The run-up to Congress counting the electoral votes tomorrow has already been quite strange. And let’s be honest, this week is bound to get even weirder. But, rest assured, no matter what happens in Congress on Wednesday, one thing will not change — Joe Biden will become president at noon on January 20th.
After most presidential elections, no one really pays attention to January 6th. That’s the date that Congress formally counts the electoral votes that were determined by the November election. The Constitution sets forth the basics: “The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.” Normally, January 6th happens without much fanfare because we already know with certainty who won, and at this point, two months after the election, no one is contesting it.
But, as with almost everything with President Trump, the run-up to January 6th has been anything but normal. We know he is still living in his own alternate reality and has not conceded. That’s problematic in its own right, but things are even crazier than that. For instance, in just the past few days, we’ve seen:
- Texas Representative Louie Gohmert sued Vice President Mike Pence, seeking a declaration that Pence could throw the election to Trump. The theory here is based on the fact that Pence, because he is the vice president of the United States, is the president of the Senate and is thus responsible for counting the electoral votes tomorrow. Gohmert’s suit asked a court to declare that Pence’s role goes beyond just counting and actually includes the ability to reject votes and then declare Trump the winner. To be 100 percent clear, this is pure and utter nonsense (see last bullet point below). Pence’s role is to count, nothing more, nothing less. Thankfully, the federal courts have rejected this lawsuit.
- Eleven Senate Republicans have said that they will join over 100 House Republicans in objecting to the votes from certain states. They say they are objecting over claims of massive voter fraud (claims that are baseless). But we know the truth: They are objecting because their candidate lost. These objections sound like they could cause a real problem, but they won’t. By federal law, the result of an objection from a member of the House and the Senate is that the objection is then debated for two hours in each house and then both houses vote separately. In order for an objection to be sustained, both houses must do so. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, no objection will be sustained there. The Republican-controlled Senate will be closer, but with over 20 Republicans already having spoken out against the objections, it’s very unlikely the Senate will vote to sustain them either. Regardless, the objections will fail and do nothing but delay the final count.
- Republicans have already been calling for disruptive protests and even hinting at violence tomorrow. President Trump himself egged on his supporters on New Year’s Day, tweeting out that the “BIG Protest Rally” will be on January 6 in DC to “StopTheSteal!” Representative Gohmert, after his lawsuit was dismissed, said that he thought the predictable result would be that people would become violent this week. And the D.C. mayor has called in the National Guard ahead of tomorrow’s count.
- Thanks to a leaked recording of the call, we know that President Trump had an hour-long conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where Trump asked for the election to be “recalculated” and for the secretary to “find” just enough votes to put Trump over the edge. In the most damning quote, Trump said, “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.” In the call, Trump did everything but use the exact words “can you please cheat for me?”
- As I’m drafting this article, Trump tweeted out that Pence has the power tomorrow “to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” This is wrong. Pence’s power, by the Constitution and by statute, is to open the certificates, announce the results, call for objections, and preserve order. That’s it. He cannot reject electors. Period. End of story.
Any of these things alone would be concerning enough. Collectively, they are a real threat to our democratic norms as well as a forecast of what’s to come in 2024 and future elections. If the Republican Party is in the process of becoming the party that no longer will abide by election outcomes with which it disagrees, our democracy is threatened in ways that might be hard to overcome someday in the future.
But that day is not now. Because the Democrats control the House and enough Republicans have announced that they will vote with the Democrats in the Senate, the objections will go nowhere and we will be treated to this deliciously ironic spectacle tomorrow: Vice President Pence announcing the vote totals showing that Joe Biden won.
Nonsense lawsuits, political stunts, inflammatory speeches, high-stakes votes, large-scale protests, threats of or actual violence — all are real possibilities as the Trump fanatics rage against their dying light. Absolutely no one knows exactly what will happen in the next 24 or 48 hours. But none of it will change the fact that Joe Biden will become the next President of the United States.