Congress affirms Biden's 306-electoral vote win; Trump says 'orderly transition' of power will follow
Washington — Members of Congress affirmed President-elect Joe Biden's 306-electoral vote win in the early hours of Thursday morning, after more than two months of furor over the election results culminating in the breach of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Congress completed its Electoral College process shortly before 4 a.m. after debating and rejecting two objections to electoral votes from the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Minutes later, Trump issued a statement saying there would be “an orderly transition on January 20th” after Congress certified Biden’s victory.
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th,” he said in a statement tweeted by his social media director Dan Scavino.
“I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again.”
Trump’s account is currently locked by Twitter.
During the Electoral College count, members of the U.S. House also objected to Michigan's electoral results just before midnight Wednesday but they lacked Senate support for the challenge, so it failed without proceeding to debate.
Following a long day of debate buffeted by riots at the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, told the joint session she had support from 70 House members but was unable to get a senator's signature for the written objection to Michigan's electoral vote. Without a senator's signature, the challenge was unable to move forward to a debate on the objection.
In her rationale, Taylor Greene cited dozens of individuals who had signed affidavits claiming there was wrongdoing in Michigan’s election. However, many of their claims haven’t been focused on widespread fraud that would swing the result; other claims have been countered by election officials.
“Their voices have not been heard in a court of law,” the Georgia lawmaker said.
However, there have been multiple lawsuits filed to overturn Michigan’s election. Courts have ruled at least 12 times against challenges related to the state’s vote.
In one case containing some of the referenced affidavits, a Wayne County Circuit judge ruled some of the testimony in the affidavits was “not credible” and challengers “did not have a full understanding" of the absentee ballot counting process.
Taylor Greene also appeared to cite a report from Texas resident Russell Ramsland, whose past “analyses” have included demonstrably false information. Taylor Greene said Michigan’s “error rate” exceeded the “FEC rate allowed at .0008.” The Federal Election Commission is an organization that is in charge of enforcing campaign finance law. And Ramsland’s report that mentioned the rate focused on Antrim County, where a hand tally confirmed the results.
Objections to results in both Arizona and Pennsylvania proceeded to the chambers for debate, where the chambers debated for roughly two hours before rejecting the challenges.
The Senate voted 93-6 to reject the Arizona objection, while the House voted 303-121 to reject. The Senate voted 92-7 to reject the Pennsylvania objection, and the House voted 282-138 to reject.
Michigan House Republicans voting in favor of the objection to the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania were Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, Tim Walberg of Tipton and Lisa McClain of Bruce Township.
Democrats condemned the objections in comments on the chamber floors with Republicans at times joining their colleagues across the aisle. Several Republican lawmakers argued for support of the objection.
The arguments at times became heated with two lawmakers almost coming to blows shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday.
Senate, House reconvene after evacuation
Michigan's electoral tally came a few hours after the U.S. House and Senate resumed Electoral College proceedings Wednesday evening following the clearing of protesters from the Capitol.
When the Senate reconvened shortly after 8 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the reconvened chamber that “the United States Senate will not be intimidated” by the “unhinged mob” that stormed the Capitol. He pledged to carry out the task of certifying the Electoral College vote Wednesday evening, "as it has been for hundreds of years."
“Our nation was founded precisely so that the free choice of the American people is what shapes our self-government and determines the destiny of our nation,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Not fear, not force, but the peaceful expression of the popular will.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, reconvened the House session shortly after 9 p.m. by praying for peace in the wake of the breach and evacuation of both chambers. Pelosi expressed determination to finish certifying the electoral votes for president.
"Despite the shameful actions of today, we still will do so," she said. "We will be part of a history that shows the world what America is made of.”
Trump had encouraged his supporters to come to Washington to fight Congress’ formal approval of Biden’s win. He held a rally earlier Wednesday and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol, telling them to “get rid of the weak Congress people” and saying, “get the weak ones get out; this is the time for strength.”
Capitol is breached
The sessions were interrupted around 2:15 p.m. and went into recess as rioters broke windows and got inside the building. Police put the Capitol on lock-down. Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding during the debate, as well as senators and representatives were evacuated.
In a speech in Delaware, Biden urged the protesters to disperse. Trump released a video on Twitter urging the demonstrators to leave the Capitol, but he prefaced his remarks by repeating his claims of fraudulent election. The video later was pulled from Twitter and Facebook and the president was banned from Twitter for 12 hours.
"We love you. You're very special," Trump said in the video about the rioters. "...I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace."
Shortly before 6 p.m., the House sergeant at arms informed the press that the Capitol had been cleared just as a curfew in the nation's capital was about to begin.
Before they were interrupted by protesters, GOP lawmakers followed through on their promise to disrupt what's typically a ceremonial event by challenging the election results in certain states, with Michigan potentially among them later in the day.
Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona stood to object Wednesday when Arizona's results were read in the House chamber shortly after 1 p.m., saying his objection was supported by 60 of his colleagues. Gosar's objection to the votes for Biden was supported by Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
There were some boos and groans from the Democratic gallery when Cruz rose to object, but Republicans, including Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton, applauded and then stood to give the pair a standing ovation. The joint session then dispersed to debate the objection separately in the House and Senate chambers.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, called for an investigation into the election and urged his colleagues to vote to uphold the Arizona objection.
