WASHINGTON (CN) — Victory becomes less likely as the days of his term grow shorter, but President Donald Trump will ratchet up his war against the outcome of the 2020 election Wednesday as Congress convenes to count the votes that certified Joe Biden’s victory.
The main event kicks off at 1 p.m., with the House and Senate taking up a tradition of counting electoral votes cast by each state. Vice President Mike Pence presides over the ceremony — a role that is purely perfunctory despite suggestions emanating chiefly from the White House. Trump for one has claimed falsely that Pence “has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”
“That is completely false and that is not how the rules work,” said Rebecca Green, professor of practice at William & Mary Law School, as part of a panel hosted Tuesday by the National Taskforce on Election Crises.
The Electoral Count Act of 1887 permits the vice president only to announce results of an overall vote count at the end of the process.
“Meaning, he will announce the winning candidates for president and vice president, but none of these duties include the power to decide controversies, including determining the outcome of the election,” Green said. “That’s just not how the law works.”
It will work this way: a clerk for each state will provide Pence envelopes, alphabetically by state, containing the recorded votes for that state’s electoral results. Congress then votes to accept or deny those findings. Objections must be written.
Successful rebukes are exceedingly rare, though it is this nimble politicking over constitutional and congressional procedure that has kept the House and Senate in motion for over a century.
On Wednesday, a small cadre of Republican lawmakers are expected to mount their challenge on the back of the same claims already blown apart in in Trump’s 60-some lawsuits.
Following first counts, recounts and audits, neither the Department of Justice, under Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr, nor the U.S. intelligence community, already on alert due to Russia’s interference of the 2016 election, found any evidence to support allegations of rampant fraud, voter roll purges or the use of phony IDs by so-called ineligible voters.
As November recedes into the rear view, nothing has emerged to contradict that, 306 to 232, Biden resoundingly cleared the threshold of 270 votes needed to win the Electoral College.
The public smashed voter turnout records, casting ballots through mail or voting early in person. Each method was used overwhelmingly during a year that saw the Covid-19 pandemic trigger nationwide restrictions on public outings as the respiratory virus infected and killed Americans without prejudice to their political allegiance.
The results of six states are expected to come up for debate Wednesday, but Republicans’ most meaningful fight is for Pennsylvania. This is because a challenge can only be launched if one senator and one House representative unify to question the results. The only state where both a House and Senate lawmaker have already unified is Pennsylvania.
Once bicameral support for an objection is lodged, the House and Senate must return to their separate chambers to debate and vote.
A small group of Senate Republicans have signed on to Trump’s offensive to overturn the election. Over 100 members in the House have followed. Senate objections have so far gone unsupported by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, despite weeks of slow walking it, finally conceded on Dec. 15 that Biden was the president-elect. The Kentucky Republican described Wednesday’s event as a “vote of conscience.”
The House, controlled by Democrats, has all the votes it needs to defeat any challenge lobbed. Even in the improbable scenario the Senate agrees to debate an objection and then successfully votes in favor of it, congressional rules require both the House and Senate vote together to approve an objection. That prospect is dead on arrival with Democrats controlling the House.