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Democratic Senators File Ethics Complaint Against Cruz, Hawley After Capitol Riot

NOEL KING, HOST:

Seven Democrats filed a complaint against two of their Republican colleagues with the Senate Ethics Committee. They want Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz punished for promoting false election claims on the same day rioters attacked Congress. Here's NPR's Sue Davis.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: It's incredibly rare for senators to file complaints against each other, but Cruz and Hawley have been on the receiving end of intense criticism from across the political spectrum since January 6. Here's West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin speaking to CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE MANCHIN: I don't know how they can live with themselves knowing that people have died because of their words and actions.

DAVIS: Cruz and Hawley led the objections in the Senate to the electoral counts in Arizona and Pennsylvania in the hours after violent extremists stormed the Capitol. They've argued there was cause to question the integrity of the election, although no evidence has backed up those claims. Both men condemned the violence and deny any role in inciting it. Here's Cruz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED CRUZ: Debating a question of constitutional law on the floor of the Senate is the antithesis of trying to resolve conflicts through violent terrorist attack.

DAVIS: Democrats do not argue that Cruz and Hawley had the right to object to the electors, but they want the ethics panel to investigate whether their actions around doing so violated the code of conduct that broadly calls on senators to act with high moral principles. Kedric Payne is a government ethics expert with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

KEDRIC PAYNE: I do think that this is the perfect example of why the Senate Ethics Committee exists, and that is to pick a subjective standard for what these members want to live by. The Constitution allows the senators to discipline their own members.

DAVIS: There's little transparency around ethics investigations, but the committee has the power to recommend punishments, from a verbal slap on the wrist to expulsion. The top Democrat on the committee, Chris Coons of Delaware, has already called on them to resign. Hawley is unmoved by the criticism, recently telling reporters, quote, "I'm not going anywhere." Both Cruz and Hawley are considered possible 2024 contenders for president. Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "WRINGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.