Joe Biden has been elected as the 46th president of the United States by the popular vote of the American people and by the Electoral College. But Republican representatives are plotting to force a congressional debate about accepting the result that will make the next month one of the ugliest periods in American political history.
Logic and practicalities tell us that the partisan dead-enders who have cast their lot with defeated President Donald Trump will fail in their final desperate bid to overturn the election results, and that Biden will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021. Yet getting from here to there will be far more difficult than it should be because Trump’s grip on the Republican Party remains so tight that supposedly mainstream Republicans will continue to embrace his fever-dream fantasies of “voter fraud” and “election irregularities.”
As such, they are determined to disregard the mandate Biden earned in an election that was not, by any measure, close. Biden currently leads Trump by 7,060,000 votes nationally and has received 51.3 percent of the popular vote. He’s got a higher percentage of the vote than any rival to an incumbent since Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt upended Republican Herbert Hoover in 1932. Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win, which was confirmed Monday in state capitols across the country, is even more impressive. He has secured a better Electoral College percentage than a dozen presidents who have been elected over the past 231 years, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
So who could object?
Meet Mo Brooks, the Republican Representative from northern Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Several years ago, the Lugar Center, which seeks to promote informed and honest debate in Washington, rated Brooks as the most partisan member of the House. And the congressman, who says Democratic supporters of racial justice are waging a “war on whites,” is determined to retain the title.
Brooks has been signaling for several weeks that he plans to lead a drive to object to the Electoral College result when it is formally presented for congressional review on January 6. Spouting the same pants-on-fire lies as Trump, Brooks says, “In my judgment, if only lawful votes by eligible American citizens were cast, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by a significant margin, and Congress’s certification should reflect that. This election was stolen by the socialists engaging in extraordinary voter fraud and election theft measures.”
Despite the fact that this is nonsense, Brooks says Republican House members are lining up to join in his fight to disrupt democracy. “Quite frankly, we might have to toss a coin or draw straws for the different states,” the congressman told Newsweek. “We have so many people that are wanting to do it.”
That’s an unsettling notion, but not a surprising one. Last week, 126 House Republicans, including minority leader Kevin McCarthy, minority whip Steve Scalise, and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer signed on to an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asking the US Supreme Court to block electoral votes from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia from being cast for Biden.
The high court rejected the lawsuit, as local, state, and federal courts have dismissed dozens of suits by Trump’s legal team. But, while jurists deal in facts and precedents, members of Congress like Brooks and the more than 60 percent of the House Republican Caucus who signed on to the brief in the Texas case are not compelled—or inclined—to accept reality. So Brooks is pressing forward, claiming, “We have a superior role under the Constitution than the Supreme Court does, than any federal court judge does, than any state court judge does. What we say, goes. That’s the final verdict.”
Not too many years ago, Brooks and his colleagues would have been dismissed as lunatics. Their antidemocratic plotting would have been regarded as a fool’s mission. After all that Trump and his party have put the country through, however, it cannot be so casually neglected.
For one thing, the president of the United States has embraced the project. After Brooks announced on December 3 that he would “object to and later vote to reject electoral college submissions from states whose election systems are so badly flawed as to render their vote submissions unreliable, untrustworthy, and unworthy of acceptance,” Trump tweeted, “Thank you to Representative Mo Brooks!”
For another thing, Brooks will very probably get the support he needs to at least briefly disrupt the acceptance of the electoral votes from key states. Under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, challenges of the sort that the representative proposes must be submitted in writing and signed by at least one member of the House and Senate. Along with his cadre of House colleagues, Brooks has likely allies in the Senate, where two Republicans—Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky—have already indicated that they are open to backing up this political skulduggery.
If the objection is recognized—in a process presided over by Vice President Mike Pence—the House and the Senate will each debate the issue and then vote on whether to accept it. This is where the Brooks scheme falls apart. The Democratic majority in the House will reject the objection, and it is likely that the Republican-controlled Senate will do the same, as several GOP members (including Utah’s Mitt Romney, Maine’s Susan Collins, and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse) have been bluntly critical of Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s victory.
But if the experience of 2020 is any indication, Trump, Brooks, and their allies—in Congress and in the streets—will make January 6, 2021, a chaotic day of lies and sore-loser griping from a president who refuses to accept the fact that he will soon be an ex-president. Congressional Democrats would be wise to prepare, as their job involves more than merely confirming an election result for the nominee of their party. They must defend democracy from an assault by authoritarian zealots who have made it abundantly clear that they intend to use and abuse the process to thwart the will of the people.