Senior Republicans defy pressure from Trump to nullify election
Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell turn backs on desperate attempt to cling to power
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell exiting during a joint session of Congress to count the Electoral College votes of the 2020 presidential election. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP/Bloomberg
Two of the most prominent Republicans in Washington defied Donald Trump’s last-gasp effort to nullify Joe Biden’s victory, with the party’s leader in the Senate warning that “democracy would enter a death spiral” if Congress overturned the result.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, said the US presidential election was “not actually particularly close” and that if the challenge by the president’s allies were successful it “would damage our republic for ever”.
His address on the floor of the Senate came as vice-president Mike Pence also refused to participate in Mr Trump’s scheme to overthrow the election result, arguing he lacked the authority as presiding officer in the Senate to tamper with the vote count in the outgoing president’s favour.
“My oath to support and defend the constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Mr Pence wrote in a letter to members of Congress.
The defiance by Mr McConnell and Mr Pence came as part of a joint session of Congress was held to certify Mr Biden’s victory, normally a pro forma exercise that has become a political lightning rod because of Mr Trump’s campaign to overthrow the November results.
Shortly after the session took up the first objections to the results – which are counted state by state in alphabetical order – the debate was halted when a mob of pro-Trump agitators breached police lines and entered the Capitol building.
The Electoral College certification by Congress on Wednesday marks the final – and normally routine – stage in the US election, paving the way for the inauguration of the new president on January 20th.
At 1pm, US lawmakers from the House and the Senate gathered for a joint session presided over by vice-president Mike Pence to read aloud the certificates of the electoral votes contained in mahogany boxes after being sent by each state to Washington DC.
The process is usually swift and ceremonial. But Donald Trump, the US president and his Republican allies in Congress, have been counting on it as a last ditch, if quixotic, attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.
Once representatives from each state, in alphabetical order, read out their result, lawmakers can object, but the objection is only formalised if it is presented in writing by a member of each chamber.
At that point the count is halted for up to two hours as lawmakers consider the objection and vote on it. Republicans are expected to mount objections to the counts in several states, although this is expected to delay rather than scupper Mr Biden’s certification.
The vice-president normally declares the winner of the election at the end of the proceedings.
Some of the Republicans leading the objections in Congress called on the mob inside the Capitol to disperse, but the delay in the joint session stretched for hours as law enforcement struggled to eject rioters from the Capitol complex.
“Those storming the Capitol need to stop NOW,” Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who was leading the small group of a dozen Senate objectors, wrote on Twitter. “The Constitution protects peaceful protest, but violence – from Left or Right – is ALWAYS wrong. And those engaged in violence are hurting the cause they say they support.”
Mr McConnell and Mr Pence rebuked Mr Trump shortly after he used a speech to supporters in Washington to lash out at Republicans refusing to back his attempt to cling to power.
“They’re weak Republicans. They’re pathetic Republicans,” Mr Trump said of lawmakers who have not joined the effort to challenge the vote certification in a politically explosive but futile effort to block Mr Biden from being sworn in on January 20th.
In his speech, Mr Trump repeated his erroneous claim that Mr Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 result. “Mike Pence is gonna have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country,” he said.
He added: “Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our constitution, and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you, I will tell you right now. I’m not hearing good stories.”
Mr Trump later repeated his attack on his vice-president on Twitter, writing: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones.”
Mr Pence was one of several Republicans whom Mr Trump lambasted in what is likely to be one of his last speeches before leaving office. He called Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, “one of the dumbest governors in the United States” and berated his former attorney-general Bill Barr because he did not want to serve as his “personal attorney”.
And he described the three conservative justices he appointed to the supreme court as ungrateful, after the court declined to hear his challenges to the election. “They couldn’t give a damn,” said Mr Trump.
The president said he had no plans to concede the 2020 election: “We will never give up. We will never concede.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021