After four years of defending and emboldening Donald Trump, Republicans in Congress on Wednesday will face their most consequential test of loyalty yet: to indulge the president’s brazen and meritless attempt to overturn the results an election he definitively lost, or to uphold the democratic process and certify Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.
With Democrats on the brink of winning a Senate majority, dozens of congressional Republicans are preparing to object to the certification of the electoral college vote when Congress meets on Wednesday, turning what is typically a ceremonial – and largely perfunctory – affair into Trump’s last stand in a reckless, weeks-long effort to reverse his election defeat. Their coordinated rebellion, unprecedented in modern times, is all but destined to fail and Biden will be inaugurated on 20 January.
In his increasingly desperate bid to cling to power, Trump, who has not conceded, has spent the last several weeks attempting to enlist allies and pressure public officials to overturn Biden’s 306-232 election win. His machinations escalated this weekend when he pressured the Georgia secretary of state, Republican Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to reverse Biden’s win in the state.
As required by the constitution, the joint session of Congress will meet to count the electoral votes. The votes will be delivered to the chamber in mahogany boxes and read aloud in alphabetical order of the states, with Mike Pence presiding over the meeting. At the conclusion of the count, it is the vice-president who finally, formally declares the winner.
In a letter to colleagues, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the session marked a “day of enormous historic significance” and an opportunity to secure “trust in our democratic system”.
“As members of Congress, we all have a responsibility to uphold the principle: the people are sovereign and that they hold the power to choose their leaders through the ballot box,” she wrote.”
Overnight in Washington, the president’s most zealous supporters clashed with police outside the White House, ahead of planned further protests and rallies in support of Trump’s futile efforts to remain in power. Trump, who has encouraged his followers to join the gathering even as coronavirus cases surge across the country, will address the crowd before Congress convenes.
Trump has been publicly pressuring Pence, one of the president’s most loyal defenders, to simply reject the vote count, a power the vice-president does not have. Pence reportedly informed the president during a meeting this week that he does not have the power to change the election result. But in a several tweets on Tuesday and Wednesday, Trump continued to cajole his vice-president.
“If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency,” Trump tweeted overnight.
And in a tweet flagged by Twitter on Wednesday, because of Trump’s misinformation wrongly claiming, once again, election fraud, the president added that Pence should send the electoral college vote results back to the states.
“Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage,” he tweeted.
Based on the president and his closest allies and legal team’s spurious allegations of widespread voter fraud, a handful of Trump loyalists in the House have been plotting the last-gasp revolt for weeks.
But in recent days their challenges, despite being baseless, gained support from more than 100 members of the House and a quarter of Senate Republicans, first from Josh Hawley, an ambitious first-term Republican from Missouri. Days later, a coalition of Republican senators and senators-elect led by the Texas senator Ted Cruz announced their opposition to certifying Biden’s win unless Congress agrees to a 10-day audit of the election results, which is highly unlikely.
The Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler, who lost the election to keep her seat on Tuesday night, has said that she too would object. (David Perdue, the other Republican candidate in Georgia, supports the effort but will not vote because his term expired on Sunday.)
In the House, where the effort is led by the Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, a top Trump ally, Republicans said the plan was to voice objections to Biden’s wins in six swing states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
To succeed, an objection must come from both a member of the House and the Senate. Hawley has said he planned to object to the results from Pennsylvania, while Cruz plans to object to the results in Arizona. Both are considered presidential contenders in 2024, seeking to ingratiate themselves with Trump’s fervent base.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, sought to avoid this internecine showdown, keenly aware of the political blowback members of his caucus will face – either for defying the president or attempting to subvert the will of millions of voters. Several Senate Republicans have condemned the effort – more than enough needed to ensure the campaign will fail. The Republican senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has called it a “dangerous ploy”. And Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, one of the states that is expected to draw an objection, denounced what he said was his colleagues “effort to disenfranchise millions of voters in my state and others”.
All 50 states have certified the election results after a number of closely contested states conducted post-election audits and recounts to ensure their accuracy. Courts at every level, including the supreme court, have rejected dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump and his allies to challenge the results.