There is something to be admired in the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump — he never gives up in spewing absolutely outrageous things, not worried for a minute what fellow Republicans may think of the future of the Grand Old Party.
He failed in the electoral college vote and popular vote, his baseless claim of massive voter fraud especially in the battleground states were laughed out of by nearly three dozen courts of law, the state legislatures endorsed the vote in favour of Democrat Joseph Biden and the Electoral College has also certified the November 3 elections. And now as the Congress has to finally give its stamp, Trump is hoping against hopes that the Legislature will hand him a victory that everybody else has refused to dabble with.
When the House of Representatives and the Senate gather on the afternoon of January 6, which is normally a formality, is showing all the trappings of a political circus, and certainly not the last one prior to the swearing in of the 46 President on Noon of January 20, 2021. One report circulating out of Washington has it that as many as 140 Republican lawmakers are getting ready to contest the election count on behalf of President Trump. The legal requirement of a challenge at this time would be for one lawmaker in the House and Senate to step forward which will then be followed by a debate in both the House and the Senate.
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Ordinarily, the House and the Senate would have had a joint session of 538 members to check the electoral college ballots brought in and which would be certified by Vice President Mike Pence. But in case of a challenge as is widely expected this time around, the House and the Senate will have time to debate — for about two hours — and then vote. A simple majority is sufficient to sustain the objections or override. The Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives and there are sufficient members in the Republican-controlled Senate who are willing to break ranks and throw out a measure that has been deemed largely undemocratic and an attempt to weaken institutions, in this case that of Democracy itself.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri has promised to take the lead in objecting to the final round of certification and he has a good many supporters in the House of Representatives. Much to the anger and disbelief of Trump, some of his key allies in the Senate like the Majority Leader Mitch McConnel of Kentucky have been privately urging the Republican caucus not to go along with what is seen as a disruptive process. And Vice President Pence himself has distanced himself from this charade leading the President to lash out at him. Senator Hawley and others make the point that Democrats led by the then Senator Barbara Boxer of California in 2005 had tried to overturn the re-election of George W Bush in favour of Senator John Kerry.
But there is a huge difference that Senator Hawley is forgetting is this: yes, Senator Boxer and Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs of Ohio did contest the election in Ohio on the basis of voter suppression and lost the vote in both chambers. But the critical fact is that Senator Kerry had conceded the election to Bush soon after the election and hence was not pinning his hopes on the legislatures to push back the verdict of the 2004 November election.
In the present instance, two months into the end of the November 3 Presidential election, Trump still has not conceded and continues to maintain that he has won. The loss, in his view, is on account of massive voter fraud particularly in the key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that the incumbent won by narrow margins in 2016. The allegations and accusations have been outlandish, involving aliens and long-time dead dictators like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela influencing the polls in favour of the Democrats, to mention only two.
In fact, some Republicans have taken it a step further: they are questioning the constitutionality of the Electoral Count Act of 1887 that mandates the Vice President (as Senate President) to validate the Electoral College votes in what has traditionally been a ceremonial event. A lawsuit has been filed in a US District Court by Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas and some Arizona Republicans maintaining that only Pence has the legal authority to pick pro-Trump electors on January 6.
“Vice-President Pence, in his capacity as President of Senate and Presiding Officer of the January 6, 2021 Joint Session of Congress under the Twelfth Amendment, is subject solely to the requirements of the Twelfth Amendment and may exercise the exclusive authority and sole discretion in determining which electoral votes to count for a given State,” the lawsuit says.
Democrats and well meaning Republicans in the Grand Old Party are looking at the developments in utter disbelief and for two reasons: that a President is still desperate for something to happen to keep him in the White House in spite of running out of all options, including relief from the United States Supreme Court; and a group of Republican lawmakers dancing to the tunes of the White House not out of a any great concern for voting patterns or fraud but for narrow political interests that includes keeping individual campaign coffers healthy. In fact, Republicans like William Cohen, the former Defence Secretary under President Bill Clinton, are loudly wondering the future of the Republican Party under these circumstances.
Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has been urging Republicans to reject the objections to certification process. “The President and his allies are playing with fire. They have been asking — first the courts, then state legislatures, now the Congress — to overturn the results of a presidential election. They have unsuccessfully called on judges and are now calling on federal officeholders to invalidate millions and millions of votes. If you make big claims, you had better have the evidence. But the president doesn’t and neither do the institutional arsonist members of Congress who will object to the Electoral College vote,” he wrote.
In the present context, it is simply not an issue of a graceful exit from the scene in the aftermath of a loss. It is more one of protecting institutions that have long stood the test of time. Transitions in the United States, have generally been peaceful and professional; rarely has one witnessed the kind of rancour that is seen since November 3. It has been often pointed out that Vice President Richard Nixon in 1961 and Vice President Albert Gore in 2001 have painfully sat through the certification process in the Senate after having lost Presidential elections. Going by the track record of Trump, America would have to brace itself for more spectacles before Joseph Biden takes his Oath of Office.
(The writer is a former senior journalist in Washington DC covering North America and the United Nations)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)