A challenge by several House Democrats to Donald Trump’s election on Friday collapsed when they failed to persuade a single Democratic senator to join their protest.
The short-lived, doomed-from-the-start effort — spearheaded by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Barbara Lee of California — came during a joint meeting of the House and Senate to certify Trump’s Electoral College victory. Without sufficient support to challenge Trump’s victory, the Republican-led Congress moved ahead with an easy confirmation of Trump’s presidency. The only remaining step is for him to take the oath of office on Jan. 20.
“It is over,” said Vice President Joe Biden
“It is over,” said Vice President Joe Biden, presiding over the meeting, after three Democratic House members lodged objections but failed to secure required support from any senator. His comment drew a standing ovation and cheers from the assembled Republicans in the room.
The joint session of Congress is a legally required — and typically ceremonial — event to ratify the results of the presidential election. But members are permitted to challenge the validity of electoral votes, and for just the fourth time since 1877, they did so.
There was no expectation that the protests would succeed — backers acknowledged that the Republican-led House and Senate would never act to impede Trump’s imminent presidency. But it’s a continuation of efforts by Democrats to poke Trump in the eye before he takes office and undermine what his team has described as a “mandate” to govern. Democrats have routinely cited Trump’s 2.9 million-ballot popular vote loss to Hillary Clinton and pounced on Russian meddling in the election to undermine Trump’s victory.
Jackson Lee and her allies argued that widespread voter suppression in states won by Trump tarnished the results. They also pointed to research provided by a team of independent lawyers that found dozens of Republican electors were technically ineligible to serve. But their arguments failed to persuade their Senate colleagues to step forward.
Though any single member may lodge an objection, only those supported by both a House member and senator are eligible for debate. Had the effort by House Democrats gained the support of a single senator, it would have delayed the confirmation of Trump’s victory by hours, forcing the Senate to retreat to its chamber and debate the merits of each challenged electoral vote.
The attempted objections began immediately, when Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) protested Alabama’s electoral votes, citing Russian interference in the presidential election. His declaration drew a sharp round of booing from the Republicans in the chamber.
Biden asked whether his objection was in writing and if he had the support of a senator. When McGovern acknowledged he had no senator, Biden quickly moved on.
At times, Democratic objectors attempted to lodge complains over Biden’s attempts to gavel the session along. When Jackson Lee objected to Michigan’s votes, Biden gaveled her silent. But she quickly started speaking again while Biden repeatedly slammed the gavel and Republicans began shouting for “order” in the chamber. The episode was repeated when Jackson Lee objected to South Carolina’s vote.
Other objections came from freshman Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin and Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva.
After the session, Republicans blasted Democrats’ failed anti-Trump effort.
“It’s kind of embarrassing,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. He said senators didn’t join because “they realized it was just a protest and it wasn’t real.
Colorado GOP Sen. Cory Gardner called the House members “a bit hypocritical” after Democrats criticized Trump during the campaign when the GOP nominee suggested he wouldn’t accept the outcome of the election if he lost. That senators refused to join them, Gardner said, “shows the respect for the people that the senators held.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters ahead of the session that she supported the rationale of the protesting lawmakers but that without a Senate backer, their effort was in vain.
“Quite frankly, there’s nothing they could say in there that would be an overstatement of the reasons why we should have a floor discussion. But the fact is you can’t do it on a one-house basis,” she said.
She added that the point of the protest was mostly symbolic, a chance for members to disapprove of Trump.
“It’s not going to have an impact on the outcome of the election. So, that’s not the point. But I think that people don’t want the day to pass without registering concern,” she said. “In some cases, members are concerned about voter suppression. In some cases they are concerned about Russian influence on our election. There are a number of concerns. But really, it’s not going to have an impact at the end of the day.”
The last time lawmakers forced debate on an electoral vote challenge came in 2005, when then-Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) joined Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones to contest the Ohio electoral votes that guaranteed George W. Bush’s reelection. They spent two hours arguing that voting irregularities could have tipped the election in Bush’s favor but failed to convince their colleagues to reverse the outcome.
There was little hope among Democrats for a different outcome this time, even if they had managed to secure support from a senator. Trump’s support among congressional Republicans runs deep, and they were all but certain to ignore technical challenges to electors’ qualifications.
But the process never got that far. Without Senate support, the House Democrats’ protest repeatedly met Biden’s heavy gavel, and Democrats mounting the protests grew more and more exasperated.
“Is there one United States senator who will join me?” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), after the electoral votes for Wyoming, the final state, were read aloud.