WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are meeting Wednesday in a joint session to certify the Electoral College vote to make Democrat Joe Biden the country’s next president, even as President Donald Trump continues to implore his vice president, Mike Pence, to thwart the public confirmation that they lost their bid for re-election.
What normally has been an hour-long formality once every four years -- certifying who is to be inaugurated Jan. 20 as president for a new four-year term in the White House -- is likely to be a lengthy, drama-filled spectacle this time.
Trump for weeks has made baseless claims that he was defrauded out of a second term even as he lost 60 court challenges to the vote. More than 100 House members and 13 senators say they will object to certifying Biden’s narrow victories in several political battleground states, setting off hours of contentious debate. And several thousand Trump supporters gathered in the streets of Washington to hear Trump speak and protest the eventual congressional vote affirming that Biden won and will become the country’s 46th president.
“We will never concede,” Trump told the crowd.
Pence is set to preside over the joint session of Congress.
But his aides have signaled to news outlets that despite Trump’s pressure for him to reject the electoral votes, Pence ultimately plans to carry out his legal and constitutional duty and announce the outcome of the Electoral College vote -- that Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris defeated Trump and Pence by 306 to 232 in the November election.
Early Wednesday, Trump urged Pence, who has often praised the president during their four-year terms, to exercise power that election legal experts say he does not have, to overturn Biden’s victory.
In the indirect form of U.S. democracy, the 50 states and the national capital city of Washington conduct the presidential election, with the popular vote outcomes in each of the states and Washington leading to the Electoral College vote, with the biggest states holding the most votes.
“States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval,” Trump contended on Twitter in the latest in a long string of complaints about the election.
“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.
Both houses of Congress would have to reject the electoral votes in several states for the result to change, which will not happen.
Democrats narrowly control the House and are certain to support Biden. In the Senate, the minority Democratic bloc, joined by numerous Republicans who have acknowledged Biden’s victory and are opposed to challenging it, are also all but certain to declare Biden the winner.
Trump has called Republicans who have refused to line up in support of his claims of fraud the “Surrender Caucus.”
"I hope that our great vice president comes through for us. He's a great guy,” Trump said at a rally in Georgia on Monday night. “Of course, if he doesn't come through, I won't like him quite as much.”
As Pence alphabetically reads through the list of states and their electoral votes, the process will be stopped if at least one congressman and one senator object to the outcome in any individual state, setting off up to two hours of debate in each chamber on the merits of the challenge and a vote whether to accept or reject it.
The electoral vote in the southwestern state of Arizona could be the first challenged, possibly followed by debates over the vote in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states Biden won.
If the electoral votes are challenged in several states, the normally short ceremonial event could last late into the night.
Several Republican senators protesting the Electoral College outcome are demanding that a commission be established to consider Trump’s claims of irregularities in the election results and report back within 10 days -- just four days ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration. But that proposal, too, will almost certainly be defeated.
The congressional certification of the Electoral College outcome is mandated by the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says that the Senate and House must meet to officially count and certify the Electoral College results from all 50 states and Washington.