Seven Democrats in the U.S. Senate have filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for his role lending "legitimacy" to false claims of election fraud ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
In a letter addressed to the Senate Committee on Ethics, the Democratic senators argue that Cruz and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, "made future violence more likely." The Democrats called for the committee to conduct an investigation into the two Republican senators and consider "disciplinary action," which could include the rare move of expulsion from the Senate. The Constitution also grants Congress the ability to censure its members, which is essentially just a strong condemnation from the chamber.
Leading up to the destructive Capitol riot, Cruz, Hawley and other congressional Republicans vowed to object to the 2020 election results based on Trump's unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him. There is no evidence of widespread fraud on a level that would have affected the result. Even after a mob of Trump supporters desecrated the U.S. Capitol, Cruz objected to certifying Arizona's electoral results, and he's been in political hot water ever since.
Cruz told Politico that his objection "was the exact opposite of inciting violence."
"What I was doing is debating principle and law and the Constitution on the floor of the United States Senate. That is how we resolve issues in this country without resorting to violence," he said.
In a statement to The Texas Tribune, a Cruz spokesperson accused the seven Democrats of "playing political games," calling the ethics complaint "frivolous."
The Senate's ethics manual lays out various rules for U.S. senators on campaign activity, conflicts of interest, gifts and what's considered "improper conduct." Once an ethics complaint is filed, the manual states that a preliminary inquiry is to be carried out "to conclude that a violation within the jurisdiction of the Committee has occurred." The process includes allowing the accused to officially respond to the complaints.
At any point in the investigation, the Senate ethics committee can hold a public or executive hearing to examine documents and hear testimonies.
Expelling a sitting Senator requires a two-thirds vote in the chamber; censuring requires only a majority vote. But not many federal lawmakers have faced such discipline. According to senate.gov, only 15 senators have been expelled since the 18th century — all for their allegiance to the Confederacy — and only nine were censured between 1811 and 1990, for a variety of "transgressions" like fighting in the chamber.
Cruz denounced the violence, but he has faced fierce backlash from Democrats, and even some Republicans.
"You have some senators who, for political advantage, were giving false hope to their supporters, misleading them to believe somehow yesterday's actions in Congress could reverse the results of the election," U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said during a Fox News interview. "That was never going to happen, yet these senators, as insurrectionists literally stormed the Capitol, were sending out fundraising emails."