WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The Constitutional duty of Congress to affirm the winner of the presidential election is usually a pro forma event, steeped in tradition, but not much else. This year could present several developments for historians and all the rest of us to chew on.
According to a law passed in 1887, it’s supposed to happen this Jan. 6, when a joint session of Congress meets in Washington and basically rubber stamps the results of an election that normally would have been long since decided, with a concession by the loser to the winner.
The president of the Senate, who is also the Vice President, is supposed to ask for the Electoral College vote of each state. Just as Dan Quayle did in 1993. Followed by a declaration:
“The announcement shall be deemed an official declaration of the persons elected President and Vice President of the United States, each for the term begging the 20th of January 1993,” Quayle said.
Al Gore did it in 2001 when he declared the man who beat him, George W. Bush, to be the winner.
“George W. Bush of the State of Texas has received for President of the United States 271 votes,” Gore said. “May God bless our new president and our new vice president and may God bless the United States of America.”
Next month’s roll call may not be so cut and dried, said Allan Lichtman a historian and professor at American University.
“As he goes through the states, there is an option for members of the House and the Senate to object,” he said.
That’s exactly what some Congressional Republicans have said they plan to do.
“We plan to continue fighting all the way,” said Rep. Jody Hice, R-GA.
“Everything is on the table,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.
Hice and Norman are Republican members of the House and they would need one Senator to join in their challenge in writing — most likely involving swing states Joe Biden won last month.
If they can find, for example, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky or Tom Cotton from Arkansas as partners, the whole session would grind to a halt for two hours of debate in each chamber to consider the objection.
Some of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters believe it’s worth a try since he’s lost his “rigged election” argument everywhere else.
“The numbers are false. The numbers are corrupt. It was a rigged election 100%,” Trump said.
Challenges — which are not historically unprecedented — could involve a number of states and could prolong the process, but the problem for the president and his Republican allies is that both the Senate and the House would have to uphold the challenge to change the results. Since the House is controlled by the Democrats, there is zero chance of that happening.
In addition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged his fellow Republicans not to join their House counterparts in any challenge, if only to keep senators from having to very publicly take sides.
All of which means Jan. 6 is likely to be all sizzle and no steak.
“There are no other options. It’s been over for weeks,” Lichtman said.
If there is any suspense at all, it involves Vice President Mike Pence. If he shows up on Jan. 6 and declares Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the winners, he could incur the wrath of President Trump and the contempt of the Trump supporters for a long time to come.
Of course, Pence could just not bother to show up. It’s unusual and it could further damage the legitimacy of the Biden presidency, but he could skip it. If he does, it would mean President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would declare the winner and Pence’s punt would go down as a footnote in history.