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Trump’s Allies Will Make Futile Last Stand in Congress

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Supporters of President Trump preparing for a rally in Washington early Wednesday morning.
Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Washington girded for the volatile final act of the Trump presidency on Wednesday, as President Trump — unwilling to cede the limelight or his fantasy of victory — threatened to transform a moment of Democratic triumph into a day of defiance by summoning angry supporters to his backyard for an airing of grievances.

Mr. Trump watched from the White House residence, according to aides, as the Rev. Raphael Warnock claimed victory and Jon Ossoff led in the Georgia runoff elections on Tuesday night, smarting over a report that Vice President Mike Pence had rebuffed his attempts to block the certification of President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s election on Wednesday.

“States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter early Wednesday. “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!”

The Georgia results, if their trajectory holds, would deliver to Mr. Biden control of both chambers of Congress, a staggering loss many Republicans blame on the president’s tardy and tepid efforts on behalf of the incumbents in the runoff election.

Unable to win his race — and unwilling to set aside his personal grudges for his party’s greater good — Mr. Trump has chosen, as he often has when cornered, to distract, disrupt and upstage his opponents.

At 11 a.m., the president will make the short trip the Ellipse behind the White House to deliver remarks to his die-hard supporters, who began streaming into Washington late Tuesday, with some engaging in an ugly confrontation a few blocks from where he watched the results.

His rally may overlap with a gathering of greater importance at the eastern end of the National Mall. The House and Senate will convene Wednesday afternoon for a remarkable joint session to formalize Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory, as Trump allies plot to hijack what is typically a mundane, ceremonial exercise into a last stand — a move opposed by a growing number of their fellow and doomed to failure.

Bipartisan majorities in both chambers are prepared to meet late into the night to beat back the challenges and confirm Mr. Biden as the winner. But by using what is typically a ceremonial proceeding as a forum for trying to subvert a democratic election, Mr. Trump and his allies are going where no party has since the Reconstruction era of the 19th century, when Congress bargained over the presidency.

Its implications, for future elections and the Republican Party, could be significant.

At least four Republican senators — Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama — have agreed to join House members to challenge the results of three battleground states Mr. Biden won: Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Senators were still weighing whether to join House members to similarly challenge the outcome in Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.

In each case, their objections will force the House and Senate to debate Mr. Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud for up to two hours and then vote whether to accept or reject the results certified by the state. A process that typically consists of less than an hour of glorified paperwork could take anywhere from nine to 24 hours, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, planned to object to the certification of Arizona’s electors.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Congress anxiously prepared for a marathon session on Wednesday to formalize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory, after Republican loyalists to President Trump confirmed they would object to the results of at least three battleground states the Democrat won.

Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama planned to object to the certification of Arizona’s electors; Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia intended to object to those from her state; and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri planned to object to Pennsylvania’s slate, according to people familiar with their plans.

Their challenges were all but certain to fail amid bipartisan opposition. But their decision to join House Republicans in seeking to overturn the election ensured that Congress would be thrust into a caustic debate over the results and Mr. Trump’s repeatedly debunked claims of widespread fraud and irregularities that could last nine hours or more.

It will culminate in at least three votes that have already badly divided the Republican Party, forcing lawmakers to go on the record either siding with the president or upholding the results of a democratic election.

Lawmakers anticipated possible objections for up to three additional states — Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin — although it was not clear whether they would draw the requisite backing from a member of both the House and the Senate to be considered.

Even before it began, the session was already driving sharp wedges into the Republican Party that threatened to do lasting damage to its cohesion, as lawmakers decided to cast their lot with Mr. Trump or the Constitution. Top party leaders in the House and Senate appeared to be headed for a high-profile split. And while only a dozen or so senators were expected to vote to reject the outcome in key states, as many as 70 percent of House Republicans could join the effort, stoking the dangerous belief of tens of millions of voters that Mr. Biden was elected illegitimately.

At the White House, Mr. Trump continued an extraordinary pressure campaign on Vice President Mike Pence, who will oversee the joint session as president of the Senate, urging him to move unilaterally to reject electors from battleground states that he lost. The president wrote on Twitter that Mr. Pence had “the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” Under the Constitution and the statute governing the counting, he does not. In any case, all 50 states have properly certified their electors as legitimate.

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence during a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., in November.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence told President Trump on Tuesday that he did not believe he had the power to block congressional certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the presidential election despite Mr. Trump’s baseless insistence that he did, people briefed on the conversation said.

Mr. Pence’s message, delivered during his weekly lunch with the president, came hours after Mr. Trump further turned up the public pressure on the vice president to do his bidding when Congress convenes Wednesday in a joint session to ratify Mr. Biden’s Electoral College win.

“The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning, an inaccurate assertion that mischaracterized Mr. Pence’s largely formal and constitutionally prescribed role of presiding over the House and Senate as they receive and certify the electoral votes conveyed by the states and announcing the outcome.

Mr. Pence does not have the unilateral power to alter the results sent by the states to Congress.

