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What To Expect From Congress' Electoral College Count

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tomorrow, the House and Senate meet in joint session to accept the results of the Electoral College and thereby the election of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States and Kamala Harris as the vice president. It's a ceremony that has recently taken as little as 23 minutes to complete. But this time, it could take six hours, or it might even stretch into Thursday. Joining us now to explain why is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Hey, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ailsa.

CHANG: Good to be with you. So, OK, you've seen a few of these over the years. Can you just tell us why this process is expected to take such a long time this time around?

ELVING: Two words - President Trump. He has refused to concede and insists he won and continues to pressure people to say he won without facts or process or basis in law. So at his urging, members of the House and some senators will raise objections at the joint session tomorrow, objecting to counting the results of the Electoral College as officially cast and certified and reported or at least those from a few of the swing states.

CHANG: OK. And I presume these members will be saying that the results reported by the states or at least some of the states are not legitimate.

ELVING: In a sense - but more specifically, they say that the public or at least some portion of the public no longer has faith in the process. They want to have an emergency commission created to look into the results to see if there was any fraud.

CHANG: But that has already happened. I mean, the Department of Justice and the FBI and various state agencies - they've all looked into this, and none of them found any basis for questioning the results.

ELVING: That's right. And they have been quite clear about that. And we should note that these agencies at the federal level are led by Trump appointees and at the state level also often by Republicans. And there have been more than 60 lawsuits in various states trying to get a court to say there was something wrong here or there or some significant violation has happened. Those efforts have gone nowhere. Those that reached the Supreme Court were rejected. And again, we are talking here about Trump-appointed judges in many instances.

CHANG: Right. OK, so walk us through what happens tomorrow.

ELVING: They begin at 1 p.m. Eastern time. And it's a rather antique procedure that goes back to the Constitution, as amended in 1804 and revised by law in 1887. The vice president opens the sealed envelopes, a little bit like you see the presenters do at the Oscars or the Emmys. And he hands each state's report to tellers who read it out.

And at that point, if there is a member of the House who objects to a particular state - and we'll probably start with Arizona. That's the third state in alphabetical order. And as one senator is willing to stand up and say, I'm objecting and I've got it here in writing, then the combination of those two people objecting means that the two bodies are going to separate and have two hours of debate and a vote. The Senate goes into its own chamber, and they go at it on their own. And if a simple majority in both bodies votes to reject those electors, then those electors are not counted.

CHANG: A simple majority in both bodies - what are the chances of that actually happening?

ELVING: In effect, zero. The Senate has a Republican majority, but it appears that quite a few of the Republicans are going to be voting against any and all of these objections and so will all the Senate Democrats and independents, so we're looking at a two-thirds majority or more in the Senate. And meanwhile, in the House, the Dems have an outright majority without any Republicans at all. So that would be that.

CHANG: OK. So if all of this is likely to fail - the objections - at changing anything, what's the point?

ELVING: It would seem intended to serve the president's purpose of keeping the election alive in some people's minds. Therefore, it is a chance for individual Republicans in the House and Senate to signal their loyalty to him and to his most loyal supporters, who are also often their most loyal supporters, who have been led to believe this election was fraudulent and who can be expected to continue voting in future elections.

CHANG: So ultimately, I mean, just to underline this, none of this will have any effect on who becomes president on January 20, right?

ELVING: No, not this January 20. But it seems several of these senators are very concerned about 2024, and their outreach to Republican loyalists appears very much underway.

CHANG: Very much underway - that is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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