One Last Absurd Attempt to Overturn the Election

Listen to this episode

S1: In the nation’s capital right now, Joe Biden’s future is all bound up inside these mahogany boxes.

S2: I think they’re very old boxes that, you know, kind of look like a treasure chest.

S1: Slate’s Jim Newell is going to spend the day reporting about what’s inside these boxes.

S2: They might be magical boxes. I don’t know the entire history of them.

S3: They contain what’s called certificates of ascertainment from the states and the official Electoral College count. That’ll make Joe Biden the forty sixth president of the United States. Later today, these boxes will be brought in to a joint session of Congress, cracked open and then the contents will get tallied up, making Biden’s win official.

Advertisement

S2: You know, there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance going on with this very ministerial task here, right?

S3: Because it’s not like they’re certifying it or something. It’s just like they’re acknowledging it, right?

S4: Yeah, they’re they’re accepting it. I mean, it’s been certified. It’s all done at the state level. And they just are the final link in the process. It’s kind of like the federal government accepting the states results, but each state’s results will be announced. Someone has the opportunity to raise objections. If there’s no objections, then they’re counted. And then once, you know, every state goes through, the vice president will will gavel it shot.

Advertisement

S1: But this year, of course, there are objections, a lot of them from Republican representatives and senators who in a last ditch effort to please the president, have decided to do what they can to delay the inevitable.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: There hasn’t I I don’t think at least any time in recent memory, Ben. An episode where there could be so many objections that could just keep the process going so no one really knows when this is going to end. No one knows what day it’s going to end.

S1: Do you think it could be multiple days?

S2: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think that Steny Hoyer, the majority leader, I think he’s his office has given that advisory that, you know, this this could go into Thursday, hopefully not Friday. We’ll see, I guess, the people who are going to be raising these objections, we’ll just see how quickly they get bored with it.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: That’s how quickly they get bored of it. It sounds like you have like a bunch of miscreant teenagers with ADHD. Yeah, no, that’s a very good way of describing it.

S2: Probably one of the more generous ways to describe it to me.

S1: I mean, is there any argument that what’s about to take place on Capitol Hill? Is a good thing like it has everyone has to get on the record and kind of like air it out.

S4: I don’t think it’s a good thing at all. I mean, I think I’ve seen some Democrats say, fine, let them make fools of themselves, but they’re still going to be perhaps a majority of House Republicans and then a good number of Senate Republicans who are going along with this idea that there were irregularities that have tainted the election and using their official jobs to protest that.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: When that’s completely made up today on the show, did you really think the election was over? For a lot of people, it simply isn’t. Which is why this final ceremonial step in the process has become a political battleground. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: The first thing to understand about this congressional count going on today is that for the last 20 years, members have been raising objections to presidential elections. The difference this year is the sheer scale of those objections. Mr. Speaker, the vice president and the United States Senate back in twenty seventeen when Congress gathered to certify the results of the election of President Trump, Jim was there. And back then he watched Democrats push back against Trump’s electoral victory. At the time, Joe Biden was presiding over everything as vice president.

Advertisement

S2: And what you saw was a lot of House members raising objections when states were mentioned and just kind of giving these political speeches and then Joe Biden would gavel them shut of the Senate. It is over. And I don’t think many people actually paid attention to this back then because it was just, you know, I wasn’t even sure why I was going to it. I think I just wanted to see history a little bit. But it was very kind of boring affair.

S1: Wasn’t this this kind of live issue that we’re seeing this time when it also sounds like Biden kind of took the reins a little bit and just said, OK, like we got some we got some folks who have some things to say here. That’s great. But like, you got a couple of minutes and then we need to keep it pushin.

Advertisement

S2: Yeah. Yeah. He wasn’t really trying to disrupt anything. You know, I guess that’s very Biden. You know, he realizes he has a historical role here and he’s just going to see it through and you take that very seriously.

S1: So how is this year going to look different than that?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Sure. So in twenty seventeen, what you had was you’d see House members raise objections, but then they couldn’t get a senator to join them in the objection, and that meant that the objections weren’t in order. There was one moment in twenty seventeen where Maxine Waters, she raised an objection. She looked over to the Senate side and begged, you know, is there one senator who will join me? And there was just silence. So it was very just kind of theatrical. It wasn’t actually going to slow down the process.

Advertisement

S1: So you need a kind of like buddy system to do this.

S2: Yes. So for each objection, it has to be written. First of all, a written objection from a House member objecting to a slate of electors from a particular state and then a matching one from a senator. And if there are matching objections to a particular state, then each House breaks off into debate for a maximum of two hours and they have a vote on whether to accept or reject those electors. And so what it looks like this year is you have a bunch of House members who are ready to raise objections and then you have at least one senator, Josh Holloway from Missouri, who says he’s a he would object to at least one state. So that means, you know, assuming they don’t have some sudden change of heart, that we’re going to have at least one roll call vote in both the House and the Senate on whether to accept or reject electors. But it could be up to six states.

