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Congress rejects first Republican objection to Biden victory

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Congress has rejected the first attempt by a group of Republican diehards to reject the electoral votes from a state won by Joe Biden, with several of the original group of Trump loyalists withdrawing their objections after rioting earlier in the US Capitol.

Members of the Senate and House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to accept Arizona’s presidential vote for Mr Biden, with several Republicans urging colleagues to end the process and quickly certify the Democrat’s victory in the wake of the hours-long mob attack. 

But a handful of holdouts — including Josh Hawley of Missouri, the first senator to publicly back Donald Trump’s scheme to nullify the presidential vote — indicated they would object to other states that went for Mr Biden, meaning the process was likely to stretch into the early morning hours. 

Congressional leaders were determined to restart the process on Wednesday night, defying the pro-Trump rioters who attempted to scupper the process by storming the Capitol.

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“The United States Senate will not be intimidated. We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, after his colleagues, escorted by a heavy presence of law enforcement, returned to the upper chamber.

“They tried to disrupt our democracy; they failed,” he added.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, wrote in a letter to colleagues that despite the “shameful assault” on the proceedings, rioters should not be allowed to “deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden”.

Before the process was interrupted by the rioters, a group of congressional Republicans had objected to electoral votes submitted by Arizona, which triggered an extended debate over Mr Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud. Republican lawmakers had been expected to object to the count in as many as six battleground states where the president lost.

But after the violence that unfolded on Wednesday afternoon, many lawmakers were emboldened to move ahead quickly and give a green light to Mr Biden’s presidency, and the push by some Republicans to thwart his election began to peter out.

Senators Steve Daines of Montana, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and James Lankford of Oklahoma all backtracked and said they would drop their objections to Mr Biden’s election. When the Arizona objection was finally put to a vote in the Senate, only six of the original 13 Trump hardliners voted against the state’s ballots, with 93 votes to approve. In the House, the margin was 303-121.

“What we are doing here tonight is actually very important because for those who have concerns about the integrity of our elections, those who have concerns of what happened in November, this is the appropriate means,” said Mr Hawley as the debate resumed on Wednesday night.

Ceremonial occasion becomes politically explosive

The electoral college certification by Congress on Wednesday marks the final — and normally routine — stage in the US election, paving the way for the inauguration of the new president on January 20.

At 1pm, US lawmakers from the House and the Senate gathered for a joint session presided over by Mike Pence, vice-president, to read aloud the certificates of the electoral votes contained in mahogany boxes after being sent by each state to Washington DC.

The process is usually swift and ceremonial. But Donald Trump, the US president and his Republican allies in Congress, have been counting on it as a last ditch, if quixotic, attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.

Once representatives from each state, in alphabetical order, read out their result, lawmakers can object, but the objection is only formalised if it is presented in writing by a member of each chamber.

At that point, the count is halted for up to two hours as lawmakers consider the objection and vote on it. Republicans had been set to mount objections to the counts in several states before a mob stormed the Capitol. Their actions had been expected to delay rather than scupper Mr Biden’s certification. 

The vice-president normally declares the winner of the election at the end of the proceedings.

He was fiercely criticised by Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former Republican presidential candidate, who followed Mr Hawley with a scathing riposte that earned a standing ovation from many Democrats.

“The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth,” Mr Romney said. “The truth is president-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost. I have had that experience myself. It’s no fun.”

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina and Trump critic turned close ally of the president, made an impassioned plea for his colleagues to certify the results.

“Trump and I, we have had a hell of a journey,” Mr Graham said. “All I can say is, count me out, enough is enough.”

The Republican repudiation of Mr Trump’s efforts was led by Mike Pence, the vice-president, who opened the joint session of Congress by writing to Capitol Hill leaders that he lacked the authority as presiding officer in the Senate to tamper with the vote count in the outgoing president’s favour.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house,” Mr Pence said as the session restarted on Wednesday night. “The world will again witness the resilience, and strength of our democracy.”

The electoral college certification is normally a pro forma exercise that has become a political lightning rod because of Mr Trump’s campaign to overthrow the November results.

Mr Trump has continued to insist he won the November election, even after the riots on Capitol Hill. Before the assault, Mr Trump used a speech to supporters who had congregated near the Capitol to lash out at Republicans refusing to back his attempt to cling to power.

“They’re weak Republicans. They’re pathetic Republicans,” Mr Trump said of lawmakers who had not joined the effort to block Mr Biden from being sworn in on January 20.

In his speech, Mr Trump repeated his erroneous claim that Mr Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 result. “Mike Pence is gonna have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country,” he said.

He added: “Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our constitution, and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you, I will tell you right now. I’m not hearing good stories.”

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