More Republican senators came out on Tuesday against attempts to undermine the results, including Tim Scott of South Carolina and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who said he viewed challenging any state’s certification as “a violation of my oath of office.”

In a process that is likely to go on for many hours, Mr. Pence will preside on Wednesday over a roll call of the states. If at least one senator and one House member object to the results from a state, they can force a debate of up to two hours about those results. Each chamber will then vote separately on whether to certify that state’s results.

For results to be overturned, both the House and the Senate would have to agree to do so. Because the House is controlled by the Democrats, there is no realistic possibility of any state’s outcome being rejected. In addition, many if not most Senate Republicans appear likely to join all Democrats in rejecting challenges to the results.

When the results from all of the states have been considered, Mr. Pence, who as vice president also serves as presiding officer of the Senate, will be called on to read out the Electoral College votes for each candidate, formalizing Mr. Biden’s victory.

Mr. Pence has spent the past several days in a delicate dance, seeking at once to convey to the president that he does not have the authority to overturn the results of the election, while also placating the president to avoid a rift that could torpedo any hopes Mr. Pence has of running in 2024 as Mr. Trump’s loyal heir.

Even as he sought to make clear that he does not have the power Mr. Trump seems to think he has, Mr. Pence also indicated to the president that he would keep studying the issue up until the final hours before the joint session of Congress begins at 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to the people briefed on their conversation.

Jon Ossoff on Wednesday declared himself the winner of his Senate runoff election in Georgia. The Associated Press has not yet called the race.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

While Democrats celebrated the election of the Rev. Raphael Warnock to the Senate, Georgia’s second Senate runoff race — which will determine which party will control the Senate — remained too close to call on Wednesday. The Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, was leading his Republican challenger, David Perdue, by 16,370 votes with thousands more that still need to be counted, many of them from Democratic-leaning areas.

After trading leads earlier in the evening, Mr. Ossoff pulled ahead of Mr. Perdue overnight, but by just 0.4 percent — within the range that could trigger a recount. By 4 a.m. Wednesday, an estimated 98 percent of votes had been counted. Georgia elections officials said they expected to complete the count by noon on Wednesday.

Even so, Mr. Ossoff, a 33-year-old documentary film executive, declared himself the winner Wednesday morning in a video posted on Twitter. The Associated Press has not yet called the race. The news organization called Mr. Warnock’s victory over the Republican incumbent, Kelly Loeffler, early Wednesday.

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As the results from two highly anticipated runoff elections roll in, control of the Senate appears to be within reach for the Democrats.

The largest bloc of uncounted ballots was the in-person vote in DeKalb County, a heavily Democratic area that includes part of Atlanta.

Mr. Ossoff’s campaign manager Ellen Foster said in a statement on Wednesday that she expected Mr. Ossoff to win. “The outstanding vote is squarely in parts of the state where Jon’s performance has been dominant,” she said.

Mr. Perdue’s campaign officials said in an early Wednesday statement that the race was “exceptionally close,” but said they believed Mr. Perdue would win and would use “every available resource and exhaust every recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted.”

It could be some time before there is a call in the race, with thousands of late absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted. Under Georgia law, a candidate can request a recount if the margin of victory is less than half a percentage point.

Democrats benefited from a strong turnout among Black voters. According to data compiled by georgiavotes.com, Black voters made up a larger share of early voters for the runoff — nearly 31 percent — than they did in the general election, when it was closer to 28 percent.

Mr. Warnock, who is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from the South. He and Mr. Ossoff ran in tandem throughout the runoffs.

Mr. Perdue, the former chief executive of Dollar General, and Ms. Loeffler, who was appointed to the Senate a year ago and was seeking a full term, had cast the race as a necessary check on Democratic power in Washington in 2021, though these efforts have been complicated by President Trump’s continued insistence, without evidence, that he won re-election.

The inauguration of President Rutherford B. Hayes at the Capitol in Washington in 1877.
Credit…Associated Press

A few days before the inauguration, no one knew who would actually take the oath of office as president of the United States. There were cries of fraud and chicanery as a divided, surly nation continued to debate the winner of the election many weeks after the ballots had been cast.

The election of 1876 was the most disputed in American history and in some ways among the most consequential. As Congress convenes on Wednesday to formalize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory and dispense with Republican objections, many on Capitol Hill and beyond have been looking to the showdown nearly a century and a half ago for clues on how to resolve the latest clash for power.

The players in that drama have faded into obscurity. Few today remember the story of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican who ultimately prevailed and served four years as a tainted president. Fewer still can name his Democratic opponent, Samuel Tilden, who lost the White House despite garnering more votes. But the system that will govern the debate on Wednesday was fashioned from that episode, and the standards that were set then are now cited as arguments in the effort to overturn President Trump’s defeat.

Allies of Mr. Trump, led by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, have latched onto the resolution of the 1876 dispute as a model, proposing that Congress once again create a 15-member commission to decide the validity of various states’ electors. “We should follow that precedent,” Mr. Cruz and 10 other new or returning Republican senators wrote in a joint statement over the weekend.

