A joint session of Congress on Wednesday to certify the U.S. presidential election – normally a procedural affair – turned into a partisan showdown as allies of President Donald Trump mounted a last-ditch effort to overturn his loss.
Some Republican lawmakers objected to Congress certifying president-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the U.S. state of Arizona, the first of several expected challenges to state results.
The highly unusual move broke up the joint session, a typically routine step in confirming which candidate won the presidential election, and prompted both chambers to withdraw to debate the challenge for two hours.
The challenges are almost certain to be overruled, but could cause a delay stretching the process into the night.
Biden, a Democrat, won both the popular vote and the necessary number of Electoral College votes to be declared the winner of the November presidential election.
A group of Republican senators, led by Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, as well as dozens of Republicans in the House of Representatives, had vowed to reject Biden’s win in several states unless there is an audit of the election results.
The moves have split the Republican party, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that overruling voters would damage the country forever.
“I will vote to respect the people’s decision and defend our system of government as we know it,” he told the debate on the Senate floor.
Vice President Mike Pence, whose role is largely ceremonial and involves reading out the vote results, has been thrust into the spotlight as he has come under pressure from Trump to declare him the winner of the election.
But in a letter to Congress ahead of the session, Pence defied the president by saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes of states that Biden won.
Pence’s resistance could set up a clash with Trump, who earlier told thousands of supporters that it would be a “sad day for our country” if Pence did not “come through for us.”
Trump also repeated baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud at the rally on the Ellipse near the White House.
“We will never give up, we will never concede,” Trump told the cheering crowd, adding: “You don’t concede when there’s theft.”
Protesters descended on the capital from dozens of states across the country to support his claims, shunning face masks despite the raging coronavirus pandemic, while some waved Confederate flags and wore t-shirts that said “nuke the swamp.”
“I am from Detroit and I saw the fraud. The fraud is real, the evidence is overwhelming,” Ben Cushman of Michigan told dpa.
Trump had goaded supporters to join the demonstration, which included a melange of right-wing groups such as QAnon supporters and militia members.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser called in National Guard troops and urged residents to avoid confrontations with protesters ready to use violence.
Trump’s allies have filed dozens of election-related lawsuits in an effort to challenge the vote tallies in key swing states, almost all of which have been thrown out due to a lack of evidence.
Heightening the drama, Democrats were poised to take control of the Senate as results came in from the twin runoff elections in the state of Georgia.
One Democratic candidate was projected the winner over his Republican opponent, while the other Democrat declared victory as tallies showed him with a narrow lead.
The Democratic candidates’ win over the Republican incumbents would hand control of Congress to the party, marking a blow for Trump and an unexpected turn for a state that has trended Republican for decades.
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