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Party-switching Congressman Welcomes ‘Duly Elected’ Biden

President Donald Trump stands behind U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) as he addresses the crowd at a Trump rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center in January 2020.

By Bill Barlow

WASHINGTON – A member of Congress from the State of Washington Jan. 6, 2017, rose to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote, finding fault with the vote in Georgia, despite there being no chance of the effort changing the election results. 
“It is over,” said Joe Biden, then vice president of the U.S., as reported by CNN. 
The U.S. House of Representatives was engaged in the routine constitutional process of tallying the vote of the Electoral College. Several Democrats sought to derail the process, only to get a gavel from Biden. In all, 11 House Democrats objected to certifying the election. 
Multiple Democrats argued that evidence of Russian interference in the election process irrevocably tainted the results. 
The tables were turned Jan. 6, 2021, when multiple Republicans challenged the 2020 election results, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding. This time, 147 Republicans voted against accepting the election results, including eight senators. Among them was U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd), who made national news as a freshman representative when he switched from Democrat to Republican. 
“Over the last few months, tens of millions of Americans have raised legitimate questions and concerns about the manner in which we conduct our elections,” wrote Van Drew, in a piece posted to the conservative website savejersey.com Dec. 30, 2020 (http://bit.ly/39geo2b). In it, he argued that Democrats’ challenges to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, and George W. Bush’s election before it, were based on far less than, what he described as, the “serious unanswered questions,” and did not result in calls for members of Congress to be expelled for treason, as he said happened to him. 
“Regardless of for whom you voted or whether or not you believe the issues being raised would have ultimately changed the outcome of the presidential election, we deserve answers to these serious issues, so that every American has confidence in our elections,” Van Drew wrote. “Thus far, we have been denied the answers to which we are entitled, and that is why I am voting against certification.”
Since then, Van Drew described Biden as the duly elected president, and attended the inauguration, the latest shift from a Cape May County Republican who was once the county’s most successful Democrat in a generation. 
In multiple public statements over the past year, Van Drew said he did not change, that the Democratic Party left him, but his pledge of “undying support” for Trump in the Oval Office and standing next to Trump at a 2020 rally at the Wildwoods Convention Center (http://bit.ly/3c9hO8t), closely tied his political fortunes to one of the most controversial presidents in memory. 
Van Drew later walked back his pledge of undying support, as reported in an October interview with a New Jersey publication. 
Van Drew did not immediately respond to a request for an interview for this story. His press secretary, Scott Weldon, sent an email,explaining the congressman was tied up and included links to several of Van Drew’s public statements, including to the piece posted at Save Jersey and press releases posted to the congressman’s website. 
While challenges to the Electoral College vote have precedent, this year was far different in other respects, especially the violent incursion into the Capitol by Trump supporters that interrupted the process Jan. 6. 
While thousands of protesters gathered on the ellipse in front of the White House for a lawful “Save America” rally that Trump addressed, just over a mile and a half away, rioters smashed their way into the halls of Congress, in a confrontation that left five dead – including a Capitol police officer – and sent shockwaves around the world and through the American political system. 
While the riot was underway, Van Drew issued a statement condemning it and calling on Trump to do more to stop it (http://bit.ly/3qUgiLx). 
“What is happening at the Capitol is unacceptable, un-American, and disrespectful of democracy. The debate many protestors have been asking for was happening today, and because of these actions, it was abruptly ended. Everyone has the right to peacefully protest, but what happened today was not peaceful or productive. Today’s debate was about the rule of law, and by harming police officers, being violent, and breaking into a federal building, the rule of law was broken,” Van Drew wrote. 
Through social media, Trump repeatedly called on supporters to come to Washington Jan. 6, saying the election was stolen and calling on supporters to fight. 
Later that day, Trump tweeted a call for peace and respect for Capitol police. Still, he couched it in far different terms than he used during the widespread unrest of the summer after the police slaying of George Floyd. 
“We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special,” Trump told his supporters, in a video message late Jan. 6. 
Since then, Twitter took the extraordinary step of suspending the account of a head of state, citing the continued risk of Trump inciting violence. Other social media platforms also suspended Trump in his final days in office. 
Van Drew offered condolences to the family of Brian Sicknick, a New Jersey native and Capitol police officer fatally injured in the riots (http://bit.ly/3c4nGjw).  
“Officer Sicknick protected lives, and preserved our democracy,” Van Drew said. “His life was lost defending those of us here in the Capitol. Rest in Peace, may God bless you and your family.”
Van Drew Jan. 20 released a statement that he would attend the inauguration of President Biden, describing him as the duly elected president (http://bit.ly/2MiVleq). The inauguration took place under heightened security, with thousands of National Guard troops in Washington.
“Our work will, once again, begin anew, and while we may not always agree, we must all work together to fight for a strong America and a strong South Jersey,” Van Drew wrote. “It is up to all of us to build upon our past success and write the next chapter of our uniquely and inherently American story.”
Trump did not attend Biden’s inauguration, another break with presidential norms and long tradition. 
There are other differences between 2020 and 2016. 
Both President Barack Obama and Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton congratulated Trump on his election win, while in 2020, Trump spent months denying the certified election results and never formally conceded the race to President Biden, but in the end stated, “A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20… My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
While an extensive investigation by special counsel Robert Muller did not substantiate allegations of obstruction of justice on the part of the Trump campaign, nor find evidence that the campaign cooperated in the Russian election interference, it concluded that Russia actively and illegally supported Trump’s election bid and detailed examples of the campaign’s cooperation with those efforts. 
In 2020, the Trump campaign filed dozens of lawsuits, alleging vote irregularities in five states. In each, the suits were either dismissed for lack of evidence, or because the alleged incidents would not have had any impact on the election results. 
The Trump campaign and its allies would have needed to overturn the election results in more than one state to change the Electoral College results. In multiple tweets, Trump maintained it was impossible that Biden won, even as recounts and audits of election results in several states confirmed the win. 
In a lengthy recorded telephone conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump Jan. 2 continued to deny the results and cited unproven conspiracy theories to show he won Georgia. 
At one point in the discussion, Trump said, “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” the number by which Biden won the state, and suggested denying him the vote could result in criminal prosecution. 
A change in the results in Georgia would not have changed the outcome of the presidential race. 
Biden Jan. 20 took the oath of office, as the 46th president. Vice President Kamala Harris made history, both as the first woman in the office and as the first Black American and the first person of South Asian heritage to serve as vice president. 
Former President Trump recently achieved some firsts of his own: becoming the first president to be impeached twice, and the first impeached president to face a Senate trial after leaving office. 
In Cape May County, Trump remains a popular figure, outpolling Biden by a large margin last November in the Republican-dominated county. 
Van Drew won reelection over Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy, with 195,526 votes to 173,849 across the sprawling Second District, according to a tally in the New York Times. It was his first race as a GOP candidate. 
In Cape May County, he had a morecomfortable margin, taking more than 60% of the vote and outpolling Trump countywide. Sherriff Robert Nolan and County Clerk Rita Fulginiti, now Rita Rothberg, ran unopposed, and both drew more votes than Van Drew, but no candidate who faced a challenge took more Cape May County votes in November than Van Drew’s 34,627.
To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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