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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republican lawmakers planning to run for president in 2024 have spent weeks in urgent conversations with advisers as they made the high-stakes call on whether to support objections to this week’s congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Why it matters: Republican sources tell Axios these lawmakers view Wednesday's vote as potentially decisive for their political viability, much like would-be 2004 Democratic candidates fixated over the 2002 Iraq War vote.

What we're hearing: Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz are betting that objecting will win them support from MAGA loyalists; Sens. Tom Cotton, Mike Lee and, to some extent, Vice President Mike Pence are worried about longer-term damage to American democracy. They hope GOP voters will appreciate their big-picture thinking.

On the sidelines: Other 2024 hopefuls, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, have the luxury to sit out this fight, given they have no role in Wednesday's Joint Session of Congress.

A split screen of Lee and Cruz campaigning in Georgia over the weekend highlighted one division.

  • Sources who were present say Cruz used a good chunk of his time detailing his plan to object to the Electoral College results — a diversion from the boost the Texan was supposed to be giving to Republican candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
  • Lee, who announced today he will not object, kept the focus on the candidates. The Utahan steered clear of any conversations regarding voter fraud.

Cotton's statement on Sunday opposing the protest reflected another tack: the pro-Trump dissent. The Arkansan and unquestioned Trump supporter is arguing the short-sightedness of this move and trusting the base will grasp it.

  • While Trump routinely vilifies his opponents, Cotton is a veteran and hawk who has been squarely in the president's corner his entire term — until now.
  • Cotton is betting enough Republican primary voters recognize that a doomed challenge to the election certification could backfire on the party.
  • It's a risky bet, as he's already taking heat from the president and his supporters.

Pence is in a tougher spot, and he may set a third template for pro-Trump dissent as he certifies Biden’s victory.

  • Pence, who will preside over Wednesday's proceedings, has not said whether he will object to any results.
  • A Saturday statement from his chief of staff, Marc Short, merely asserted the Vice President "shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities."
  • The comments were seen as more of a diversion while the posturing takes place.

The bottom line: Top Republicans are worried Georgia voters won't turn out for Perdue and Loeffler — despite being fired up about the false claims Biden "stole" the election — because they don't trust the integrity of the election.

Go deeper

Scoop: Conservative group puts $700k behind Hawley

Sen. Josh Hawley explains his objection to certifying the 2020 election results hours after the U.S. Capitol siege. Photo: Congress.gov via Getty Images

A Republican group is raising and spending huge amounts of money defending Sen. Josh Hawley after he was ostracized for early January’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Why it matters: The Senate Conservatives Fund is plugging Hawley's ideological bona fides and backfilling lost corporate cash with needed political and financial support, helping inoculate him as he weighs reelection or a possible presidential campaign in 2024.

Updated 53 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.