What is Mike Braun doing, exactly?

Indiana's junior senator was everywhere this week talking election integrity. To what end?

What is Mike Braun doing, exactly?

That was the question circulating among some Indiana Republicans this week as the junior senator stormed the airwaves to raise questions about election integrity.

Is he trying to gird his right flank after missteps earlier this year when he introduced—and then quickly pulled—a bill reforming qualified immunity for law enforcement, angering one of his most rock-solid constituencies? Was he trying to stave off a primary challenge? Was he currying favor with President Trump one last time, hoping to secure some kind of concession in the administration’s waning days?

To whatever end, Braun knew one thing when he woke up Wednesday: He was ready to make news and do some cable television hits, an increasingly common impulse for the gentleman from Jasper who has proven more of a showhorse than a workhorse during his two-year Senate tenure.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 20: Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) speaks during a television interview in Senate Russell Office Building on October 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans are looking to hold a confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Monday, October 26, approximately one week before the Presidential election. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

Braun had a Washington Examiner editorial about “election irregularities” ready to be published and an interview with Washington Secrets columnist Paul Bedard ready to drop. He had cable television news hits on MSNBC and CNN planned, and a conference call with Hoosier reporters scheduled. (CNN would later cancel on the senator; he wasn’t able to gain airtime on Fox News).

Braun’s message: He would not yet acknowledge Joe Biden as President-elect, because the election process needed to “play out” so the country could have faith in the election results.

It’s a message he would continue to peddle as the week unfolded, even if it became more watered down as time passed, culminating in his second-ever Sunday show appearance, during which he struggled to make his case with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” (He appeared earlier this year on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to ddefend the president on impeachment).

Braun: Look at Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia. When you take the number of electoral votes associated with that roughly 40,000 vote margin, that’s under half of what it was. So, I want to put two and two together. Yes, we don't let the process play itself out. Regardless of what you're talking about in terms of unifying the country, there are going to be many people that are unsettled with the fact that we don't care.

Stephanpolous: You just mentioned three states: Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. There were audits in those three states. There were recounts in those three states. Two of those states were led by Republican governors who certified election results.

Braun: George, recounts are one thing and we all know that they hardly ever change result of an election. This is a whole 'nother issue, and from the get go, there was a dialogue on recounts, and people have certified on this stuff. That to me is dismissing some of the evidence sworn testimony that's out there. and if you don't carry it to this conclusion, you're going to have uneasiness going into the future.

Indiana Democrats spokesman Drew Anderson called Braun’s appearance “unbecoming”:

“It’s unbecoming of a U.S. Senator to show an arrogant disregard to the U.S. Constitution and the pillars of the democracy that makes this nation so great. Mike Braun owes Hoosiers an apology for abusing the fundamental trust we place in all our elected officials. Moreover, the Democrats recommend Senator Braun put politics aside and instead focus on passing another COVID-19 relief package so Hoosier businesses and families can access further protections during these uncertain times. We need action, not some rhetorical political circus, Senator.”

In an interview with Bedard, Braun likened uncertainty over Election results in Indiana to “heartburn.” “All I can tell you is that there’s a restlessness out there in places like Indiana,” Braun said, “and I don’t think it is going to settle down in terms of any type of unification on addressing any issues as long as that lingers.”

Back home, Indiana Republicans say Braun’s comments caused their own heartburn, privately wondering to me what Braun was hoping to accomplish. Some theorized he was hoping to stave off a primary challenge after a bruising imbroglio over his championing of a proposal for qualified immunity earlier this year. Others suggested that Braun was hearing criticism from Indiana supporters who were unsatisfied with his relatively low profile since Supreme Court Justice’s Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings. Braun’s supporters say he can effectively declare victory to his approach after Dec. 14, when he can argue that the process played out—and worked.

One thing we do know after this week: Braun says he will accept the results on Dec. 14, when electors meet and vote in their states as part of the Electoral College.

Braun’s high-profile adventures on the media circuit are of a piece with his two years in the Senate so far, a time during which he has conceded he’s accomplished little due to impeachment and the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, I asked Braun whether his high-profile surrogacy missions were part of an effort to build political capital in the service of some larger policy agenda. He has done more cable television appearances in two years than Young has done in four.

“Is it to accrue political capital?” I asked. “And if so, what do you intend to spend that capital on?”

Braun shook his head, squared his jaw, and then sidestepped my question, offering a more flaccid message than his own op-ed earlier that day espoused:

That’s easy, in my mind, because systemic fraud, widespread, is one thing. That’s a difficult case, probably, to make. But when you go to the other end of the spectrum and say 'there's nothing,' I think you're being just as oblivious as you might be when you try to make the other case.

