While Donald Trump stumped for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia on Tuesday, Pennsylvania Republicans lived out his new doctrine. That doctrine, by the way, is roughly as follows: Elections don’t count if you don’t like the results. Thus Trump maintains the fiction that he indeed won reelection, that Joe Biden is a thief, and that a brave group of Republican senators and maybe Vice-President Mike Pence will finally #StoptheSteal. And thus Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania refused to seat a duly elected Democratic legislator.
Republicans, who hold a super majority in both chambers of the state legislature, blocked incumbent State Senator Jim Brewster from taking his seat. When Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman — a rising Democratic star with a national profile — objected, Republicans removed him from presiding over the session, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It’s not clear when Republicans will deign to let Brewster take his seat. They’ve hinged their position on a thinly evidenced legal challenge from Brewster’s Republican opponent, Nicole Ziccarelli. Though the State Supreme Court certified Brewster as the victor in a tight race, Ziccarelli still dissents. She’d asked state courts to throw out several hundred ballots mailed without “a handwritten date on the outer envelope,” the Inquirer explained, and when the courts disagreed, she filed federal litigation. Brewster’s ability to represent the constituents who elected him now depends on the whims of his challenger’s party. Republicans say they want to wait to seat him until Ziccarelli’s litigation concludes, and that could take some time.
Republicans probably won’t be able to block Brewster from the seat altogether, as Ziccarelli’s argument is unlikely to succeed in federal court. But the delay tactic is revealing, and not just because it’s so overtly anti-democratic. The fate of Brewster’s seat won’t decide partisan control of the state Senate. Republicans don’t need Ziccarelli. They’ve just decided she’s a useful martyr, a way to prove that the opposition is as ruthless and as duplicitous as Trump makes it out to be. Whatever happens with Ziccarelli’s legal case, or with Georgia’s Senate runoffs, the GOP’s intensifying hostility to the vote not only threatens Democratic prospects; it questions the very legitimacy of our fragile multiracial democracy.
So what’s the Democratic Party to do? The GOP’s gambit to keep Brewster from his seat is indeed “unethical and undemocratic,” as Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, described it on Tuesday. But it’s impossible to shame a party that lacks any shame. The only viable response is to defeat it, which requires state investment and a commitment to organizing too often absent from the Democratic Party’s electoral philosophy. To prevent another incident like Tuesday’s fiasco in Pennsylvania, Democrats have to figure out how to start winning — in Pennsylvania, in Georgia, and in other states it has written off to the GOP.