“They’re not taking this White House, we’re gonna fight like hell,” President Donald Trump said during an election-eve appearance in Georgia to support two Senate incumbents in runoff races that will determine who controls the Senate.
Trump on Tuesday focused on the vote count in Congress for the Electoral College after campaigning for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and following President-elect Joe Biden’s appearance earlier in the day in Atlanta for Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Heavy usage of mail-in ballots has raised the possibility that the outcome of Georgia’s Senate races may not be known on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Trump’s “fight like hell” moves into a joint session of Congress, where a group of Republican lawmakers with Trump’s support will challenge the Electoral College vote affirming Biden as president in select states.
And officials in the nation’s capital fear that “the fight like hell” might happen in the capital’s streets as thousands of Trump supporters descend on Washington for rallies Tuesday and Wednesday to bolster the president’s unproven claims of widespread voter fraud. The protesters are expected to be confronted by anti-Trump demonstrators.
“There are people intent on coming to our city armed,” Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee said Monday.
On Monday, Washington police arrested the leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, after he arrived in Washington ahead of the protests. Tarrio was accused of burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was torn down from a historic African American church in downtown Washington during the December protests.
A warrant had been issued for Tarrio’s arrest for destruction of property, police said. He was also facing a weapons charges after officers found him with two high-capacity firearm magazines when he was arrested, a police spokesman said.
Concern over possible violence at the protests caused Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser to request that the National Guard support local police.
Trump has repeatedly encouraged this week’s protests. On Monday, a stage was being assembled for one of the protests on the Ellipse, just south of the White House. Trump tweeted that he “will be there” for that rally.
Organizers also plan a 1 pm march to the Capitol, when the joint session of Congress is to start.
The push by a group of Republican lawmakers to contest the Electoral College vote at the joint session is splitting the GOP, pitting Republicans against Republicans, including Trump.
On one side are Republican lawmakers saying they will object to the electoral vote count for Biden in certain states based on unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. Their actions also are being looked at as a loyalty test to the outgoing president and his large base of supporters.
On the other side, GOP members who say states not Congress decide the presidential election will acknowledge Biden’s victory. Those Republicans have drawn the wrath of Trump.
Writing on Twitter on Monday, Trump called them members of a “surrender caucus” who would go down in “infamy” as “weak and ineffective guardians” of the nation who were willing to “accept the certification of fraudulent presidential numbers!”
Three weeks ago, the Electoral College formally cast its votes for president, affirming Biden’s victory. Under the Constitution, there is one more step before the result is final: the joint session of Congress to certify the electoral votes to be conducted by the president of the Senate — Vice-President Mike Pence.
His role is prescribed in the Electoral Count Act of 1887 as basically ceremonial: open the certificates of the electoral votes from each state, present them to appointed “tellers” from the House and Senate in alphabetical order to count the votes, and at the end of the 50-state count, announce who won.
But at the Georgia rally on Monday, Trump put the onus on Pence to “come through for us” and challenge the vote result. “He’s a great guy. Of course if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much,” said Trump.
On Tuesday, Trump continued to pressure Pence, tweeting that he “has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors”. But the Constitution doesn’t grant the vice-president any such power.
Later on Tuesday, Reuters reported that Pence plans to make clear in his statements that he backs the president but will stick to the constraints of his role, a former White House official with regular contact with Pence’s team told Reuters.
“He will be very supportive of the president, but again he’ll stick to the Constitution,” the former adviser said.
As detailed in the Electoral Count Act, if a member from the House and the Senate object to an Electoral College slate in writing, both chambers must adjourn to their respective chambers, debate the objection for a maximum of two hours and then vote on the objection.
If Republicans lodge several objections, it will turn what historically has been a ceremonial act into a partisan session that could stretch on for hours.
But their objections won’t change the outcome.
Biden’s win will be certified by the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate, where there are enough GOP senators who have already said they will oppose efforts to object to the Electoral College vote, which Pence will read whenever the joint session ends: 306 for the former vice-president, 232 for Trump.