The U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle in Washington, United States, on November 10, 2020.
Hannah McKay | Reuters
Congress on Wednesday will count and confirm the votes cast by the electoral college, a process that will virtually finalize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory despite recent plans by some Republicans to question the election results.
The joint session will begin at 1:00 p.m. CET in the House Chamber, and Vice President Mike Pence is expected to chair.
In previous presidential cycles, the event was viewed as more of a formality than another battle in the White House war. After all, it comes more than three weeks after state voters have cast their votes and almost a month after what is known as the safe harbor to settle disputes over the results.
Yet more than a dozen GOP senators and dozens more in the House of Representatives have vowed to raise an unprecedented number of objections to electoral votes in key states despite Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., And other Republicans abandoning the crusade . This could add hours or even days to the certification process, but experts say the final result will stay the same.
“The ultimate outcome, I think, is inevitable,” said Keith Whittington, policy professor at Princeton University, in an interview with CNBC. “It’s just a matter of how long it will be to get there and how many fireworks will be on the way.”
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden jokingly thanks voters for Georgia confirming its victory three times as he camped on behalf of Georgia Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock during a January 5 runoff during a car campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, Jan. 4, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The objectors, some of whom are rumored to have presidential ambitions, reworded Wednesday’s joint session as a final opportunity to cast doubts on the electoral process and press for a 10-day review of the results in a number of battlefield states.
Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Was the first in the chamber to announce appeal plans and eleven others, led by Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, argued in a later statement that “unprecedented allegations of electoral fraud” and “deep “Suspicion” of the results requires investigation.
None of these senators’ statements made any mention of President Donald Trump, who has a broad and dedicated base of Republican support, had been relentlessly promoting unsubstantiated and exposed fraud conspiracies since the November 3 elections. The president and his allies have also filed dozens of lawsuits aimed at overturning the election results, including in the Supreme Court, but almost all of them have been denied.
Trump refuses to admit Biden, falsely claiming he won the race while pressuring state officials to change the results of their elections and attack Republicans who refused to participate.
The President’s unsubstantiated claim that his election was stolen from him and that many votes for Biden should be rejected poses a threat to Republicans. McConnell reportedly warned his caucus that following Trump’s wishes by objecting to the election count would force a vote that would likely split the party.
This could also cause discomfort to the Vice President, an unwavering loyalist to Trump who is expected to lead the session and ultimately declare Biden the winner. Experts say Pence’s role in the process is largely ceremonial, but Trump has appeared to have been hanging hopes for the past few days on the Vice President, who “comes through” for him on Wednesday.
“If he doesn’t get through, I won’t like him that much, of course,” Trump said Monday night at a rally in Georgia.
Political experts have also warned that Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in elections could dampen GOP turnout in Georgia’s key runoff races on Tuesday, the results of which will determine Senate party control. On Saturday, Trump pressed the Georgian Foreign Minister Brad Raffensperger in a one-hour phone call To “find” enough votes to undo Biden’s victory there.
After a replay of the call was leaked, Senator Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., Said on the eve of her race against Democratic candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock that she, too, would appeal. David Perdue, who is running against Jon Ossoff and whose term as Senator in Georgia expired on Sunday, also called on Senate Republicans to raise objections.
Once Congress finishes counting, Biden’s final step is to take the oath of office on January 20th.
This is how the meeting in Congress on Wednesday is expected to go:
The electoral list
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) swears new members of Congress during the first session of the 117th Congress in the Chamber of the House in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, United States, on January 3, 2021.
Thassos Catopodis Reuters
The procedure is scheduled to begin in the house at 1:00 p.m. ET.
Pence receives the electoral lists of the states in alphabetical order. The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Administration Committee and Senate Rules Committee will receive and count these votes.
Once a state’s record is released, Pence will ask if there are any objections. If at least one member of the Senate and one member of the House objects in writing, the two chambers will be divided for up to two hours of debate. You will then vote on the objections separately.
Traditionally, everything is “pretty superficial,” Whittington said. “It doesn’t take long to open all of the envelopes, record the votes, and then make an announcement.”
All objections are expected to be denied – but the possibility of separate debates over the highlights of several states could mean that the process will drag on far longer than in previous elections. For the past three cycles, certification took less than an hour total, according to NBC News.
Once the votes are counted and the objections resolved, Pence will announce the election results.
Pence in the spotlight
Vice President Mike Pence finishes a swearing in ceremony for senators in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill on January 3, 2021 in Washington, DC. Both chambers hold rare Sunday events to open the new Congress on January 3rd, as the constitution dictates.
J. Scott Applewhite | Getty Images
Pence, believed to be weighing a 2024 presidential campaign, is likely eager to do whatever it takes to avoid a barrage of criticism from Trump. The president has repeatedly cracked down on other Republicans he previously supported, particularly Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, after they refused to sustain his election overthrow efforts.
Experts say Pence, in his narrow role at Wednesday’s joint session, can do little.
“He opens the ballot. That’s his job,” said Neil Kinkopf, law professor at Georgia State University.
In carefully worded remarks to Georgia voters on Monday, Pence telegraphed support for the president and suggested that he let the process go as expected.
“I know we all have our doubts about the last election. And I want to assure you that I share the concerns of millions of Americans about electoral irregularities,” he said. “And I promise you, come this Wednesday, we’ll have our day in Congress. We’ll hear the objections. We’ll hear the evidence.”
Even so, Trump and his allies have falsely claimed that Pence’s powers are far greater.
“The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently elected voters,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
In late December, Texas Republican MP Louie Gohmert, along with a group of Arizona Republicans, urged a federal court to declare that Pence had a unilateral power to decide which votes to count.
The long-term offer, in which Pence himself was listed as a defendant, was severely pushed back by a Justice Department attorney who represented the vice president. The lawsuit was dismissed last week.