Republican lawmakers launched their first official challenge for the victory of Joe Biden’s presidential election on Wednesday, contesting the results of the state of Arizona as they took on the relentless effort of U.S. President Donald Trump to overturn the election results. in an extraordinary joint session of Congress to officially certify the votes of the electoral college.
Outside, protesters tried to enter the Capitol, fighting with the police after a violent rally near the White House, in which Trump urged his supporters to march to the Capitol.
In the House, Congressman Paul Gosar, from Arizona, flanked by Senator Ted Cruz, from Texas, stood up to oppose the routine certification of voters’ votes.
The objection now forces two hours of debate in the House and Senate, sending legislators to separate deliberations. Trump’s Republican allies in Congress are acting in line with supporters’ calls at his massive rally on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House, to “fight for Trump.” But it is a struggle that is destroying the Republican Party.
The latest effort is almost doomed to failure, defeated by bipartisan majorities in Congress prepared to accept the November results. Biden, who won electoral college 306-232, is due to open on January 20.
Still, Trump vowed to “never give in” and urged the huge crowd to march to the Capitol, where hundreds had already gathered under tight security.
“We will never give up,” Trump said at the midday rally.
The current majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who alerted his Republican Party to this challenge, made initial comments, telling his colleagues that canceling the presidential election “would damage our republic forever”.
WATCH | See why today’s session can take hours:
Coins under close scrutiny
But it was Vice President Mike Pence who was most watched as he stepped onto the dais to chair the session in the House.
Minutes before the opening of the session, Pence issued a statement saying that he does not have the power to dismiss electoral votes that will make Democrat Joe Biden the next president.
Pence said it was “my thoughtful judgment that my oath to support and defend the constitution prevents me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which ones should not.”
In the days before the joint session, Trump pressured his vice president to expel voters from the battlefield states that voted for Biden.
Arizona, first state to face objections
But despite Trump’s repeated allegations of electoral fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All states have certified their results as fair and accurate, both by Republican and Democratic officials.
Arizona was the first of several states that faced objections from Republicans while Congress was alphabetically reading election results.
Biden beat Arizona by more than 10,000 votes, and eight lawsuits questioning the results failed. The state Supreme Court maintained on Wednesday the rejection of an electoral challenge.
The joint session of Congress, required by law, was convened for a vigilant and restless nation – months after the election, two weeks before the traditional peaceful transfer of power from possession and in the context of a growing COVID-19 pandemic.
Legislators were told by Capitol officials to arrive earlier because of security precautions with protesters in Washington. Hundreds of Trump supporters filled the area of Capitol Square and sidewalks, many carrying huge flags and few wearing masks. Visitors, who typically fill the galleries to watch historic events, will not be allowed under the restrictions of COVID-19.
The session also takes place while the evening results of the second round of the Georgia elections put Democrats within reach of the Senate majority.
Romney swears to tell the truth
Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters on Capitol Hill that Trump’s election challenge “disgraced the presidential office”.
“We will proceed as the Constitution requires and tell our supporters the truth – whether they want to hear it or not,” said Romney.
Still, more than a dozen Republican senators led by Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, along with some 100 House Republicans, are lobbying to raise objections to individual state reports of Biden’s victories.
According to the rules of the joint session, any objection to a state’s electoral count must be submitted in writing by at least one member of the House and one of the Senate to be considered. Each objection will force two hours of deliberations in the House and Senate, guaranteeing a long day.
Republican House legislators are agreeing to objections to electoral votes in six states – Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Arizona will likely be the first to be challenged, as state counts are announced in alphabetical order. Cruz said he would join Republicans in the House to object to that state, even though he acknowledged that the effort will not have the votes to succeed.
“Extraordinarily difficult,” he told Fox News on Tuesday night.
Hawley said he will oppose the results of the Pennsylvania election, almost guaranteeing a second two-hour debate despite resistance from state Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who said Biden’s victory count is accurate.
Senator Kelly Loeffler can dispute the results in her state of Georgia. She was defeated in the second round of Georgia by Democrat Raphael Warnock, but may remain a senator until he is installed.
The other Senate run-off between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff was too early to be announced on Wednesday, although Ossoff said he won. Perdue, who was seeking re-election, cannot vote in the Senate because his term expired with the start of the new Congress on Sunday.