The Democratic chair of Centre County’s Board of Commissioners on Monday called on two powerful Pennsylvania Republicans from the county to condemn outgoing President Donald Trump for ‘inciting and enticing’ extremist supporters prior to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.
Commissioner Michael Pipe also said state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, and their GOP colleagues in Harrisburg must take responsibility for ‘fanning the flames’ of Trump’s baseless claims of widespread election fraud through their challenges to Pennsylvania’s election results.
“It is appalling that Senator Corman and Representative Benninghoff, two of the most powerful elected officials in Pennsylvania, have yet to denounce the President for his role in the horrific acts of domestic terrorism we collectively witnessed last Wednesday,” Pipe said in a statement prior to a Monday afternoon press conference. “It is imperative that they use their positions of influence within Pennsylvania to fully condemn the main source of inciting and enticing the acts of domestic terrorism, from Washington D.C. to the recent crimes committed by white supremacists right here in Centre County. Their silence is complicity in the same violence they claim to disavow.”
Both Corman and Benninghoff denounced the violence on Jan. 6, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to disrupt the final certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Neither have commented specifically on Trump’s role.
Before the storming of the Capitol, Trump spoke to a crowd of thousands he had urged to come to Washington for a ‘Save America’ rally where he continued his unsubstantiated claims that the election was ‘stolen’ from him. Telling the crowd ‘very different rules’ apply ‘when you catch somebody in fraud,’ he said they would walk to the Capitol and ‘You have to show strength.’
The president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, suggested in his remarks at the rally ‘trial by combat’ to settle the election.
Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died as a result of events at the Capitol later that afternoon.
‘As of right now the PGA Tour has done more to denounce President Trump and his actions than the Pennsylvania Republican Party has,’ Pipe said.
Corman and Benninghoff have both been among Republicans in the General Assembly who have not alleged voter fraud but who questioned Pennsylvania’s election integrity because of what they called ‘unlawful violations’ of election process by Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and a ‘rogue’ state Supreme Court they say usurped the legislature’s authority related to mail-in ballot procedures.
“Sen. Corman and Rep. Benninghoff have gone to great lengths to spread disinformation about the fairness and security of the 2020 General Election,’ Pipe said. ‘They have propagated the myth of a stolen election by their numerous statements and letters sent to the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation, calling on them to raise objections to the certification of the electoral votes of Pennsylvania. There is a direct and undeniable connection between these attempts to undercut the results of Pennsylvania’s presidential election results and the violent coup attempt of January 6, 2021.’
In December, Benninghoff joined a number of House and Senate colleagues in a letter to the state’s congressional delegation asking them to dispute the electors.
Benninghoff’s press secretary, Jason Gottesman, wrote in an email that the majority leader never alleged fraud and his challenges to the election changes did not play a role in the Capitol riot.
‘There is no step that Leader Benninghoff took in questioning Pennsylvania’s election processes that can be connected with the lawless violence and heinous acts at the U.S. Capitol,’ Gottesman wrote. ‘Everything he did was within the parameters for the lawful questioning of election processes as outlined in state and federal law. In addition, Leader Benninghoff has not once alleged there was voter fraud.’
Benninghoff, he also noted, accepted Biden won the election in an interview with PennLive published on Jan. 4.
Corman and three other state Senate Republicans sent a letter to GOP leaders in the U.S. House and Senate on Jan. 4 asking them to delay certification of the electoral votes. Unlike the letter Benninghoff signed, Corman’s letter only became public after it was tweeted by Trump the night before the joint session of Congress.
“I have repeatedly condemned the violence that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and I believe that those who participated in it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,’ Corman said in a statement. ‘In the same manner, I was vocal about my opposition all summer while rioters terrorized our cities. Violence is wrong no matter who perpetrates it.’
Pipe said that Corman and Benninghoff both supported Act 77 of 2019, which provided for no-excuse-required mail-in voting for the first time in Pennsylvania. Issues with process and loopholes in the law, he said, have been handled by Pennsylvania courts.
And, he added, the state Supreme Court’s decision to allow mail ballots to be received up to three days after Election Day — one of the issues raised by Republican legislators — would have no bearing on the outcome of the election. Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes while only about 10,000 mail ballots came in during the post-Election Day three-day window.
‘To still continue to raise that issue is not being honest with the people who are looking to our leaders in Harrisburg for truth at this time,’ Pipe said.
He believes Corman and Benninghoff face political pressure not to condemn Trump, who despite plummeting approval ratings still maintains popularity among a majority of Republicans.
‘I have to ask them in good conscience, what’s more important: American democracy and a peaceful transfer of power and the future of our country, or their own political power?’ Pipe said.
He said he ‘would continue to have great respect for them,’ if Corman and Benninghoff denounce Trump and specifically call out the president’s supporters as the ones who engaged in the violence at the Capitol. He also said both should do more to dispute members of their caucus who continue to repeat easily debunked misinformation about Pennsylvania’s election totals.
‘I hope there is a new day, but they have to be called out,’ Pipe said. ‘I recognize more than anybody that we have to work together but there is just a level of frustration we have right now that we need to douse the fire.’
Corman said Pipe was further inflaming the situation through ‘hostile’ remarks.
“If the Commissioner wanted to calm the rhetoric and have a conversation, he has the ability to call me directly,’ Corman said. ‘Instead, Commissioner Pipe chose to talk past me so he could raise the rhetoric to a new level through his hostile words choices and false accusations.
“The sugar high that people get from Twitter and Facebook likes is the reason for much of the inflammatory language we see all around us today. Instead of focusing on Facebook, Twitter and press conferences, people need to pick up the phone and talk to each other.”
State College Borough Council President Jesse Barlow, in remarks prepared for council’s meeting on Monday called on Corman and Benninghoff to ‘repudiate this lie,’ perpetuated by Trump that the election was stolen.
Barlow also said the the two congressmen representing Centre County — Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, and Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township — should resign for objecting to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes when the counting resumed after the riot. Prior to the joint session to count the electoral votes, Barlow issued a letter on behalf of council to Keller and Thompson urging them to back down from their planned objections.
The objections were easily defeated as Biden was certified as winner of Pennsylvania’s votes and the presidency.
‘Both congressmen voted not to accept Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes even after the Capitol siege and while several U.S. senators backed down from the lie,’ Barlow said. ‘They have violated their oaths of office and need to resign immediately.’
Pipe said that like Corman and Benninghoff, Keller and Thompson have ‘soul-searching’ to do.
‘It was disappointing that they did that,’ Pipe said. ‘It’s very frustrating… that after the horrific insurrection that occurred in the Capitol they still went on and made their objections.’