In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) showed his support for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine while also discussing the presidential election and a controversial cabinet pick by President-elect Joe Biden.
DeWine, a Republican, has been under fire from some Republicans over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some people going so far as to call for impeachment.
“We had a tough situation in Ohio,” Portman said. “We have increasing cases, we have increasing hospitalizations and ICU. Very sadly, we have more and more fatalities. It’s a very tough situation.”
In Williams County, cases are continuing to rise, with 1,260 cases reported in the county, an increase of 113 since Friday. Of those, 79 have resulted in hospitalizations as of Tuesday and 731 victims are presumed to have recovered as of Friday.
The county reported two more deaths on Tuesday, making three deaths reported this week and a total of 12 deaths.
Portman said it is understandable for DeWine to look for ways to slow the spread of the virus.
“I am focused like a laser on this vaccine,” he said. “I just don’t think we’re going to turn the corner until we have the vaccine. Therapies are great, too, and they help save a lot of lives and will continue to save lives. Those need to be expedited, too, in a safe way, but the vaccine is the key to me.”
Portman added DeWine is doing his best in a tough situation.
Portman addressed the presidential election, saying Joe Biden won the electoral college but falling short of calling him the president-elect.
That has to do with the safe harbor date for the Electoral College, which is Dec. 8, and the rights President Donald Trump has to contest the results.
“Dec. 8 is the safe harbor date when states can submit their electors and they would be protected from being challenged,” Portman said. “That date has typically been the date that people think it’s important to resolve matters.”
Portman said the accurate count has to be complete by Dec. 8, but agrees Trump has the right to contest results and request recounts until that date.
Trump has filed several lawsuits contesting the election results, most recently in Wisconsin, where a suit filed Tuesday looks to disqualify more than 221,000 ballots in the state, according to an Associated Press report.
So far, Portman said his efforts have not resulted in enough information to change the election.
“The final lawful vote counts and the recounts so far have not led to a different outcome in any state,” he said. “In other words, the initial determination showing Joe Biden with enough electoral votes to win has not changed.”
He did agree there were fraud issues in this election. In fact, he said there are always fraud issues in elections.
There have also been other irregularities.
“It’s good those have been exposed and it’s good those are going to be something that legislators, including myself, will be looking at,” he said. “But, there is no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud or irregularities that would change the result of the election. That’s the issue right now.”
It’s good to expose fraud, Portman continued, and those who commit it should be prosecuted. It’s also important for Americans to have faith in elections, which many Americans don’t.
When pressed further by reporters, he said Trump has the right to file suits and request recounts by Dec. 8.
“As I said earlier, I think the initial determination shows that Joe Biden has enough electoral votes to win and that hasn’t changed,” Portman said. “There are instances of fraud, there always are, but there’s not evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities that provide enough to change the results of the election.”
He also referenced an op-ed he wrote calling for the transition process to start and also called for Biden to receive presidential security briefings.
Both of those have happened.
“I think it is appropriate to have the transition beginning because I believe it is in the national security interest of our country,” Portman said.
The Senate majority is also still in question and will be decided in a runoff election in Georgia for both senate seats. If Democrats can beat both incumbents, the Senate will be split 50-50, giving the tie-breaking vote to Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.
If Republicans maintain control, Portman said he is in line to be chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee
“If not, I’ll be the ranking Republican on that committee and there’s lots of work to be done in that area,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Portman also discussed Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
Tanden is under fire from GOP Senators for a history of attacking GOP lawmakers on social media.
Portman told the Washington Post he was concerned with “both judgment, based on the tweets that I’ve been shown, just in the last 24 hours … and it’s the partisan nature.”
In 2017, Portman was more dismissive of people looking at Trump’s Twitter feed, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that character is important in politics but people focusing on tweets and not accomplishments were “getting out of touch with the American people.”
“I said I thought she was problematic as a nominee and I would hope the Biden Administration would reconsider nominating her,” he said. “I did have that job and I know a little bit about how you do that job successfully. I remember after I left that job I got a lot of compliments from Democrats on the Hill because I worked with them. That’s a job that requires working across the aisle.”
Portman said if Tanden was nominated then she should get a hearing, but hoped Biden would reconsider because her “high partisan” series of comments could result in difficulty getting her confirmed.
That results in her not being a good fit for that particular job, he said.