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Insights, scoops, and analysis of the most important election season of our lives
The House passed a resolution Tuesday night urging Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump from office “immediately.” If Pence does not act within 24 hours, House Democrats have vowed to move forward with impeachment. The House voted 223-205 to approve the resolution, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) the lone Republican joining the majority.
Pence will almost certainly ignore the House’s demand. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier in the day, Pence wrote, “I will not now yield to efforts in the House of Representatives to play political games at a time so serious in the life of our Nation.”
House Democrats have already drawn up an article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection,” and they are likely to vote on impeachment tomorrow. The impeachment resolution also has several Republican supporters, including Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who serves in party leadership.
There were five words Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) refused to say at a House Rules Committee meeting Tuesday: “The election was not stolen.”
During a heated exchange with committee chair Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jordan repeatedly dodged McGovern’s demands that he admit the election was not stolen. At the same time, Jordan attempted to shirk responsibility for promoting dangerous conspiracy theories, claiming that he never asserted that Joe Biden stole the election and was simply questioning the constitutionality of certain states’ election processes.
“I never once said that this thing was stolen,” he said Tuesday. “I said there were major problems, and when you’ve got a third of the electorate who think it was stolen, that’s not a healthy situation for our nation.”
Jim Jordan claimed that he "never once said that [the election] was stolen." But the attempt to shirk responsibility for promoting dangerous conspiracy theories doesn't quite hold up.
It’s hard to square Jordan’s insistence that he “never once said that this thing was stolen” with his statements on the House floor last week shortly before pro-Trump rioters forced the body into a six-hour lockdown.
“Americans instinctively know there was something wrong with this election,” he said on January 6. “During the campaign, Vice President Biden would do an event and he’d get 50 people at the event. President Trump at just one rally gets 50,000 people.”
“President Trump increased his vote with African Americans; increased his vote with Hispanic Americans; won 19 of 20 bellwether counties; won Ohio by 8, Iowa by 8, and Florida by 3. He got 11 million more votes than he did in 2016, and House Republicans won 27 of 27 tossup races,” he continued. “But somehow the guy who never left his house wins the election?”
Jordan may not have explicitly uttered the words, “The election was stolen”—just as Trump never explicitly implored his supporters to storm the Capitol. But, as we saw last week, a heavy implication will do the trick.
After a Trump-incited mob stormed the Capitol yesterday, a growing number of Democrats—including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi*—are calling for Trump’s removal from office, whether through Vice President Mike Pence’s invocation of the 25th Amendment or through impeachment in Congress. Still, with 13 days left before Biden’s inauguration, it’s not clear how likely or feasible this will be.
But despite rioters’ best efforts, Biden will be inaugurated on January 20. Following Republicans’ protracted objections to the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, Congress finally certified Biden’s presidential victory shortly after 3:30 a.m. ET Thursday. Pence’s definitive bang of the gavel capped off a 14-hour day that left at least one person dead and shook a nation already on edge amid the most severe phase of the coronavirus pandemic. (All of this, I should point out, has overshadowed Democrats’ retaking the Senate through a historic double victory in Georgia’s Senate runoffs.)
As the aftermath of yesterday’s violence continues to unfold, we’ll be keeping track of the latest developments on our liveblog, our Twitter, and our site. I hope you follow along with us.
*Correction: The newsletter originally sent to readers referred to Mitch McConnell as the House majority leader. McConnell is the Senate majority leader and does not support Trump’s removal from office. The post has also been updated to reflect Pelosi is the House Speaker. We regret the errors.
This post was brought to you by the Mother Jones Daily newsletter, which hits inboxes every weekday and is written by Inae Oh, BenDreyfuss, and Abigail Weinberg. It regularly features guest contributions by our much smarter colleagues. Sign up for it here.
In what may have been his most personal, direct, and poignant speech to date, President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday condemned Wednesday’s violence on Capitol Hill, denounced President Trump for inciting the riot, and reflected on the events in American history that led to this moment.
Biden took a hard-line stance on the pro-Trump throng that smashed the windows of the Capitol Building and ransacked the interior. “Don’t dare call them protesters,” he said. “They were a riotous mob. Insurrectionists. Domestic terrorists. It’s that basic.”
And, he noted, those domestic terrorists wouldn’t have acted without Trump’s leadership. “I wish we could say we couldn’t see it coming,” Biden said. “The past four years, we’ve had a president who’s made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done. He unleashed an all-out assault on our institutions of our democracyfrom the outset, and yesterday was the culmination of that unrelenting attack.”