Unlike Sen. Todd Young, Braun has championed no sweeping legislative program. Young has advanced conservative policy objectives related to his Fair Shot Agenda, an initiative focused on ensuring every Hoosier has a fair shot at success regardless of the challenges they face, such as tackling poverty with free-market and faith-based options. He has also authored a RESTART Act, which would provide low-interest, partially forgivable, long-term working capital loans to pandemic-weakened businesses. Aside from co-chairing the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and talking about the need for healthcare reform, Braun has floundered in finding his groove in the Senate—aside from racking up cable television hits on CNBC, MSNBC, and Fox Business.

At times, even to his own fellow Hoosier Republicans, Braun seems to be winging it. He is, after all, a doer, as we learned during his Senate campaign, even if that means he has a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, as evidenced by his do-si-do on reforming qualified immunity earlier this year. According to an analysis by Axios, though, Braun is among the least loyal Trump members of Indiana’s congressional delegation.

Last July, when I asked him about his next steps, Braun wondered aloud about his own legislative career and running for re-election, or perhaps governor:

“Is it worth it? Have I had impact? Are people listening?”

All fair questions.

Good Sunday afternoon, and welcome back to IMPORTANTVILLE.

AROUND IMPORTANTVILLE

  • The first Cook Political Report 2022 shows U.S. Sen. Todd Young is in “Solid R” territory headed into 2021.

  • The law firm of former Indiana Speaker of the House Brian BosmaKroger, Gardis & Regaswaded into a legal challenge in Wisconsin on behalf of the Trump campaign this week. Bosma wasn’t involved, a spokeswoman says. “Brian, of course, supports his law partners’ efforts, but he is not involved in the litigation,” she told me. “Bill Bock is the lead attorney, who has an extensive background in election law.”

  • In a statement to IMPORTANVILLE, Bock said: “The United States Constitution prevents the rules in a presidential election from being changed at the last minute by unelected bureaucrats and local politicians who may have a more narrow interest in the outcome of the election. We have alleged in our complaint on behalf of the president that the Wisconsin Elections Commission and other state and local officials in Wisconsin broke the Wisconsin Election Code and ran an unconstitutional and unlawful election. Nothing is more important to our national fabric and future than integrity in our electoral process. This lawsuit is one step in the direction of fairer, more transparent, more professional, and ultimately more reliable elections in America.”

  • Kip Tew, the former Indiana Democratic Party chairman, told me: “The legal argument, in this case, would be similar to an argument in Indiana but of course they don't want to overturn Indiana’s results. The argument is that because of the pandemic election administrators and the Governor allowed people to ignore the limiting nature of the mail-in statute and vote by absentee.”

  • Not one of Indiana’s nine congressional Republicans were willing to call Biden president-elect, according to The Washington Post.

IMPORTANTVILLE READS

By Michael Warren, Betsy Klein and Jeremy Diamond, CNN: “Pence’s political future remains clouded by Trump

Days after the election, Mike Pence called a close friend for a 30-minute conversation to analyze what had just happened and what it all might mean for the future of the Republican Party. According to this person, the vice president was upbeat about the success of GOP candidates lower down the ballot, but Pence also sounded skeptical about the various lawsuits and legal challenges that the President's campaign was preparing.

“I’m not sure (he spoke) with the vigor of a man who is confident these suits will be successful," the friend told CNN.

Whatever his tone implied, Pence has struck a careful balance since the election. In his rare public remarks, he has refrained from fully endorsing Trump's false claims the election was fraudulent, promising instead to fight to ensure "every legal vote is counted." And while the President has continued to tweet baseless conspiracies about a stolen election, Pence has traveled the country dutifully promoting the administration's contributions to Covid vaccines and stumped for Senate candidates in the crucial Georgia runoff next month.

By Josh Dawsey, Amy Gardner and Cleve R. Wootson Jr., The Washington Post: “Trump roils Georgia GOP as party waits to see if presidential visit helps — or hurts — in crucial Senate runoffs

Even in Georgia, with the extraordinary confluence of two Senate races on the ballot in a presidential swing state, there were signs over the summer that Trump was not focused on anything other than his own political needs.

In a White House meeting about keeping the Senate, attended by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) and other aides, a discussion about the state took a turn when Trump brought up House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene’s support of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, according to people familiar with the discussion.

“Q-an-uhn,” he said, mispronouncing the name of the group, telling those present that it is made up of people who “basically believe in good government.” The room was silent again before Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, leaned forward to say he had never heard it described that way. Trump had similarly praised QAnon, which the FBI has identified as a potential domestic terrorist threat, during an August news conference.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading and subscribing.