And overnight, as the results of two Senate runoffs in Georgia rolled in, it became clear that the effort by Trump loyalists to challenge the election would take place against the backdrop of a Washington about to land under full Democratic control.
That reality underscored the extent to which Trump and his allies are powerless to affect the outcome, and in fact may have damaged their electoral prospects in the process.
Yet the bicameral session of the House and Senate — which could stretch into the early hours of Thursday — will be the stage for this last stand by Trump allies who have refused to accept the election results.
Inside the Capitol, the effort has splintered Trump’s party, with more than 100 House Republicans and at least a dozen Senate Republicans objecting to Biden’s victory while Senate GOP leadership warned their caucus against the effort. Already, senators are signaling they’ll challenge results in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
But the most intense focus will be on Vice President Mike Pence, who will preside over the 1 p.m. joint meeting, where he’ll be required by the Constitution to count the electoral votes certified by the states. Biden earned 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, and a wave of legal challenges by Trump to reverse several states’ results failed at every level of state and federal court.
Pence told Trump at a Tuesday lunch that he will simply follow procedures allowing GOP objections and possibly make a statement related to election fraud during the process, two White House sources told POLITICO. But late Tuesday, Trump denied the suggestion and went even further, alleging that he and Pence are in complete agreement that Pence has unilateral power to “decertify” election results in multiple states and deny Biden the presidency.
Pence does not have that authority, either under the constitution or the laws governing the counting of electoral votes, but Trump’s attempt to box him in suggests he’s seeking to pin his defeat on Pence’s required actions.
“All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
In fact, Pence has spent the weeks leading up to this moment poring over legal opinions related to the 133-year-old Electoral Count Act, which governs the proceedings, and consulting with chief of staff Marc Short and General Counsel Greg Jacob about his role. Part of his intense preparation included a Sunday night visit to the Senate parliamentarian to discuss his statutory obligations.
During Wednesday’s session, Pence, per the Twelfth Amendment and laws stretching back to 1887, must read the results alphabetically by state, introducing the certified electors and entertaining any challenges raised by lawmakers on hand. But Trump, beginning Monday night, has begun leaning on Pence to adopt a radical interpretation of his power and refuse to count Biden’s electors in multiple states — a power Pence does not have.
Ahead of his role Thursday, Pence has said little publicly, other than that he expects to entertain Republican challenges to Biden’s electors from key states, indicating that he anticipates introducing Biden’s electors — a decision Trump has pressed him to refuse to make.
People familiar with the vice president’s thinking said he will be guided by the Constitution and plans to follow the law as written when he presides over the joint session, suggesting he will ignore calls to unilaterally reject Biden’s electors, despite the blow it could deliver to his own presidential ambitions.
In years past, the vice president’s ceremonial role has barely merited a mention — except for the awkwardness of 2001 and 2017, when Al Gore and Joe Biden were required to certify their rivals’ victories.