Oregon’s only GOP congressman challenges Electoral College count

By Emily Cureton Cook (OPB)
Jan. 7, 2021 1:38 a.m. Updated: Jan. 8, 2021 7:07 p.m.

Freshman Rep. Cliff Bentz blames individual bad actors, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Portland protesters for fueling insurrection, not President Trump.

Update, 9:30 a.m., Jan. 8 — After earlier supporting an objection to the Electoral College count in Pennsylvania, Rep. Cliff Bentz acknowledged that Joe Biden will become president.

The Republican from Eastern Oregon stated in a press release Thursday: “I am committed to a peaceful transfer of power, but I continue to empathize with those whose frustrations with the electoral system remain unresolved.”


Immediately after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday, Bentz was sheltering in place, and in a phone interview with OPB declined to call Biden the rightful president-elect.

Update, 6:57 a.m., Jan. 7 — U.S. Rep Cliff Bentz joined eight senators and 139 representatives who voted to sustain one or both objections to the Electoral College count when Congress officially certified the results of the 2020 presidential election early Thursday morning, according to an early-morning tally by The New York Times. In a statement about the vote Bentz wrote: “I am committed to listening to the opinions of my constituents, upholding the Constitution, and engaging in the deliberative process entrusted to the United States House of Representatives.”

6 p.m., Jan. 6 — After a mob of Trump supporters laid siege to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, the newest member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation declined to say if he will vote to certify election results in all 50 states.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, a Republican from Eastern Oregon, also declined to say whether he thinks Joe Biden is the rightful president-elect, though he acknowledged any outcome where Biden does not take office is “highly unlikely.”

As of Wednesday evening, Bentz said he was still consulting with his staff and a constitutional lawyer about the objections Republicans have raised to election results in six states.

Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, asks questions during the Senate Judiciary Committee work session for House Bill 2625 on April 30, 2019.

Former State Senator and current Congressman Cliff Bentz asks questions during the Senate Judiciary Committee work session for House Bill 2625 on April 30, 2019.

Kaylee Domzalski / OPB

Bentz said his constituents won’t know how he’s going to vote on certification until the moment comes. Regardless of how Bentz votes, the effort is doomed to fail without majority support from the Democratically-controlled House.

“In all likelihood, those objections will not be successful,” Bentz said, calling his continued analysis necessary “so that people know that we are doing our best to make sure that the electoral process was done as our Constitution requires.”


A longtime state lawmaker, this is Bentz’ first week in Congress. He represents Oregon’s 2nd District, a largely rural expanse covering around two-thirds of the state by land. Last year, 18 out of the district’s 20 counties went for President Trump, most with wide margins.

Attorneys for President Trump have launched dozens of lawsuits since the election in an attempt to claim voter fraud in battleground states where Biden won. Courts across the country have dismissed those lawsuits as baseless, and the president’s attorneys have not been able to produce credible evidence of widespread election tampering. Certifying the results of the Electoral College is the final step in the presidential electoral process before President-elect Biden is inaugurated later this month.

Lawmakers fled their chambers in a chaotic evacuation Wednesday after the mob of people from a “Stop the Steal” rally stormed the Capitol. Capitol police shot and killed one woman who was in the group.

“Somebody, I don’t want to say attacked, but somebody went after a bunch of reporters and trashed their equipment, so I think going outside right now is not the thing to be doing,” Bentz said, speaking to OPB from an undisclosed location where he was sheltering in place Wednesday evening.

President Trump has falsely claimed time and again that the election was “stolen” from him. Before Twitter suspended his account Wednesday, the president called the rioters “patriots” who were rightfully upset over the election results.

Bentz said he did not hold the president responsible for Wednesday’s insurrection: “He [Trump] wanted a protest. I don’t think he ever would have wanted it to turn violent,” Bentz said.

“The protesters are responsible, the people who decided to take it upon themselves to damage things,” he added, declining to clearly state whether or not he approved of Trump’s reaction to the events. “I hope that [President Trump] is emphatic in whatever statements he chooses to make, to tell people to avoid violence.”

Bentz instead blamed recent unrest in Portland for setting a bad example. He also singled out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, but not other leaders in Congress. Three weeks ago, Bentz joined 25 other Republican Congress members-elect in sending Pelosi a letter, calling the election results into question, and petitioning her to create an investigatory commission.

“She ignored that... .Had she acted promptly, perhaps that would have helped avoid this kind of thing where people think they’re not being heard, think that they have to resort to this kind of violence to make their point,” Bentz said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, President Trump had not condemned the violent extremists. Instead, he took to Twitter and again claimed the election was stolen from him.

“We have to have peace. So go home. We love you, you’re very special,” the president said, addressing the mob. “We’ve seen what happens, you see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home, and go home in peace.”

Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Wednesday night to resume certifying the votes of the Electoral College.