Georgia Race, Electoral Count Pull 2020 Drama Into New Year
(Bloomberg) -- The non-stop drama of 2020 is bleeding into the first week of the new year, with a pivotal election in Georgia, promises of protests in the streets and President Donald Trump’s dragged-out fight over the November vote threatening to tear apart the Republican Party.
The new Congress formally took office on Sunday with the Democratic House majority re-electing Nancy Pelosi as speaker. But control of the Senate for at least the next two years is still up in the air. For the time being, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds on to his post. An unusual double runoff election in Georgia Tuesday will determine whether he keeps it.
If either of the two GOP incumbents in Georgia prevails, Republicans will hold 51 seats in the 100-member chamber, giving McConnell control of the legislative agenda in Washington. If the two Democratic candidates win, the Senate will be split 50-50 and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris will have the tie-breaking vote that would put the agenda in Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s hands.
Trump and President-elect Joe Biden will be in the state Monday to campaign. Trump threw those races, and the fight over the November election, into further turmoil by asking Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find’ just enough votes to overturn Trump’s loss there.
The results of the Senate races could take days or weeks to be known as Georgia tallies the votes in what is expected to be an incredibly close race. The stakes are high for McConnell, 78, who may not have another shot at Senate majority leader if both of his candidates lose.
While the Georgia races play out, McConnell is confronting a revolt among some GOP senators as both chambers of Congress gather in the House of Representatives Wednesday to certify the electoral vote count that determines the winner of the November presidential race.
Eighty-one million voters, all congressional Democrats and McConnell -- along with a number of GOP lawmakers -- say it’s Joe Biden.
But a group of Republicans in the House and a dozen in the Senate are planning to challenge the electoral vote count, turning what is typically a perfunctory process into a drawn out drama that McConnell and other GOP leaders have warned is doomed to fail. It has created a rift in the Republican party that may be difficult to close in the coming months.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is leading a group of 11 GOP senators in calling for a delay of full certification, and a 10-day “emergency audit” of the Electoral College count. Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama plans to object to the electoral counts in six battleground states that Biden won, and he says more than 50 other House Republicans will join him or support his effort.
For each objection signed by members of both chambers, the House and Senate will debate the issue for as long as two hours on Wednesday and then vote whether to sustain or overturn the objection. If the dissidents in the House and Senate challenge multiple states, each could get two hours of debate.
Both the House and Senate would have to vote to accept the objections. But there is almost no chance of that happening in either the Democratic-controlled House or in the Senate, where enough Republicans have acknowledged Biden’s victory to oppose objections.
In a private conference call Monday, some House Democrats said they wanted an opportunity to speak on the floor Wednesday to counter the Republicans expected to object, according to a person on the call. Pelosi told her colleagues to stay focused on constitutional arguments during the joint session, rather than trying to re-litigate the entire election, the person said.
Trump has stoked the challenges and the votes will require GOP lawmakers to publicly side with either the Electoral College results or the president, who without evidence, disputes that he lost his bid for a second term.
Several Republican senators have vociferously pushed back against the electoral challenge, including Mitt Romney of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
“The egregious ploy to reject electors may enhance the political ambition of some, but dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic,” Romney said in a statement. Toomey called it an “effort to disenfranchise millions of voters in my state and others.”
Romney and Toomey also cited the conclusions of Attorney General William Barr and judges in battleground states who found allegations of widespread election fraud are unsupported.
Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been a loyal Trump supporter, on Sunday called the effort by Cruz “more of a political dodge than an effective remedy.”
Representative Liz Cheney, a member of the GOP leadership, sent a memo to her House colleagues denouncing the effort to thwart the counting of the electoral votes.
“Such objections set an exceptionally dangerous precedent, threatening to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the President and bestowing it instead on Congress,” Cheney wrote in the document, obtained by Bloomberg. “This is directly at odds with the Constitution’s clear text and our core beliefs as Republicans.”
While Congress meets, groups of Trump supporters are planning demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere in the country, egged on by the president, who has been promoting protests via Twitter. Two previous pro-Trump demonstrations in the nation’s capital since the election resulted in scattered violence, including stabbings, and arrests.
Vice President Mike Pence will be presiding over the process. Although his role is largely ceremonial, Trump supporters have been urging him step in. Texas Republican Representative Louis Gohmert filed a lawsuit arguing Pence has the authority to unilaterally reverse the election result. The suit was thrown out by a federal judge and Gohmert suggested street violence would be the result.
Pence has signaled support for the objections without committing to doing anything to block the electoral vote count.
Pence “welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people on January 6,” chief of staff Marc Short said in a statement.
Democratic objections after the 2000 and 2016 elections failed for lack of a participating senator, and an objection over the Ohio votes in 2005 by former Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California and former Democratic U.S. Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones was voted down.
The two incumbent Republicans in the Georgia race David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, have largely steered clear of the electoral challenge controversy, even though both have closely aligned themselves with Trump. There are concerns among some Republicans that Trump’s attack on the election, including vote counting in Georgia, could affect turnout in GOP campaigns against Democrats Jon Ossof and Raphael Warnock, respectively, in Tuesday’s runoff election.
Perdue, whose term officially ended on Sunday, is unlikely to be certified in time for Wednesday’s session if he wins. Loeffler, who is finishing out former Senator Johnny Isakson’s term would still be eligible to vote.
On the “Fox News Sunday” program, Loeffler said she is “looking very, very closely at it” and that “everything’s on the table.”
“This is a big decision for the 6th, but I have to stay laser focused on the 5th,” she said, referring to Tuesday’s runoff.
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