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  • Matthew Green

Are Democrats retaliating against Republicans who voted to undo the 2020 election?

Recent news stories suggest that the events of January 6 have significantly worsened relationships between the two parties in Congress. Multiple Democratic lawmakers accused Republicans of trying to foment the assault on the U.S. Capitol by spreading dubious conspiracy theories. Some are openly furious at Republicans who voted to reject the presidential election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania with no evidence of electoral fraud in either state.

More disconcerting than the heated rhetoric are indications that Democratic anger have affected the legislative process, at least in the House of Representatives. For instance, one Illinois Democrat forced a roll-call vote on a Republican bill because its author had voted to overturn the results in both states.

Other Democrats are refusing to let House Republicans who objected to counting the votes from those states serve as original (or “lead”) cosponsors of their bills. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) would not allow Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA) be a lead cosponsor of her bill on opioid addition, even though he had been an original cosponsor of the same measure in the previous Congress. In retaliation, when the legislation came to the floor for a vote, Carter successfully lobbied fellow Republicans to kill it. Another Democrat, Mike Levin of California, kept Paul Gosar (R-AZ) off his bill as a lead cosponsor, and even voted against the measure when Gosar brought up as an amendment during committee consideration of another bill.

Though bill cosponsorships are largely used for position-taking and tend to have little impact on the likelihood that a bill is enacted, they are a valuable way for lawmakers to express their support for the legislative proposals of opposite party members. If all 140+ Republicans who voted to disallow the electoral college votes of Arizona, Pennsylvania, or both are being prohibited from cosponsoring Democratic bills, inter-party relationships in Congress could erode significantly, making it harder than ever to reach bipartisan solutions to national problems.

But how widespread are incidents like the ones reported in the press? One way to answer this question is to look at whether Republicans who voted against counting the presidential ballots from Arizona and Pennsylvania are cosponsoring Democratic bills at a lower rate than two years ago. If they are, it could be because Democrats are less willing to let such Republicans put their names on their bills.

As a first stab at this, I looked at the cosponsorship behavior of three Republicans who not only voted to decertify the results of the 2020 presidential election in those two states but were outspoken advocates of the “stolen election” myth. They include:

  • Mo Brooks (R-AL), who urged participants at the January 6 rally to “start taking down names and kicking ass” and who posted the second highest number of tweets about election “fraud” in late 2020 among his GOP peers (158 in total);

  • Paul Gosar, who helped organize the January 6 rally that later turned violent, made the formal motion to decertify the electoral college votes of Arizona, and posted 272 tweets about election “fraud” in late 2020, more than any other congressional Republican;

  • and Scott Perry (R-PA), who worked behind the scenes to help Trump get legal support for his false claims of fraud.

For each of these lawmakers, I looked at (a) how many Democratic bills they cosponsored in 2019 versus 2021 (from January through mid-September of each year), and (b) how many of those bills they supported as an original cosponsor. I also included a fourth lawmaker, Earl Carter, since he was one of those who was “punished” for his votes on the 2020 election by being refused the opportunity to be an original cosponsor of Congresswoman Dean’s legislation.

The results are below. The first chart shows that all four Republicans are cosponsoring fewer Democratic bills now (the dark yellow bars) than they were two years ago (the dark blue bars). This could be a sign that Democrats are shunning them as cosponsors (or that those Republicans are less interested in cosponsoring Democratic bills). The second chart, however, reveals that the decline in original cosponsorships is less uniform. In fact, two of the four Republicans, Mo Brooks and Earl Carter, are actually lead cosponsors for more Democratic bills now than two years prior.

Of the four, Carter stands out for not only being an original cosponsor of significantly more Democratic bills in 2021 than in 2019, but also for cosponsoring more Democratic legislation in general. It could be an indication that Democrats are treating some of these Republicans differently than others. Highly partisan Republicans who were already reluctant to add their names to Democratic bills, and who actively pushed to undo the 2020 presidential election, may have a harder time finding Democrats who will let them cosponsor their legislation. By contrast, members of the GOP who have a history of cosponsoring opposite-party bills, and who voted against the Arizona and Pennsylvania ballots but were otherwise quiet about the 2020 election, may be seen less negatively by Democrats.

Indeed, Carter might have more in common with Republicans who did not vote to reject the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. The two charts below show the cosponsorship rates of four randomly selected House Republicans who voted to uphold the Arizona and Pennsylvania results. Three of the four have cosponsored about the same number of Democratic bills as Carter, and two of them (Larry Buschon of Indiana and Thomas Emmer of Minnesota) are, like Carter, cosponsoring more Democratic bills this year than they did two years prior. And, similar to Carter, all four Republicans are original cosponsors of more Democratic bills this year than in 2019.

One must be cautious about inferring too much from this very preliminary analysis. The sample sizes are small, and I do not control for variables that influence the frequency of bill cosponsorship in Congress. (My fellow Mischief of Faction writer Greg Koger has identified a number of these variables in his previous research.) Nonetheless, the data point to the possibility that Democratic retaliation against GOP efforts to overturn the 2020 election -- to the extent it is happening -- applies only to the most extreme members of the Republican Conference.

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