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MO Republicans want Biden off ballots as payback if Trump disqualified over insurrection

In World
January 09, 2024

Missouri’s Republican candidates for governor, eager to win over voters in a party that remains largely in the grip of former President Donald Trump, have begun laying the groundwork to take political retribution against President Joe Biden if the U.S. Supreme Court disqualifies Trump from again serving as president.

If the Supreme Court blocks Trump from the presidency by finding he engaged in insurrection in the leadup to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the Missouri candidates claim Biden could – or should – be disqualified as well.

The 14th Amendment prohibits people from taking office who took an oath to support the U.S. Constitution but then engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the Constitution or had “given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” The Colorado Supreme Court and the Maine secretary of state have said Trump shouldn’t be included on 2024 ballots, citing the amendment that was adopted after the Civil War.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday it will decide whether Trump will be blocked from the presidency under the amendment in one of the most politically momentous decisions in its history. Legal experts are divided over how the amendment should be interpreted and whether it bars Trump.

In response, some Missouri Republican candidates are already attempting to cast Biden as having engaged in an insurrection through his immigration policies at the southern border – a false equivalence that places the normal course of presidential decisionmaking on the same plane as attempting to overturn the results of a free and fair election.

“The only insurrection that’s happened in the US in the past 4 years is the one at our southern border at the hands of @JoeBiden,” state Sen. William Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican running for governor, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on the third anniversary of the Capitol attack.

Eigel, who has developed a hard-right reputation in the Missouri Senate, said over the weekend he will file legislation to remove Biden from the ballot in Missouri. In a statement, he said the United States was being “invaded” because Biden “has swung our southern border wide open.”

Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican. Harrison Sweazea/Missouri Senate Communications

Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican. Harrison Sweazea/Missouri Senate Communications

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, a Republican candidate for governor with ties to the party establishment, said in a statement that removing Trump from any ballot is undemocratic. Kehoe expects the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decisions in Colorado and Maine, calling them “disastrous attempts at election interference.”

Kehoe didn’t say whether he wants to remove Biden from Missouri’s ballot if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against Trump. But like Eigel, he cited the southern border.

“States that wrongly choose to remove President Trump from the ballot should also consider removing Joe Biden as he has abandoned his constitutional duty to secure our Southern border and protect Americans,” Kehoe said.

A record number of people have crossed the southern border, over the past three years, coming from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries. In the 2023 fiscal year, border patrol agents encountered more than 2.4 million people crossing the southern border, a 4 percent increase from 2022, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Many are migrants seeking asylum after escaping violence or persecution.

Amid legislative gridlock in Washington, Republicans have loudly called attention to border crossings and have begun to initiate impeachment procedures against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, claiming that the situation at the southern border amounts to high crimes and misdemeanors, the legal standard for impeachment.

Both Republican and Democratic presidents for decades have wrestled with issues related to immigration and border security. While crossings were at a record high last year, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also grappled with high numbers of migrant encounters.

But no president has attempted to overturn his election loss like Trump.

Trump exhorted a crowd to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress gathered to certify his opponent’s win and then resisted requests to call for peace after his supporters turned violent. Trump also publicly excoriated Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to block the certification, even as Trump supporters were calling for Pence to be hung.

Two of the four ongoing criminal cases against Trump focus on his efforts to overturn the election. A federal grand jury has indicted Trump on allegations that he conspired to obstruct the election certification. He has also been indicted by a Georgia grand jury over allegations he tried to interfere in that state’s presidential election.

Trump has downplayed the attack in his public remarks and has called for the release of Capitol rioters. He has also continued to falsely say the 2020 election was stolen.

Federal lawmakers initially criticized Trump for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, but as the former president has maintained a stronghold on the base of the party, they’ve been dismissive of the severity of the day. Sen. Josh Hawley, who was the first senator to say he would object to the certification of the 2020 election, has even sold a mug on his campaign website that depicts an image of him raising a fist to the protesters outside of the Capitol.

Missouri voters have backed Trump over two presidential election cycles. In 2020, 56.8% of Missouri voters cast their ballots for Trump, up from 56.4% in 2016.

“They’re certainly putting it in a partisan context and they’re essentially making a tit-for-tat argument that if this happens to our candidate, we’re gonna do it to your candidate, without any real substance behind the motivation beyond partisan payback,” Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said of efforts to remove Biden from ballots.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe speaks during a Senate session on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. Nick Wagner/nwagner@kcstar.com

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe speaks during a Senate session on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. Nick Wagner/[email protected]

‘New legal standard’

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican running for governor, said on X on Friday that if the U.S. Supreme Court disqualifies Trump, secretaries of state across the country will “ensure the new legal standard” is also applied to Biden.

In an interview on Monday, Ashcroft said that “if this is allowed to stand, this is just the start of politics being used and the reason that election authorities remove people from the ballot, and I think that’s terrible and I am totally against it.”

However, the Republican secretary of state sidestepped the question when asked specifically if he would try to remove Biden from the ballot. He said that “if the Supreme Court as the supreme law makes it the supreme law of the land that secretaries of state can remove people for political purposes, then you’re going to see it happen more and more.”

He added that if the Supreme Court “doesn’t act, it’s gonna get worse.”

In a clip of a contentious interview on CNN posted on X Monday, Ashcroft told host Boris Sanchez that there were allegations that Biden engaged in an insurrection but did not provide specific details.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft Tim Bommel/Star file photo

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft Tim Bommel/Star file photo

A 2014 Missouri Court of Appeals decision appears to prohibit the Missouri secretary of state from investigating the qualifications of candidates and then blocking them from appearing on the ballot. Missouri law already provides a process for candidates to challenge the qualifications of other candidates.

And in the case of presidential elections, voters select presidential electors – not the candidates themselves – making any attempt to block Trump or Biden under existing Missouri law difficult.

Dave Roland, director of litigation at the libertarian-leaning Freedom Center of Missouri, said that even if Eigel could get a bill passed aimed at preventing Biden from appearing on the ballot, he would have to find a way to structure the legislation to prevent electors from voting for Biden.

‘Unserious people’

The two major Democrats in the race for governor, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade and Springfield businessman Mike Hamra, both attacked their Republican opponents in statements, painting the push to remove Biden from the ballot as an attempt to score political points.

“These are unserious people playing to their far-right base,” Quade said, adding that Republicans were trying to undermine the election. “They claim to support the Constitution but, apparently, disregard the 14th Amendment.”

Quade, specifically referring to the statements from Ashcroft and Eigel, said if either of their plans were enacted, “they’d be laughed out of court, wasting more tax dollars and the court’s time.”

Hamra attacked “extremist politicians in Jefferson City,” saying their “willingness to shamelessly pander to the most extreme elements of their party to win a primary shows just how ineffective they would be as leaders of our great state.”

Roland said lawsuits are the right way to resolve disputes over who qualifies to hold office. He said whether the 14th Amendment bars Trump from the presidency is an “intricate question” that defies oversimplification.

Whether on the Trump case – or other legal challenges – he emphasized the importance of accepting the decision of the courts.

“When there is a question about how the law or the constitution should be applied, we want people to go to court to get that resolved,” Roland said. “Because the alternative is either raw exercises of political power – in other words, people ignoring the courts – or violence.”

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