Advertisement

S1: And we should say there’s no legal basis for any of these politicians to be questioning the Electoral College results here, right?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: No. I mean, every case of the Trump administration or the Trump campaign or outside groups or allies brought before courts, I think they had maybe their record is one in 60 or something in court. I mean, every level of federal court, none of these challenges went anywhere. A lot of these objections are based on just the word irregularities or so much of it goes down to just social media videos of things that people don’t understand, like, oh, I saw a video where a machine counted a ballot three times. And, you know, those have all been debunked a million times. It’s just. You know, Trump is convinced a large part of the Republican base and a lot of social media things have spread that have convinced people that it wasn’t fair. So that’s sort of the pressure you see on Republicans to raise these objections about irregularities.

Advertisement

S1: So after this two hours of debate, you mentioned there’s a vote, the chamber decides whether to accept or reject the challenge to the results. Is there any chance the chamber would accept the challenge and try to reject these votes?

S2: No. First of all, four, for a slate of electors to be actually thrown out, you would need both the House and the Senate to vote to reject them. So there’s not a single state that the House, which is controlled by Democrats, is going to reject the electors up. And in the Senate, I think you have about like, you know, someone doing a whip count for the coup here. And you have about 20 Republicans so far. It’s going to be more who are not going to be going along with any of this. So each Senate vote to each Senate challenge should be pretty swiftly rejected on a bipartisan basis.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: So no chance. Purely just theater, but it’s happening anyway.

S2: Yeah, no chance.

S4: I mean, I get the chills a little bit when I say that because I don’t know. Who knows. But, yeah, there’s it’s you know, it’s John Thune who said it and gotten a lot of trouble with the president. Is the number two Senate Republican said it’s going to go be put down like a dog or something. So it’s really not going to go anywhere.

S3: It’s pure performance for the president after the break. Not every Republican is on board with these shenanigans. So what’s going to happen to the Republican caucus when the vote’s over?

S1: So far, nearly a dozen Republican senators have said they’re going to dispute state election results in this display of loyalty to the president. But part of what’s interesting about watching all this play out for Jim Newell is that Republican sentiment is pretty publicly divided when it comes to what’s going to go down later today. It’s the kind of tension the GOP has been able to keep under the rug until now. So while Senators Josh Haley and Ted Cruz are leading the charge on behalf of President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump ally Tom Cotton are doing the opposite for a senator like Cotton, justifying his stance has revealed cracks in Republican ideology. And it’s led him to be surprisingly honest about what it takes for Republicans to win office.

S2: He gave three reasons, which I think you’re seeing shared in statements from some of those other Republicans who are opposing this effort. They’re saying first, it would pretty much put the power to elect presidents in Congress. Yeah, that’s a really bad precedent. He said it would imperil the Electoral College and he also said it would. You know, this is another step towards federalizing election law, which is a big no no in Republican ideology. It’s that imperil the Electoral College thing that really stands out to me, because if you do show that all the ceremonial mechanics in this Electoral College process can kind of be wielded and taken up to overturn what the actual will of the voters is. And that’s not very good for the future of the Electoral College as a legitimate mechanism for electing presidents. And the Electoral College is, you know, the only way Republicans can win the presidency right now.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah, I mean, there was one letter from House Republicans that said basically Republicans have lost the popular vote for a long time. We need the Electoral College to get into office, which was weirdly honest.

S2: Yeah, no, it was it was extremely honest. I mean, it said I’ll just read a bit of it here. From a purely partisan perspective, Republican presidential candidates have won the national popular vote only once in the last 32 years. They’ve therefore depended on the Electoral College for nearly all presidential victories in the last generation. And then it pretty much says, you know, it’s the only reason Trump won in 2016 and the only way that we can win back the presidency in 2024. So they do not want to delegitimize the Electoral College. And using one of these parliamentary procedures, essentially this final confirmation in Congress, who set the precedent, at least for for overturning an election is not a path that a lot of them want to go down.

S1: So if the goal here of today is not to get Trump to stay in office because it can’t be, the votes aren’t there, can we talk about the real goal? Well, like you’ve said, basically this is a way for some Republicans to. Like brush up their bona fides with voters and present who they really are looking at twenty twenty four.

S2: Yeah, so I mean, the big stick here in this in this question is just that Trump, if you go against Trump, you run the risk of Trump, you know, tweeting about your campaign against your something and inviting a primary challenge. So that’s something that gets a lot of members who are going to go along with Trump’s scheme in line here. But then you also have some people like Josh Hollier, Ted Cruz, who are well understood to be looking at presidential runs, who are are taking the lead in this sort of objecting or rejecting process of electors because they think, you know, that might give them a leg up or at least, you know, get them in the news even ahead of a potential twenty, twenty four primary.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: I mean, you had this great line when you wrote about what’s about to happen where you said earning the enmity of establishment colleagues is the first step towards sort of establishing yourself as a national political figure. Like it’s not about teamwork. It’s about, you know, differentiating yourself and making it clear that, you know, you’re mad at those people in Washington and like what they’re doing. And that’s not that’s not you.

