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Senior Republicans are signaling to President Donald Trump that it’s time to abandon his challenges to the election, but his campaign to dispute the results threatens to keep roiling the party for weeks to come.
The dam holding back GOP recognition that Joe Biden will be sworn in as 46th U.S. president on Jan. 20 began to crumble Monday as members of the Electoral College across all 50 states and the District of Columbia voted to confirm the Democrat’s victory.
Notably silent on Monday, however, were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring, delivered a blunt statement that also noted that the coronoavirus pandemic makes a smooth transition especially important.
“The presidential election is over,” Alexander said. “I hope that President Trump will put the country first, take pride in his considerable accomplishments, and help president-elect Biden get off to a good start.”
Trump has refused to concede, and his advisers and some Republican allies continue to plot ways to challenge the results with the approach of a Jan. 6th joint session of Congress to certify the election. While those efforts continue to play out, there are perils for McConnell and McCarthy in acknowledging Biden’s victory before a Trump concession.
McConnell is in the middle of negotiating a massive year-end spending package that likely will include pandemic relief and he needs Trump to sign. He also is intent on keeping his majority leader title by making sure Georgia GOP Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue win their Jan. 5 runoffs against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Both senators will need a strong turnout from Trump supporters to win, and both have backed the president’s lawsuits in court seeking to undo the results.
McCarthy is dealing with some of the most adamant Trump supporters as the GOP leader in the House. He signed on with 125 other House Republicans urging the Supreme Court to hear a Texas lawsuit seeking to throw the election to Trump. The high court quickly refused to hear the case. And it is in the House where efforts are focused on challenging congressional certification of the electoral votes on Jan. 6.
Trump has already made clear his desire for retribution against Republicans unwilling to go along with his efforts to reverse the election results, tweeting to his followers to vote Governor Doug Ducey in Arizona and Brian Kemp in Georgia out of office. Many Republicans expect that Trump will continue to hold influence over GOP voters for some time after he becomes a private citizen.
Biden said in a video call with supporters Monday night that seven “mostly senior” Republicans senators had called him, “saying they want to work with us.”
He didn’t name any of the lawmakers but predicted that “as Donald Trump’s shadow fades away, you’re going to see an awful lot of change.”
One of Trump’s most fervent backers, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said he was one of the lawmakers who spoke to Biden.
“I told him, there’s things we can do together, there’s some things we can’t do together. It was a very pleasant conversation,” Graham said.
After the Electoral College votes affirmed Biden’s victory, John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters, “It’s time for everybody to move on.”
While there is an opportunity for lawmakers to contest the electors’ votes, that effort is “not going anywhere.”
“I understand there are people who feel strongly about the outcome of this election but in the end, at some point you have to face the music,” he said.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, another member of the Republican leadership, said that while Trump might continue with his challenges, “the electoral vote today was significant.”
“We’ve met the the constitutional threshold and we’ll deal with Vice President Biden as the president-elect,” said Blunt, who also is chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
Other Senate Republicans recognizing Biden will be the next president included Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa; Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
Yet not all Republicans have given up on challenging the election results. Trump’s last stand, and last chance to demand fealty from congressional Republicans, would come on Jan. 6th, the day after the Georgia runoffs.
Both chambers will convene in the House for a joint session of Congress to count the electoral votes and declare the winner of the presidential election. Any member may object to the results from any individual state.
Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama is leading the charge to challenge the results on the House floor. Incoming freshman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia also has signed on to the cause. No senators have publicly committed to the move though some have not ruled it out.
But Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told reporters that contesting the electors’ votes in Congress would be “futile and unnecessary,” and that such an effort, if made, would be voted down in overwhelming fashion.
For Congress to even begin debate over overturning the results, the law requires the participation of both a representative and a senator, who must make their objections in writing.
If that happens, the joint session recesses and each chamber debates the objection for two hours before voting on whether to reject or accept it. Crucially, the objection “must be approved by both houses” for any votes to be excluded. Democrats have a majority of the House, and a majority of the Senate has also acknowledged Biden’s victory, so Trump’s bid is effectively doomed, yet it could still put Republicans on the spot.
There’s recent precedent for failed efforts to challenge a state’s electors.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington State Democrat and now the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, attempted to challenge the electoral results from the state of Georgia in 2016 but was shot down by then-Vice President Biden, who was presiding over the joint session.
“Mr. President, the objection is signed by a member of the House but not yet by a member of the Senate,” Jayapal said, referring to Biden’s constitutional role as president of the Senate.
“It is over,” Biden said.
This time, Vice President Mike Pence will preside.
— With assistance by Emma Kinery
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