"Americans have instinctively known something was wrong with this election,” Jordan said. “Somehow the guy who never left his house wins the election?"
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, stood to say the role of Congress is to recognize the candidate who actually won the election and not who lawmakers wanted to win.
"Madame Speaker, the 2020 election is over and the people have spoken," Raskin said.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, said she understands the disappointment when someone's candidate loses an election, but "it’s not an invitation to upend the Constitution and the laws of the United States."
It was then the session was interrupted by protesters and went into recess, and House members evacuated the floor.
Michigan's members of Congress in both parties condemned the protesters' rush on the Capitol building, even as some have long supported the president and two — Rep. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet and Walberg — planned to join at least 13 GOP senators and dozens of other House members in officially objecting to the electors from certain disputed states, repeating Trump's unproven claims of widespread fraud.
"I’ve said it dozens of times in the past few years — I support every American’s right to peacefully protest, but violence and attacks on our police have no place on our streets, or in our Capitol," tweeted Bergman. "What we are seeing is disgraceful."
Some Michigan Democratic lawmakers said that the tension contributing to Wednesday's chaotic crescendo has been building for months, criticizing the president and their GOP peers for encouraging rumors of election fraud and stoking divisions.
"Think about all the times that Donald Trump encouraged police to be more violent," said U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, during a live video Wednesday afternoon.
"Every time one of my Republican colleagues didn't call out this behavior, didn't criticize the president's extra-democratic tendencies, they were contributing to this moment."
"While it won’t be the first time that objections like this have been raised frivolously in Congress, it is unfortunately the first time they have been raised frivolously with the support of a candidate who’s actually trying to overturn an election," said Adav Noti, chief of staffat the Campaign Legal Center.
"It matters a lot because it's going to fuel the misinformation that's been coming out of the White House and has been doing some real damage to public confidence in the American democratic process."
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, told reporters that the seven Democratic members of the Michigan delegation had met three times to craft their defense.
“We felt it was really important that Michigan have a coherent, united defense,” Kildee said.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said the Democratic lawmakers had “worked very closely together.” Michigan had a safe, secure and accessible election, she said.
“Trump and his allies are pushing a dangerous, un-American conspiracy theory,” Lawrence said.
Trump has repeatedly and falsely said he won reelection "in a landslide" and claimed "massive" fraud in Michigan's election. He has not provided credible evidence that would alter the outcome and neither have the GOP lawmakers who had pledged to object to Wednesday's count.
Biden won Michigan's election by over 154,000 votes, or 51%-48%, and state and federal courts rejected legal challenges by Trump and his allies.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and election officials in other disputed states have said there's no evidence of widespread fraud or misconduct — something Trump's former Attorney General Bill Barr has also said.
Benson, a Democrat, said Tuesday that state and local election officials have conducted more than 100 post-election audits demonstrating the integrity of Michigan’s election, "yet members of Congress are expected to parrot previously debunked false claims of election fraud on Wednesday in a partisan attempt to discredit Michigan’s election."
“By making false claims that undermine voters’ faith in our election, these elected officials demonstrate their shameless willingness to prioritize personal and partisan politics over the good of our country," Benson said.
Pence's limited role
Trump in recent days had publicly pressured Pence to block the ratification of Biden's win, saying at a Georgia rally Monday that he hoped Pence "comes through for us."
Pence in a statement released shortly before the session started said he had studied the matter and that “my considered judgment that 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.”
"As the president of the Senate, in the presence of both houses of Congress, he opens the certificates, and the votes are counted. That’s the extent of the vice president’s role," said Richard Primus, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Michigan.
"There is no process for adjudicating the validity of the votes, and there’s nothing wrong with the votes, even if there were such a process."
Noti said Pence's role as presiding officer was limited by federal law to making sure the administrative proceeding starts and finishes — he reads aloud how many electors go to each candidate and at the end announces the winner.
"The Framers of the Constitution and the folks who wrote the law governing this counting procedure were very aware that the presiding officer would often be a candidate in the election that was being counted," Noti said.
"That happens all the time. They knew that. And it would be insane to give a candidate in the election a say in who won the election. Of course they didn't do that. It's nonsense."
Michigan reps' plan
Reps. Walberg and Bergman in a Monday joint statement cited concerns raised by poll challengers, saying that Americans "deserve to know only legal votes are counted and reports regarding irregularities, fraud and failure to follow election laws are thoroughly investigated."
The pair called for an electoral commission to perform an emergency audit of election results in the 10 days before inauguration.
Reps. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, and McClain, R-Bruce Township, said before the session they were open to hearing evidence of alleged fraud, but Huizenga had said he did not intend to object to Michigan's results.
He questioned why the GOP state legislatures in states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania didn't assert themselves to challenge the results or take other action.
"They had that ability and didn't do that in Michigan and in these other states," Huizenga said.
Democrats were prepared to push back
Democrats have argued that it's not logical for the presidential results of the contested states to face objection while the congressional elections from the same electoral process go unchallenged.
"I find it stunning," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, before the session. "People who felt the election was accurate when they were sworn into their House seats on the same ballot as the presidential race can now say that there was fraud at the top of the ticket? But somehow if you went a few names down on the ballot and it was different?"
And Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, had said that, ultimately, Republicans would be unsuccessful in overturning the election. But they might be successful in creating a “unrelenting crack in the foundation upon which our American democracy is built,” Dingell said before the upheaval.