S2: I think Ted Cruz is an interesting case to look at here because he’s run this playbook. Before he came to Congress in 2013, he kicked a lot of fights. You know, he he went against party leaders to cause a government shutdown in 2013. He went against some party leaders to to kill an immigration bill. And it worked. I mean, it worked for him, raise his profile and helped him in a Republican primary to say he made all the right people in Washington, Matt. And then after that election, you know, where he didn’t win, but he came in second, which is not bad. You know, he came back he tried to mend some of his relationships in Washington. But now I think we’re starting to see Ted Cruz go back to his preparing to run for president version because he, you know, very much against what Mitch McConnell or a lot of his Republican colleagues would wish him to do. So he’s leading this charge saying if there’s an objection, we will vote to reject these electors unless our ludicrous conditions are met. And I just think this is what the next few years are going to look like. You’re going to have people who are looking to run for president, go against their party, piss off some of their colleagues as as a goal, you know, to to set yourself apart.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: So I got to ask what happens after today, like. Is Mitch McConnell going to be picking up the pieces?

S2: I think, you know, they’ll get through this, but you could see. After this situation, it’s a question of how long this vote is going to be remembered. I mean, Mitch McConnell did not want this vote because he did not want members who are up in 2020 to to to have to take a difficult vote like this. And you could see, you know, if this is something that Trump keeps bringing up, you know, even when he’s president in many media appearances, because I believe he will continue talking publicly, you know, if he’s going to still go after all these people who went against them and then whether you’ll have a bunch of primary challenges for twenty, twenty two, I don’t know how successful all those primary challenges are going to be, but that’s sort of the potential ruinous legacy of this for Republicans. But, you know. In a couple of weeks, we’ll have the Biden presidency and things will sort of take on a new configuration here, and I’m sure Republicans will unite a little bit more around, you know, blocking Biden’s agenda when part of what makes this vote interesting, I think, is the timing, which is it’s happening right smack up against the Georgia runoffs.

S1: And so there’s this feeling of the Georgia runoffs will tell us a lot about the future of the parties and what we need to be saying to voters. And, you know, we don’t have that answer yet. So in that vacuum, you see people making bets saying, I guess I think I think the bet is aligned with Trump or OK, I think the bet is stand against this. And that’s part of what makes it sort of an interesting Rorschach test for me.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: I mean, people would like to see, like those members who stand with Trump on this issue will go down in history as seditious traitors. And, you know, I just I wish I could say that was true, but I don’t know that, you know, those who go with Trump here could win their primary and, you know, be easily re-elected to Congress and things could be quite fine. So we don’t know how these how a lot of the Trump presidency, but especially this post-election period. Where Trump has really just really been pathetic, but it hasn’t seemed to collapse his approval rating or anything like that, we don’t know how this is all to be remembered or how well it’s going to be remembered at all.

S1: You know, before the election, there was this article in The Atlantic that I’m sure that you read by Barton Gellman talking about what will happen if Trump doesn’t concede. And I’ve thought about it a lot over the last six, eight weeks, mostly because there are parts of it that were so pression. Like he highlighted how we need to pay attention to all of these ceremonial moments because they’re chances for disputes to be aired out and for politicians to put their thumb on the scale in favor of Trump, no matter what the votes said. But what stands out to me is, is that things have happened that that make that article seem really prescient. But in, like the silliest way possible and strangest way possible, it makes it hard to predict what happens now.

S2: Yeah, I think that article it really laid out worst case scenarios here, and I guess we haven’t seen quite that. You know, what you saw as this process went along was. As many Republicans as possible would take Trump’s side until it got to the point where someone who is required by law to break from Trump had to put it down. So you saw state legislators in Michigan or Pennsylvania kind of signing these petitions about how the election results should be objected, but then their governor, you know, is required by law to certify them. So they didn’t have to take the blame for for Trump’s loss. And I guess you could say that means the system held here. It doesn’t give me a lot of confidence. I view this as just kind of another you know, there’s like this big battering ram at the gate against this whole institution. And this really took out a pretty big chunk of it.

S3: Jim Newell, thank you so much for joining me. Good luck out there today. All right. Thank you. Jim Newell is Slate’s senior politics writer, and that is the show, What Next is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Alena Schwartz, Davis Land and Mary Wilson. Frannie Kelley is helping us out to Alicia Montgomery. And Allison Benedikte edited our ideas and sometimes they take a whack at our scripts. And I’m Mary Harris. You can find me over on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s desk and I will see you back here tomorrow.