get electors not to do what the people voted to do is madness,” the Utah Republican said.
In Mr Mitchell’s letter to Ms McDaniel and Mr McCarthy on Monday, he expressed his belief that they were placing party over country in the debate over election integrity.
“I believe that raw political considerations, not constitutional or voting integrity concerns, motivate many in party leadership to support the ‘stop the steal’ efforts, which is extremely disappointing to me,” Mr Mitchell wrote. “As elected members of Congress, we take an oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ not to preserve and protect the political interests of any individual, be it the president or anyone else, to the detriment of our cherished nation.”
The retiring congressman also indicated he will continue to back Republican political candidates, but that he might be more selective.
“I will support, contribute to, and fundraise for individual candidates who reflect the principles I hold dear,” he said.
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