Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell congratulated former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris on their victory, publicly acknowledging the Democrats as president-elect and vice-president-elect for the first time.
McConnell’s comments come one day after the Electoral College officially confirmed Biden’s victory over U.S. President Donald Trump. They also undermine the Republican president’s fight to overturn the general election results, which have included a flurry of denials and failed lawsuits alleging mass voter fraud and widespread voter irregularities in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada.
Biden is all but certain to be inaugurated on Jan. 20 — but the election is still far from over.
Remaining Republicans hoping to overturn the general election results still have one large card to play: the final congressional vote count.
According to Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, electors will have a final opportunity before inauguration day to present each state’s electoral results in the House Chamber, where “the President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.”
In other words, on Jan. 6, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence — designated president of the Senate — will count and review the votes for approval.
A small group of Republicans led by Rep. Mo Brooks have said they are planning to challenge the results of several states that voted in favour of Biden, citing baseless claims of illegal voting that have been disproven in court.
“We have a superior role under the Constitution than the Supreme Court does, than any federal court judge does, than any state court judge does,” Brooks told the New York Times. “What we say, goes. That’s the final verdict.”
Challenges are not unprecedented. In 2017, Democrats objected to the results of the 2016 election, but they were mostly in protest — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton already conceded to Trump and the presidency was ultimately certified.
Each candidate needs at least 270 votes to become president. On Monday, Biden emerged with 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232.
Matthew Lebo, chair of Western University’s political science department, said the time for any “faithless electors” like Brooks to issue challenges that could change the outcome of the election would have been during Tuesday’s Electoral College meeting. He added any challenges issued would be geared towards an entire state’s votes, as opposed to individual electors’.
This means that if Biden has more than the 270 votes needed to win, then Pence, who has been an ardent supporter of the president and his quest to have “every illegal vote” thrown out, may be tasked with declaring Trump the loser.
Under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, electors have the power to object a state’s results, but at least one senator and one member of the House of Representatives would have to agree to toss the state’s votes, leaving the pair up to two hours to discuss their objections.
Lebo said this would be unlikely, first because the House and Senate are controlled by different parties, and second, because the decision to invalidate millions of votes would be “based on nothing but sour grapes,” and would be unlikely to carry weight on the House floor.
The state of Georgia is undergoing its Senate Runoff elections, the outcome of which will determine who controls the Senate. However, even if the Democrats lose, Lebo said the state’s 16 electoral votes still wouldn’t be enough to overhaul the election’s results.
“It did take a long, long time for Mitch McConnell to say it, but he did make a speech today acknowledging that Joe Biden was president elect and congratulating Joe Biden and congratulating Kamala Harris,” he said.
“That’s a sign that the Senate is done supporting Donald Trump.”
Following Pence’s declaration, Renan Levine, who teaches U.S. politics at the University of Toronto, said the congressional vote is the last big hurdle until inauguration day, when Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
Under ordinary circumstances, the presidential inauguration draws massive crowds from all over the country, featuring a swearing-in ceremony, public speeches, concerts and a presidential parade. This year, however, the Biden Inaugural Committee has invited onlookers to watch online.
Until then, Levine said it’s onward to the “two big questions.”
“Will the Republicans acknowledge and cooperate in a transition to a Biden presidency or will they choose to undermine it and delegitimize it?” he said.
Republicans could still continue to undermine the presidency long after Biden is inaugurated by calling into question the legitimacy of the election that put him in power.
“It all amounts to just not just a distraction, but an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the new administration,” Levine said.