One of the most striking moments of the speech came when Biden described the message his college-aged granddaughter sent him: “Pop, this isn’t fair,” alongside a photo of military personnel lining the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during a Black Lives Matter protest this summer.
“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” Biden said, echoing an observation made countless times on social media yesterday. “We all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable.”
Biden further suggested that the Department of Justice has strayed from its original purpose of stamping out the racism that pervaded the country during Reconstruction. The DOJ “was formed in 1870 to enforce the Civil Rights Amendment that grew out of the Civil War,” he said, “to stand up to the Klan, to stand up to racism, to take on domestic terrorism.”
He concluded, “This original spirit must again guide and animate its work.”
Watch the opening of Biden’s address below:
"We could see it coming." Addressing the American people, Joe Biden called out Donald Trump for "unleashing an all-out assault on our institutions of our democracy from the outset." You have to watch: pic.twitter.com/Hi9UrFjzIX
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani speaks at Save America Rally on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington on January 6, 2021. Yuri Gripas/AP
An hour before Congress was set to reconvene to certify the Electoral College results—as the Capitol was still recovering from a violent, pro-Trump mob—Rudy Giuliani was making phone calls.
In a voicemail that Giuliani intended for Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), the president’s lawyer urged Tuberville to “try to just slow it down” by objecting to electoral votes from “numerous states” in order to buy Trump’s team more time to try to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. Giuliani said that the president hoped to contest a whopping 10 states. But unfortunately for Giuliani, he called the wrong senator, and the audio was leaked to the Dispatch.
Here is the transcript:
Senator Tuberville? Or I should say Coach Tuberville. This is Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer. I’m calling you because I want to discuss with you how they’re trying to rush this hearing and how we need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you. And I know they’re reconvening at 8 tonight, but it … the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow—ideally until the end of tomorrow.
I know McConnell is doing everything he can to rush it, which is kind of a kick in the head because it’s one thing to oppose us, it’s another thing not to give us a fair opportunity to contest it. And he wants to try to get it down to only three states that we contest. But there are 10 states that we contest, not three. So if you could object to every state and, along with a congressman, get a hearing for every state, I know we would delay you a lot, but it would give us the opportunity to get the legislators who are very, very close to pulling their vote, particularly after what McConnell did today. It angered them, because they have written letters asking that you guys adjourn and send them back the questionable ones and they’ll fix them up.
So, this phone number, I’m available on all night, and it would be an honor to talk to you. Thank you.
This from the man who began the day at a Trump rally outside the White House by calling for “trial by combat.”
In early November, at the start of the bullshit lawsuits and the “stop the steal” chants, I began wondering: Is this a coup? Donald Trump’s fight to overturn the election may have been sloppy and fatuous and entirely self-interested, but why should we think an American-style coup—or self-coup—would be anything but? Why wouldn’t it start as a joke and end in disaster? And in any case coups aren’t as exotic as we might want to believe. From even the most basic knowledge of the history of my home state of North Carolina, I knew coups had happened here, only to be purposely wiped from the historical record.
So I put the question to a variety of thoughtful historians, scholars, and writers, as well as some people who have launched a few coups of their own (like Henry Kissinger and Oliver North): Does Trump’s challenge of the election result constitute a coup? The responses varied. You can read them all here.
As insurrectionists took to Capitol Hill this morning, I began emailing everyone again to ask the same question. Is this a coup? As I get responses, I will post them below.
Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times bureau chief and author of Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, who in November said it was not yet a coup but we could be seeing “preparations for” one.
My friends in other countries have repeatedly assured me that there can never be a coup in the United States because there is no American Embassy here.
Some thoughts on what we are seeing, why it is not a coup, what sort of bad thing it is, and what might make it a coup attempt.
First, yes we have been seeing an effort by Trump to remain in power, using various means. And yes, what we saw today was Trump supporters using force to disrupt a democratic transition. But think about what we didn’t see – he didn’t use any of the security forces, just rabble.
In the call to the GA Sec of State, he tried to convince and cajole the other man to “find” votes, but he didn’t use state power to force him to do so. Today we see citizens who support Trump engage in illegal activities to try to keep him in power, but no state security forces.
Why am I hung up on this distinction? Because (a) he is operating as the head of a movement rather than the head of state and (b) these gambits are still very weak and easy to defeat. The GA call was leaked. Police forces can deal with this rabble. A coup would be different.
I mean, heck, police forces have dispersed far larger groups of protesters all over America. They have used far more force against peaceful protesters. Or people not engaged in criminal activity. And they have enough force to deal with this crowd. As does the national guard.
