After chaos, democracy affirmed, as challenges to Michigan, other states fail
President Donald Trump's desperate campaign to overturn the Michigan election failed again late Wednesday in Congress, where Senate Republicans refused to join a House objection to the state's Electoral College count.
Shortly before midnight, after the Capitol was secured following violent riots, more than 70 House Republicans formally challenged the Michigan election, which Democrat Joe Biden won by 154,188 votes to secure all 16 of the state’s Electoral College votes.
But no senators joined them, squashing the objection without a vote or floor debate on Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, which multiple state and federal courts have rejected.
“In that case, the objection cannot be entertained,” Vice President Mike Pence announced, prompting applause in a joint meeting of the House and Senate.
Similar objections to Georgia and Nevada’s slate of electors from GOP House members were not signed on by senators, while the House and Senate both voted to reject challenges to Arizona and Pennsylvania backed by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri.
The quick and quiet dismissal of the Michigan objection capped a chaotic day at the U.S. Capitol that strained but ultimately affirmed the nation’s democracy, as Congress worked into the early morning Thursday to certify Biden as the 46th president of the United States.
Pence confirmed Biden’s victory around 3:40 a.m. – a 306-232 win in Electoral College votes – and at 3:49 a.m. an aide released a statement from Trump in which the president appeared to finally concede defeat.
“There will be an orderly transition on January 20th,” Trump said, acknowledging the end to what he called “the greatest first term in presidential history.”
Early Wednesday afternoon, after Trump implored supporters to “show strength,” some stormed the U.S. Capitol, clashed with police, smashed windows and ransacked offices. At least four people died in the chaos, including one woman who was shot by Capitol police while trying to break through a barricaded door.
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene filed the objection in Michigan, but it wasn’t clear early Thursday if she was joined by Michigan Republicans, who had announced intention to do so before the Capitol erupted in violence.
In brief remarks, Greene claimed Michigan’s "error rate” exceeded the "FEC rate” and people who've filed affidavits have never had “their voices heard in a court of law." In fact, there is no FEC error rate and the affidavits were deemed "not credible" by a Republican-appointed judge.
Enough is enough
In Senate deliberations, even ardent Trump supporters such as a Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., acknowledged the president had lost.
“Enough is enough...When it's over, it is over. It's over,” said Graham.
GOP senators called for a congressional audit of elections in states where Trump has disputed the results, but Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said that wouldn’t sway the president’s supporters, particularly when he continues to claim the election was stolen.
“The best way we can show the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth,” said Romney, the 2012 GOP president nominee who lost to Democrat Barack Obama.
“That’s the burden, the duty of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost. I’ve had that experience myself. It’s no fun”
Republicans and Democrats alike condemned violence at the Capitol earlier Wednesday, with some directly blaming Trump.
“This mob was in good part president Trump’s doing, incited by his words, his lies,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who accused the lame-duck president of trying to “push America to the brink of ruin.”
Confirmation of the Electoral College vote count closes another chapter on Trump’s crusade to overturn his loss in Michigan, where his campaign has not proven a single instance of voter fraud.
The president and his allies filed lawsuits to try and stop absentee ballot counting in Detroit, urged canvassers not to certify results and then pressured majority Republicans in the Michigan Legislature to change Electoral College rules in his favor, bringing legislative leaders to the White House and sending attorney Rudy Giuliani to testify before a state House committee.
When those efforts failed, Trump and 19 Michigan Republicans joined a lawsuit urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn election results, which justices declined to do.
Detroit is now asking a federal judge to sanction pro-Trump attorneys like Sidney Powell and Lin Wood for what city attorney David Fink called a "frivolous" lawsuit that used false claims to try and "undermine our democracy and to upset the peaceful transition of power."
Trump rallied with a massive crowd of supporters in Washington, D.C. ahead of the vote, urging Pence to "stand up for... the good of our country" while repeating false and unproven claims about elections in Michigan and other states.
Trump again said "Detroit had more votes than it had voters," falsely claiming 139 percent turnout in Michigan's largest city, where voter turnout was actually about 50 percent.
And the president again mischaracterized a human error by the GOP clerk in Antrim County to suggest Dominion Voting Systems equipment flipped votes in swing states around the country, repeating a conspiracy that Michigan Republicans investigated but found no merit in.
“Make no mistake: this election was stolen from you, from me and from the country," Trump said in his speech, which was also broadcast outside the Michigan Capitol, where hundreds of his supporters gathered.
Chaos ensued after Trump left the stage in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Capitol was locked down after a mob charged the building during the Electoral College count. Nearby, an apparent pipe bomb threat prompted law enforcement officers to evacuate the Cannon Office Building, where many lawmakers have their offices.
Trump had urged Pence to reject Electoral College votes from contested states, but after days of silence, the vice president refused, saying he does not have that constitutional authority.
"Our founders were deeply skeptical of concentrations of power and created a Republican based on separation of powers and checks and balances under the Constitution of the United States," Pence said in a statement.
"Vesting the Vice President with unilateral authority to decide presidential contests would be entirely antithetical to that design."
McConnell defies Trump
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also broke with Trump, saying that "democracy would enter a death spiral" if allegations by a losing party could overturn an election.
"Nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale, the massive scale, that would've tipped the entire election," McConnell said. "Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence."
In a speech during the first objections to Arizona’s slate of electors, McConnell lambasted Republican colleagues for challenging results in a move that he said could “damage our republic forever.”
“I will not pretend such a vote will be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing,” he said.
The Electoral College challenges amounted to "short-term self preservation" for congressional Republicans who must run for re-election again in 2022 and could face "Trump litmus test primaries," said GOP consultant John Sellek of Harbor Strategic.
"They're looking ahead to what life is going to look like after Trump, and it's not going to be a whole lot different," Sellek said of congressional Republicans, some of whom have taken dramatic steps to placate the aggrieved president.
"They're still going to be left with the activists and the people that Trump has activated beating down their doors. They may have real concerns about voter fraud, but in my estimation, they've taken the temperature of their primary voting universe and they're seeing a lot of pressure to do something."
Michigan Democrats blasted the effort, which U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township called a "cynical" ploy to appease Trump.
"He's a person with sociopathic tendencies and only believes things in his self-interest, even if they are not true," Kildee said in a press call Wednesday morning.
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, noted that Trump's grievances have largely focused on counting processes in cities with large minority populations, like Detroit.
"It reminds me of Jim Crow, throwing out legitimate votes of Black Americans," Lawrence said. "We cannot go down that slippery slope."
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