Pennsylvania GOP state senators’ refusal to seat Democrat leads to chaotic ceremony

Republicans in the chamber made a motion to not seat state Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster, whose narrow win in November is being challenged by his GOP opponent. The Pennsylvania Department of State has confirmed his win. The effort mirrors an ongoing push from some congressional Republicans to object to President-elect Joe Biden’s presidential victory even as his win has been confirmed by the Electoral College and lawsuits seeking to overturn the results have been widely dismissed.

When Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman objected to the motion Tuesday — insisting that Brewster be sworn in — the state GOP took the rare step of seizing control of the proceedings from him.

The intense sequence kicked off when GOP state Sen. Ryan Aument introduced the motion to not seat Brewster until “such time as the Senate had the opportunity for further consideration of the contest petition.”

The motion, Aument said, “is not debatable. And I ask that the motion be put to a vote immediately.”

Fetterman replied, “The chair does not recognize the motion introduced by the Senator Aument.”

Aument ultimately asserted, “Mr. President, it is your duty to properly put a motion properly before this body. If you continue to refuse to perform your duties, the Senate will proceed to replace you with the interim president pro tempore.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Republican, then replaced Fetterman.

The scene drew swift backlash from Democrats across the state, including Gov. Tom Wolf, who said in a statement, “This is a shameful power grab that disgraces the institution.”

“It is simply unethical and undemocratic to leave the district without a voice simply because the Republicans don’t like the outcome of the election. Voters, not Harrisburg politicians, decided this election, and Sen. Brewster is the rightful winner,” Wolf said.

“All ballots were counted and certified, and the results are accurate. Sen. Brewster received the most votes in this race and should be sworn in as the Senator for the 45th District. There is no precedent, and no legal rationale, for failing to do so,” he added.

The state Republicans’ case for not sitting Brewster rests on a lawsuit filed by his opponent, Nicole Ziccarelli. She is seeking to overturn her election loss through the removal of some Allegheny County mail-in ballots that didn’t include handwritten dates on their outer declaration envelopes.

CNN has reached out to Brewster and Ziccarelli for comment.

It’s unclear how long the state GOP plans to keep Brewster’s seat empty. Corman said in a news release before the swearing-in ceremony, “We understand that this issue needs to be resolved promptly, while ensuring that the constituents of the 45th Senate District have properly elected representation.”

This story has been updated with additional information Tuesday.

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