Texas’ representatives in Congress were set to be sworn in on Sunday, with Texas Democrats earlier in the day helping Nancy Pelosi secure a fourth term as House Speaker and several new Texas Republicans coming aboard while many in their party are still backing efforts to overturn the recent presidential election results.
Among those taking the oaths were U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican who was reelected in November to his fourth term in the chamber and will continue on as the most powerful Texas senator since the days of Lyndon Baines Johnson. The House delegation breakdown will continue as 23 Republicans to 13 Democrats after the state's GOP delegation was able to fend of a ferocious and well-funded offensive challenge from state and national Democrats in seats across the state.
In the vote for House speaker, 216 Democrats backed Pelosi, while 209 Republicans voted for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Pelosi's vote margin was close enough that Republicans are in serious contention to recapture the chamber in two years. While there were a handful of Democrats who cast symbolic votes that were not for Pelosi or voted "present," all Texas Democrats backed Pelosi and all Texas Republicans voted for McCarthy.
But while swearing-in day is typically happy affair, in which members' families' gather at the Capitol for the proceedings, it felt less so this year in the middle of a pandemic and with some Republicans in both chambers planning to contest President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 electoral vote victory over President Donald Trump.
Since even before the votes were counted, Trump has falsely claimed that the election was being stolen from him, though he has put forward no credible evidence of widespread fraud. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that he called the Georgia secretary of state and asked him to recalculate the votes there in his favor, saying "I just want to find 11,780 votes." Biden won the state by 11,779 votes, and Republican officials there have certified his victory.
Trump administration officials say over 100 House Republicans will contest the presidential election results on Wednesday, when Congress is scheduled to officially certify Biden's Electoral College victory. Multiple Texas Republicans are expected to join that effort, even as Republicans who make charges of voter fraud against Democrats have yet to supply any semblance of evidence to satisfy dozens of state and federal judges who reviewed those claims.
On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced he was leading a band of Republican senators who would vote to reject the certification of Electoral College votes for the presidential election unless an emergency audit is conducted. While campaigning on behalf of Republican colleagues in Georgia on Sunday, Cruz also brushed off the recording of Trump pressuring the Georgia official.
"I get the media wants to report all sorts of things and get everyone distracted by whatever else is going on," he said, according to The Washington Post.
Texas politicians were central over the last month in contesting the presidential race — and all challenges so far were met with sweeping defeats in the judiciary. In mid-December, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. More recently, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, launched his own challenge that a federal circuit court threw out on Friday and a federal appeals court followed suit on Saturday.
In response to the these rulings, Gohmert told Newsmax: "The court is saying we're not going to touch this you have no remedy basically in effect the ruling would be that you got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and [Black Lives Matter.]"
Gohmert followed up on Saturday with a statement after a hail of criticism for those remarks.
"I have not encouraged and unequivocally do not advocate for violence,” he said. “I have long advocated for following the teaching and example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of peaceful protest. That does not keep me from recognizing what lies ahead when the institutions created by a self-governing people to peacefully resolve disputes hide from their responsibility."
One of the most even-tempered Democrats in Congress delivered the starkest criticism of Gohmert: U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. In a Sunday morning MSNBC appearance, Hoyer called Gohmert "totally irresponsible and very frankly bordering on sedition, bordering on undermining our democracy, a hateful and awful thing for a member of the Congress to do — or for frankly any American citizen to do."
Arguably the state's most conservative House member, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Austin, began his second term in a different way. He joined a statement with six other Republicans defending the certification process of the Electoral College, as reported earlier by Politico
"The text of the Constitution is clear. States select electors. Congress does not. Accordingly, our path forward is also clear," they wrote. "We must respect the states’ authority here. Though doing so may frustrate our immediate political objectives, we have sworn an oath to promote the Constitution above our policy goals. We must count the electoral votes submitted by the states.”
Sunday will also mark the swearing in of largest class of Texas freshmen — all Republicans — in recent memory. Several of these newcomers replaced retiring members who represented heavily Republican regions: U.S. Reps. Pat Fallon of Prosper, Ronny Jackson of the sprawling Northwest Texas 13th District, and August Pfluger of West Texas.
Three other new members beat back ferocious Democratic offensives in November: U.S. Reps. Tony Gonzales who will represent southwest Texas, Troy Nehls of suburban Houston and Beth Van Duyne who will represent the northern part of the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Van Duyne will also be the first Republican freshman woman elected to the Texas delegation for a full term since 1996, and she comprises the largest House Republican women's class ever.
And one Republican is a returning and familiar face: U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Waco, who lost his 2018 bid for reelection in Dallas found success to the south in the 17th Congressional District. Sessions is a former chairman of the House Rules Committee and of the House GOP campaign arm.
Many of these members ran campaigns that aligned themselves far more closely with outgoing President Trump than the Republicans they replaced, some of whom were far more reticent to embrace Trump’s often brutal style of politics.