Earlier reports that the DoD may have refused a request for support did worry me. Not because DC needs the National Guard to deal with these guys, but because we do not want the military to do anything that tacitly supports this mob.
In fact, that is one way we might see a coup/autogolpe. If there was mass protest in support of Trump (armed or unarmed) and the military refused to stop the protestors as they took over and seized power. This is what many revolutions look like. The Arab Spring worked this way.
But there will be no Trump Spring or Trump Revolution with an accompanying coup where the uniformed military determines who will be in power by refusing to stop mass action. We are nowhere near that. And there are plenty of tools to deal with the current scenario.
The police can deal with this small group of violent individuals. They can also deal with their ringleaders. And we can respond politically (and legally) to punish those who were responsible for the situation. Even where there is no legal penalty, there should be a social one.
We should focus on the threat, the actors who are engaging in violence, their organizers, their moral supporters, their inspiration, and deal with each one accordingly.
What is this? It looks like sedition to me, although I am not a lawyer. Treat it as such.
And added in his message:
The gist of it is that it is not a coup because he is not using the state’s authority, he’s using his position as a leader of a movement. The latter is a much weaker position from which to attempt to remain in power / seize power. The different diagnosis suggests a different method for addressing the problem.
Dr. Manisha Sinha, a historian of the Civil War and abolition, who called Trump’s maneuvering a potential “slow-moving coup” when I asked in November:
It is an attempted coup forget all the fancy words like an autogolpe. A woman has died it was an insurrection to disrupt the democratic process. These are our modern day secessionists and Confederates. They must feel the full weight of the state’s punitive arm!
Laura Seay, a political scientist who has studied the Democratic Republic of Congo, who believed it was not a coup “yet” in November:
I don’t think this is a coup attempt, both because neither the military nor other organized armed forces are involved, and because the people involved don’t seem to be attempting to take control of government or any other institutions (ie, transportation infrastructure or telecommunications systems). All they have tried to do (and accomplished) is stopping one branch of it from functioning for an afternoon. This is a serious sign of democratic decline, it is an insurrection, and it is sedition, but it does not meet the technical definition of a coup.
Chris Mullin, the Labour politician and journalist who authored the novel A Very British Coup, who thought Trump might try if he “get away with it but US institutions seem robust enough to prevent it”:
An attempted coup by Trump perhaps, but as I said before US institutions are sufficiently to resist. The judges, the military, the police, most senators and congress members have in the last analysis all come down on the side of the constitution. In the end the rule of law will prevail. Which is not to say that the scenes at the Capitol aren’t truly shocking. Trump and those who continue to pretend that the election was rigged have been playing a very dangerous game.
Dr. Josef Woldense, a professor of African and African-American Studies who studies elite politics and authoritarian regimes:
I stick with my previous comments. Nothing that happened since has swayed me otherwise. In fact, it only cemented my position on Trump and his supporters.
Here is what he said last time:
Just as a warning, my answer is not a straightforward one. This is not because I’m trying to evade your question, but because there are multiple issues embedded in the question.
Is “this” a coup? Before discussing the semantics of using the term coup, let me start with what I see as the core issue. Is what we’re seeing from Trump tantamount to say, a basketball coach demanding that referees revisit a potentially erroneous call against their player? Or a tennis player disputing an out of bounds call and demanding the chair umpire to revisit the decision? In short, are the current events just an innocuous feature of electoral competition?
The answer is no. What Trump is disputing is not whether the votes were counted properly. Instead, the dispute is over the very idea of him ever losing. Starting with Hilary Clinton, Trump made his dictum clear: If I win, it is despite you cheating and if I lose, it is because you cheated. In this world, the very possibility of an opponent beating Trump simply doesn’t exist. It is erased from the world. Challenging the veracity of the ballots is just an exercise of making that world a reality.
So where is the value in using the word coup? Well, it signals what we are currently witnessing is a deliberate attempt by regime insiders to marshal state resources to unseat the incoming ruler. The specific state resource that is being invoked—e.g., US AG, courts, electoral commissioner, state reps, etc.,—is incidental to the broader project of bringing about the world where Trump prevails in power. No matter what.
If your goal is to raise the alarm about a potential hostile takeover orchestrated from within the regime, then sure, use the word coup (or self-coup). I would caution you from invoking scholarly research, because then, the word coup will take on a more precise meaning that is likely to be at odds with what’s happening here. Nonetheless, more than the term itself, what is crucial is to highlight the common thread, the Trump dictum and the means by which he and his allies try to make it a reality.
