On Wednesday, in a joint congressional conference designed as a ceremonial confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, an influential minority of Republicans promise to oppose the results in one or more states. It’s their last chance to overturn the election, and it’s almost certain to fail. Jowharexplains why.
The Republican actions are at least outwardly designed to help President Donald Trump’s efforts to stay in office. But their actions almost certainly fail, even if it deepens the US party ranks and drives a wedge within their own party.
Jowharbreaks down what is expected to happen on Wednesday – and why it is very unlikely to hinder Biden’s path to the inauguration on 20 January.
How did we get here?
According to the US Constitution, presidential elections are decided by the Electoral College. Each state and Washington DC has a number of voters who are proportionate to their population. In all but two states (Maine and Nebraska), no matter which candidate wins the majority of popular ballots across the state, everyone wins the election. Regardless of which candidate wins, a majority of the 538 votes in turn wins the presidency.
Race to the White House: Rules for the US Election Process Explained
Despite Trump and his supporters’ many, unwarranted attacks on the integrity of the election, that process ultimately continued on the right track this year, as the Electoral College confirmed Biden’s victory on December 15 with a vote of 306 to 232 (the same number that sealed Trump’s victory in 2016).
The joint session of the Congress on January 6 is essentially the final confirmation of the vote at the electoral school. On Wednesday, the House and Senate will be convened for this session at 1 p.m., with all lawmakers gathered in the House to confirm the election results (in this case that Joe Biden won).
Who is the challenge?
The challenge that begins comes from a dozen Republican senators, led by Texas Ted Cruz, and as many as 100 House Republicans. But there are a total of 535 members of Congress (minus some vacancies).
Democrats have the majority in the House. They will almost certainly agree to accept the result of the election because they have been certified by the states. And even in the Senate, where Republicans have a majority, only about a quarter of the party assembly has agreed to this bid to cancel the election. That puts the hardened Trump loyalists in a relatively thin minority overall, and that means Wednesday’s challenge is sure to fail.
As a reminder, William Barr, Trump’s attorney general until last month, also said he had not found any evidence of large-scale fraud that could change the outcome. The results have been repeatedly certified by government officials. However, a number of Republicans are addressing the president’s challenge. This has divided the party in new ways and given rise to the drama of what promises to be an unprecedented process.
What exactly happens when the congressional joint session is convened?
Normally, the process is a simple formality. The results from the states are taken in envelopes, and the vice president opens them and reads out the pines. At this stage, all members can object. But for any challenge to have currency, it must have a member of the House and a member of the Senate to go in writing.
In 2016, some Democratic members of the House opposed Trump’s election, citing Russian interference and oppression of voters. But then – Vice President Biden fired them and the session was over in half an hour.
This year, there are about six states that Republican challengers worry about. At the top of the list (in alphabetical order) is Arizona, the results of which a number of House Republicans have said they plan to compete. Senator Ted Cruz has said he will do the same. If he goes through it in writing, the procedure will end.
According to a statement released on Sunday, Republican challengers will call for the establishment of a special commission to conduct an “emergency ten-day review” of election results.
The senators will go back to the Senate and consider, and the House members will stay in the House and consider. Each will have two hours of deliberation. And then they will vote and they will come back again and explain their vote. If the process is repeated for several conditions, it can be a very long day.
But that will not do much to improve Trump’s chances. A majority of both houses of Congress would have to object to the state’s results in order for them to be elected. That means, even in the unlikely event that all Republican senators agreed to a challenge, Biden’s victory in a particular state would still be maintained unless the Democratic majority in the House turned against its own party candidate alongside Trump.
So the challenge for Arizona is sure to fail, as are all the subsequent challenges. The only other state where we know there will be a challenge is Pennsylvania (with the support of Senator Josh Hawley), but Georgia, Nevada, Michigan and Wisconsin may also face challenges.
If they do, it could lead to many hours of debate. Congress – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has sought to discourage other Republicans from challenging the results – is expected to try to ensure a result at the end of the session. This can mean that you work all night and come back the next day.
What is Mike Pence’s role?
The vice president’s role is administrative, and despite intense pressure and false assurances to the contrary from Trump, Mike Pence does not have the power to overturn the results on his own.
Pence told Trump the same amount on Tuesday, according to a source familiar with the matter, in a conversation first reported by the New York Times.
People close to the vice president stressed his respect for institutions and said they expect him to act in accordance with the law and chop the constitution.
What is the precedent for this?
Other vice presidents have also been forced to preside over their own defeats. Vice President Al Gore presided over the House in 2001 when it certified the contested election in 2000. He, too, had to log on to the speech that essentially prevented him from becoming president. Legislators have faced challenges in the past, but nothing about the extent we expect to see this time around.
All this means that Wednesday’s session places the US election process in unknown waters. But by the end of the process – with Trump’s supporters who have exhausted all legal means to challenge the results – this chapter of the US presidential election saga should finally be over.
What is taking much longer is repairing the damage that Trump and his support have done to public confidence in the election process.
( Jowharwith AP)