A constitutional ritual that is normally a little-noticed curiosity will Monday turn into a symbol of the US political system’s durability while under assault from a defeated President seeking to overturn a democratic election.
Electors from 50 states and the District of Columbia are gathering across the country to cast their ballots, which will confirm Joe Biden as the rightful 46th president and California Sen. Kamala Harris as vice president.
A moment of historic resonance will activate safeguards stemming from the founders’ fears nearly 250 years ago of a monarchical leader wielding unaccountable power to counter President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly spurned the fundamental principles of American democracy.
Earlier attempts by Trump to strong-arm local Republican lawmakers to produce delegations in swing states that would ignore the will of millions of voters and his election loss failed. So ballots cast Monday will confirm Biden will surpass the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The ballots will be transmitted to Washington, DC, to be tallied in Congress on January 6, when a building – but almost certainly futile – rearguard by Republican lawmakers may expose a large rump of the party that has also turned against the democratic principles that underpin free and fair elections.
Despite the certainty of the constitutional choreography that will confirm Trump’s loss, several rebukes from the Supreme Court and multiple court losses, he refuses to accept reality and put the country first by accepting defeat.
“It’s not over … we’re going to continue to go forward,” Trump told Fox News in an interview recorded Saturday, before tweeting on Sunday that the nation’s top bench had “chickened out” by ruling Friday that Texas had no standing to file a case on his behalf.
Veteran Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Sunday that the blunt Supreme Court dismissals of Trump’s cases were “the briefest and most summary of dismissals possible. That is a signal in lawyer talk about ‘don’t waste our time with these theories that you are spouting out.’ “
Biden to speak
After slates of electors formally selected by voters in the indirect presidential election system in November fulfill their duties on Monday, Biden plans to deliver a speech on the resilience of US democracy. It will be his latest effort to unite a fractured nation even as the outgoing President seeks to doom his legitimacy with baseless claims of vote fraud.
The process will confirm, yet again, that Biden will take office on January 20 at noon, ending Trump’s one-term presidency – a fact that some, but still clearly not all, leading Republicans agree is now inevitable.
“I will just say that, obviously, he is the President-elect. He has 270 Electoral College votes,” Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, crossing Trump in a way many colleagues still refuse to do.
MAP: Full Presidential Results
Indeed, 126 of Cassidy’s GOP colleagues in the House – including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – signed onto the desperate complaint that the Supreme Court rejected last week and that an ally, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, blasted on ABC News “This Week” as an “absurdity.”
Since the election, Trump has made delusional claims he won landslides in states where he clearly lost to Biden. Judges have treated his frivolous claims of fraud with contempt. He’s turned on the Supreme Court majority he built because it won’t hear his fantastical cases. And now, the President is even considering firing his ultra-loyal Attorney General William Barr, who pointed out the truth that there are no widespread indications of the electoral corruption Trump insists cost him a second term.
Ignoring the pandemic
The President’s obsessive behavior since the election has coincided with the most extreme and tragic phase of a pandemic that he ignored and denied, and has exacerbated the conditions in which many Americans are dying each day.
He has done little to bring rival factions in Congress together with millions of Americans unemployed and hungry because of the pandemic and lawmakers still unable to agree on a rescue bill including extended jobless benefits. The authorization of the first vaccine, which could begin being administered on Monday, is a hugely hopeful step that augurs an eventual return to normal life. And Trump and his administration deserve credit for their role in the swift developments of the doses. Federal health authorities say they can vaccinate 100 million Americans by the end of March.
But it will be late spring or early summer 2021 until most people get the necessary two doses, meaning that deprivations and restrictions will continue for many more months.
Some senior aides to Trump, who have only weeks left to serve, were to be among the first to receive the vaccine in what officials said was an effort to preserve the continuity of power, CNN reported Sunday evening. That would have meant that officials in a White House that long ignored the severity of the pandemic, downplayed mask wearing and mocked social distancing that could slow the spread of the virus, could have gotten immunity long before most of the general public.
Trump tweeted late Sunday night that he is adjusting the timing for when White House officials should receive the vaccine, saying they “should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary.”
“I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time,” he said.
A waning fantasy
Monday’s events will test how long the fantasy of a second Trump term can endure.
The President’s crusade to disenfranchise millions of voters who cast legal ballots against him is an appropriate coda for a presidency in which he has consistently destroyed democratic guardrails in order to pursue his own political goals.
His actions have also sharpened the dilemma of many of his fellow Republicans. A few, like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, have spoken out strongly in favor of democratic principles. But others have contributed to Trump’s fraying of trust in US democracy by equivocating and refusing to refer to Biden as President-elect. Others like Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican, are perpetuating Trump’s fiction that he won the election.
“If you want to restore trust by millions of people who are still very frustrated and angry about what happened, that’s why you’ve got to have the whole system play out,” Scalise said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There will be a president sworn in on January 20, but let’s let this legal process play itself out,” the congressman said, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has twice shut down Republican legal gambits intended to overthrow the election.
Trump White House
Trump’s gaslighting has convinced millions of his more than 70 million voters that the election was a farce and could irrevocably harm Biden’s efforts to unify the country. It has also led to ugly scenes like those in Washington over the weekend, where Trump supporters, including members of the far-right Proud Boys group, clashed with anti-Trump demonstrators.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is retiring and doesn’t have to face voters again, said Sunday that the votes of the Electoral College should mark a watershed moment in Trump’s effort to contest the election.
“I hope that he puts the country first,” Alexander said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“It looks very much like the electors will vote for Joe Biden,” he said, and argued there should be no question about election results after Monday.
“We need to not lose one day in the transition in getting the vaccine out,” Alexander said.
An agonizing moment for Pence
It is not unheard of for individuals among the 538 electors who represent every state and the District of Columbia to go rogue. In 2016, for example, there were a record 10 “faithless” electors. And there is no constitutional stipulation that binds electors to vote for the candidate who receives a plurality of the popular vote in their state. Still, many states replace electors who go rogue or fine them. And Trump’s efforts to convince state legislators in states that he lost, like Pennsylvania, and seat electors favorable to him fell short. Biden’s victory is so wide — 306 to 232 electoral votes – that symbolic defections will not matter.
Electors are picked by state parties and exclude federal lawmakers but usually include local officials and party alumni. In New York, for example, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will ceremonially cast electoral voters for Biden.
The Electoral College voting on Monday – on the legally mandated first Monday after the second Wednesday in December – will set up an even more intriguing constitutional ballet on January 6. That is the moment when electoral ballots cast on Monday will be counted during a joint session of Congress – another occasion that is normally perfunctory but that will take on extra constitutional significance this year. Some Republican House members have already urged Trump not to concede when he loses the Electoral College on Monday. They also want to hold a debate on January 6 on the results of key states over allegations of fraud. If one member of the House and one member of the Senate file an objection, that process can take place in each chamber. But it remains unclear whether any Republican senator is willing to take that step, which would be academic anyway since Democrats control the House.
The January 6 ceremony will set up a particularly excruciating moment for Vice President Mike Pence, who has walked an undignified tight rope between his own reputation and ostentatious loyalty for Trump for the past four years.
Since it’s his job as president of the Senate to count the electoral votes, it will fall to Pence to officially declare Biden and Harris victors of an election Trump falsely claims was stolen.