Now that 12 Trump cult members of the House of Representatives seem to have decided to oppose the acceptance of at least some of the electoral votes that gave the win in the Electoral college to Joe Biden, attention has shifted to what might happen on January 6th, the day that a joint session of Congress meets to finalize the election results. Objections on this day are not rare. They happened in 2001, 2005, and 2007. But they have never succeeded.
Here is what will happen, according to the Congressional Research Service, when the joint session of Congress meets “for the purpose of opening the 2020 presidential election electoral votes submitted by state government officials, certifying their validity, counting them, and declaring the official result of the election for President and Vice President.”
Section 15 establishes a procedure for making and acting on objections to the counting of one or more of the electoral votes from a state or the District of Columbia. When the certificate or equivalent paper from each state or the District of Columbia is read, “the President of the Senate shall call for objections, if any.” Any such objection must be presented in writing and must be signed by at least one Senator and one Representative. The objection “shall state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof.” During the joint session of January 6, 2001, the presiding officer intervened on several occasions to halt attempts to make speeches under the guise of offering an objection.
When an objection, properly made in writing and endorsed by at least one Senator and one Representative, is received, each house is to meet and consider it separately. The statute states, “No votes or papers from any other State shall be acted upon until the objections previously made to the votes or papers from any State shall have been finally disposed of.” However, in 1873, before enactment of the law now in force, the joint session agreed, without objection and for reasons of convenience, to entertain objections with regard to two or more states before the houses met separately on any of them.
The joint session does not act on any objections that are made. Instead, the joint session is suspended, the Senate withdraws from the House chamber, and each house meets separately to debate the objection and vote whether, based on the objection, to count the vote or votes in question. Both houses must vote separately to agree to the objection by simple majority.
Section 17 lays out procedures for each house to follow when debating and voting on an objection. These procedures limit debate on the objection to not more than two hours, during which each Member may speak only once and for not more than five minutes. Then “it shall be the duty of the presiding officer of each House to put the main question without further debate.”
The first test is whether any senator will sign on to the objections. If none do, then the process ends and the result is certified immediately. If one does, this process will merely delay the certification of Joe Biden as president by a few hours, since there is no chance that the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will vote to uphold the objections. The question is which senators are so desirous of toadying to Trump that they will sign on, because Trump will clearly see this as yet another loyalty test.
Attention is focused on what Mike Pence, who presides over the joint session, will do on that day. The objectors are hoping that he will use all his power as the wielder of the gavel to steer things in their favor. But if he ends up announcing that Biden is the winner, Trump will view that as a betrayal, since he seems to think that people in power can do whatever they want, Robert’s Rules of Order be damned.