But there are also profound differences between that battle and this one. For one, the candidate claiming to be aggrieved this time, Mr. Trump, is the incumbent president with the power of the federal government at his disposal. For another, Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud have proved baseless, universally rejected by Republican and Democratic state election authorities, judges across the ideological spectrum and even by his own attorney general.

Still, Hayes, who was called “His Fraudulency” and “Rutherfraud B. Hayes,” never shed the stigma and did not seek another term. Congress, for its part, resolved never to go through that ordeal again. In 1887, it passed a law setting out the procedures for counting electors, rules that have proved durable ever since. On Wednesday, they will be tested as never before.

An audit of election ballots in Atlanta in mid-November.
Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

As Congress meets on Wednesday to certify Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the November election, President Trump and his supporters continue to spread rumors, conspiracy theories and misinformation about the vote.

Here are six false voter fraud claims that may be repeated during the proceedings on Wednesday.

Claim: Dominion Voting Systems, which makes software that local governments around the nation use to help run their elections, deleted votes for President Trump.

Fact: There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, including the machines with Dominion software, according to the federal agency that oversees election security.

Background: In the weeks after the election, President Trump and his supporters spread baseless claims about Dominion. The claims included theories that “software glitches” changed vote tallies in several states, including Michigan and Georgia. No such changes were ever found.

Mr. Trump and his supporters subsequently claimed that Dominion had hidden evidence of voter fraud, both by destroying machines or removing parts within the machines. Mr. Trump repeated those claims during a call with Georgia’s secretary of state last weekend. Gabriel Sterling, a top election official in Georgia, said Monday of the claims of election fraud in the state, “This is all easily, provably false.”

Claim: President Trump and his supporters have claimed that absentee ballots in Georgia were rife with fraud and that state officials have not fully investigated.

Fact: Election officials have audited absentee ballots and found “no fraudulent absentee ballots.”

Background: The Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, ordered law enforcement and election investigators to conduct an audit of more than 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County, based on a complaint that signatures were not adequately checked there. The audit found no fraud. Mr. Raffensperger has said that he also plans a statewide audit of each county’s signature-match policies and procedures.

Georgia has already conducted two recounts, both by hand and machine, of all five million ballots cast in the state. No voting fraud was found.

Claim: In an interview on the conservative cable channel Newsmax in December, the Arizona Republican chairwoman, Kelli Ward, said 200,000 ballots were digitally changed to give the victory to Mr. Biden, and Representative Paul Gosar amplified the falsehood on Twitter.

Fact: Audits in Arizona have found no evidence of voter fraud, or changed vote tallies.

Background: While early results in Arizona showed a close race, the final count revealed that Mr. Biden had won the state by more than 10,000 votes.

Audits in Arizona’s four largest counties, which make up 86 percent of all votes in the state, turned up no evidence of systematic voter fraud.

Claim: President Trump’s supporters have pointed to a video as proof that ballots were pulled from a “suitcase” at a vote-counting center in Atlanta.

Fact: Election officials have said the surveillance video shows normal ballot processing. It is not unusual practice for poll workers to store ballots that still need to be counted on-site at the polling center.

Background: As reported by The New York Times, late on Nov. 3, election workers in Fulton County, Ga., heard that they would be allowed to stop the vote-counting and retire for the evening. So they packed uncounted ballots into suitcases and prepared to lock up. When word came that they couldn’t leave yet, they dragged the suitcases back out and began counting the ballots again.

But that scene of election workers taking out suitcases of ballots was selectively edited and pushed by allies of President Trump as one of the many false theories purportedly proving widespread election fraud. The conspiracists also named the election worker Ruby Freeman as a specific player in this false conspiracy event.

Claim: President Trump’s campaign has claimed that Pennsylvania election officials improperly handled tens of thousands of mail-in ballots in violation of state election law.

Fact: The Trump campaign’s legal efforts to disqualify votes in Pennsylvania have been unsupported by evidence.

Background: The Trump campaign filed several claims in court seeking to invalidate Pennsylvania’s election results, and one ally of Mr. Trump, Senator Josh Hawley, has said he would challenge the results because he believed “some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws.”

But the Trump campaign has included no evidence that any vote had been cast illegally.

In a hearing on Nov. 17, President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, acknowledged he had no proof to back up his claims of voter fraud in Pennsylvania. “This is not a fraud case,” Mr. Giuliani said.

Four days later, the judge overseeing the case dismissed the lawsuit. It was also shot down last month by Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, who said in a ruling, “Calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

Claim: Vice President Mike Pence can reject state electors in the Electoral College.

Fact: Federal law stipulates that the vice president’s role is to count Electoral College votes, not decide whether they are valid.

Background: President Trump on Tuesday falsely claimed on Twitter that Mr. Pence has the power to reject electors when the Electoral College vote is certified.

As president of the Senate, Mr. Pence is expected to preside over the pro forma certification of the Electoral College vote count in front of a joint session of Congress. The only electoral certifications available for Vice President Pence to preside over are the ones approved by each state.

Ben Decker and Jacob Silver contributed research.

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