Leading Maryland Republicans aren’t condemning Rep. Andy Harris for meeting with then-President Donald Trump and others in December 2020 and discussing — according to the Jan. 6 committee — a plan to block Joe Biden’s victory by derailing presidential election results approved by the states.
The Baltimore Sun reached out to 10 state Republicans, including state party leaders, elected officials and candidates, seeking their opinion on the U.S. House panel’s finding Tuesday that Harris met with Trump and other GOP representatives at the White House and discussed a strategy in which Vice President Mike Pence would reject state electors’ tallies.
The committee says the plan — which Pence did not follow — was illegal, and Democratic candidates hoping Tuesday’s primary election earns them the chance to run against Harris this fall have called the six-term Republican a “traitor” seeking to subvert democracy.
Republicans responding to The Sun’s informal survey disagreed.
“Questioning the outcome of a presidential election is nothing new. Hillary Clinton told her supporters not to accept her loss in 2016,” state Del. Kathy Szeliga said. “Maryland’s congressman Jamie Raskin notably stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and publicly rejected the Electoral College votes of the 2016 election” won by Trump, said Szeliga, who represents portions of Baltimore and Harford counties.
Tom Kennedy, chairman of the Baltimore City Republican Central Committee, agreed, saying: “What everyone forgets is that, thanks to the Democrats, objecting to election results has practically become an American tradition.”
In 2017, Raskin — a Montgomery County Democrat who helped lead the committee’s hearing Tuesday — considered challenging the Electoral College vote, which he said was tainted “by everything from cyber-sabotage by Vladimir Putin to deliberate voter suppression by Republicans in numerous swing states.” He decided against such an effort, saying “it’s a very hard thing” to prove an election was improperly swayed, and would have required a challenge from the Senate as well as the House.
Clinton also said in 2017 that she would not rule out questioning the election result if further information became available about Russian interference. But she told NPR there was no good “mechanism” for doing so.
After Trump alleged without evidence that the 2020 election was “stolen” by fraud, Harris was among 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed formal certification of Biden’s win when Congress met Jan. 6, 2021. The House select committee was formed to study the violent attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters earlier that day. Some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” because the vice president was not following through on the plan to reject key elector slates.
Six Maryland Republicans, including state party chair Dirk Haire, gubernatorial candidates Dan Cox and Kelly Schulz, and Republican National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose did not respond Wednesday or Thursday to Sun emails or texts about Harris sent to them or their spokespersons.
Mike Ricci, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, referred a reporter to an interview Hogan gave Wednesday on WBAL radio.
The two-term governor, when asked about the significance of Harris’ attendance at the White House meeting, told the station: “Well, I don’t know anything about the meeting and unfortunately I had about a 14-hour day [Tuesday] so I wasn’t watching television so I didn’t see the hearing.”
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Hogan added that Pence is “a friend of mine” and that the vice president “had the courage to stand up and do what was right. But we’re finding a lot of people were trying to get him to break the law.”
Harris, whose district currently includes parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, as well as the Eastern Shore, said in a statement Tuesday night that he also had not watched the hearing and “was busy working on important issues like bringing down the price of gas and groceries and securing our communities against violent crime.”
Republicans’ views of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol likely figure in how they assess Harris, said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College.
“I’m not sure Andy Harris would get any widespread backlash given that most Republicans don’t believe it was insurrection,” Kromer said.
In a recent Goucher College poll of registered Maryland Democrats and Republicans, 60% of Republicans said the events of Jan. 6 were “wrong, but not an insurrection or attack on democracy,” while 15% believed they were “a legitimate protest.”
“I don’t think Andy Harris did anything wrong. He did his job,” Trump backer and former state Del. Pat McDonough told The Sun. “I would encourage Andy Harris to exercise his constitutional right to have an opinion and, as an elected official, to take action on that opinion.”
McDonough is a candidate for Baltimore County executive in Tuesday’s primary election. Harris, who pledged a decade ago to seek no more than six terms, is running unopposed in the primary and will be seeking a seventh term in November.