Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Senate have refused to seat a Democrat elected in November because of a lawsuit brought by his rival, plunging the chamber into chaos Tuesday afternoon.
The Democrat, Jim Brewster, had defeated his GOP opponent Nicole Ziccarelli in his bid to represent Allegheny County, an area that includes Pittsburgh. Although the race was a close one, state officials certified Brewster’s win last year.
Upon Pennsylvania lawmakers’ return to the state Capitol in Harrisburg, where they were to be sworn in for a two-year term, the scene quickly dissolved into mayhem. Democrats loudly protested the Republicans’ decision not to seat Brewster, leading to Republicans voting to oust John Fetterman, the Democratic lieutenant governor, as the state Senate’s presiding officer.
Replacing Fetterman as interim Pennsylvania Senate president pro tempore was Republican Jake Corman, the majority leader.
It remains unclear how long Pennsylvania Republicans are willing to leave the Allegheny County seat vacant.
Their objection to seating Brewster alongside all the other democratically elected state senators could set a worrisome precedent, potentially requiring the chamber to kowtow to losing candidates who decide to challenge election results in court.
At the heart of the Republicans’ objection is a pending lawsuit over more than 300 mail-in ballots that were not dated on the outer envelope as state law says they should be. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, decided that the ballots should be counted because the handwritten date is not technically mandatory.
But Ziccarelli is still fighting back, arguing that the ballots in question should not be counted. If they are disqualified, it would be enough to overturn the result of the election, which was decided by less than 100 votes.
The case is currently pending before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Senate Republicans had indicated their objection to seating Brewster on Monday, sparking alarm among their Democratic colleagues.
Pennsylvania Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said his GOP colleagues were using tactics out of the “Trump playbook,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.