Henri Barkey, a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, who said in November that “having lived through a number of coups and accused of organizing one, this is not a coup”:
It still is not a coup attempt; to call it a coup the events including the violence would have had a chance of success. We know that they did not have a snowball’s chance in hell. At best, we can call it an attempted insurrection by an unruly and leaderless mob. Even Trump knows there was no chance of success; all he was trying to do is set the stage for 2024, but in my view he destroyed that stage.
Dr. Asef Bayat, a sociologist who has studied Arab revolutions, and called it a “coup attempt” when last asked:
This does look like a “coup attempt,” but American style. What we have seen in the past few weeks are attempts by someone to hold on to power extra-legally. First, through hoping to get sympathetic courts to rule in his favor, then to pressure and intimidate state/local officials to “find” votes for him, then pressuring the Vice President to disallow certification of Biden’s win, and then, today, January 6, by inciting a mob to violently disrupt and deny certification of the next president. To me these attempts look like a coup. But it is American style, in that there are established and independent institutions whose logic of operation dejects extra-legal and transactional mode of taking or holding on political power. So, Trump pressures Georgia’s secretary of the state to “find” votes but the official refuses because that there are simply no other votes to find. This logic of operation subverts Trump’s claims and pressure. On the other hand, unlike many conventional coups, this “coup attempt” lacks coercive/military force at its disposal, at least so far, and consequently does not have enough teeth to cut. Finally, this peculiar coup attempt might be able to deny legitimate power to a legitimate constituency (Biden administration), but it is not clear how and if at all it can secure power to the coup-maker.
Georgia Democratic candidates for US Senate Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff at a campaign rally on November 15, 2020, in Marietta, Georgia.Brynn Anderson/AP
On a surreal day marked by violence and chaos spurred by Trump-supporting insurrectionists on Capitol Hill, Democrat Jon Ossoff officially won a tight runoff election against incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue in Georgia, according to ABC and NBC. His victory, along with that of the Reverend Raphael Warnock, who officially defeated Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the early hours of the morning, ensures Democrats will control the US Senate and makes way for the Biden administration to pursue its ambitious legislative agenda.
Warnock and Ossoff have been elected to represent Georgia in the Senate after a pair of agonizingly close campaigns. Both races went to a runoff when the candidates failed to surpass the 50 percent threshold in the November general election. The Democrats’ historic double victory will officially split the party breakdown of the Senate, with Vice President–elect Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaking vote. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who for years has stymied the Democratic-controlled House’s efforts to pass progressive legislation, will assume a new title: Senate minority leader. Sen. Chuck Schumer will now take the gavel.
Ossoff claimed victory earlier Wednesday morning, when he was leading Perdue by about 16,000 votes. At 33 years old, Ossoff is the youngest Democrat elected to the Senate since President-elect Joe Biden took office at age 28 in 1973. He will also be Georgia’s first Jewish senator.
But, in a state where nearly a third of the population is Black, Warnock’s victory is particularly poignant. As Becca Andrews reported yesterday, Warnock will be Georgia’s first Black senator, and the second Black senator to represent the South since Reconstruction.
The Democratic victory, though, was largely overshadowed by the chaotic events at the Capitol, which had at least temporarily halted the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. As our colleagues write:
Insurrectionists aiming to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election sent Washington, DC, into chaos on Wednesday, storming past police barricades into the Capitol building and shutting down a congressional session intended to formally certify Joe Biden’s victory. Inside the House of Representatives chamber, a protester screamed, “Trump won that election!” from the dais.
The Reverend Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, won a historic victory on Tuesday against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a tight runoff election to head to the US Senate, according to the Associated Press and multiple other outlets.
As of early Wednesday morning, control of the Senate still hung in the balance—but looked poised to flip to Democratic control, with the other runoff election in Georgia, between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. David Perdue, leaning toward an Ossoff win. If Ossoff prevails, the pair of narrow Democratic wins will be a remarkable result, splitting the party breakdown in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote when necessary, and deposing Sen. Mitch McConnell as majority leader.
Warnock’s victory is one for the books: He will be the first Black senator from Georgia, and the second Black senator elected to represent the South since Reconstruction. Warnock declared victory in livestreamed remarks, saying, “I am so honored by the faith that you have shown in me, and I promise you this: I am going to the Senate to work for Georgia, all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election.” (Loeffler also spoke to supporters but did not concede.) I profiled the pastor from Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church back in October, exploring how faith informs his politics:
There is a clear line from this pulpit, from loving your neighbor as yourself, to the core values of democracy. So it makes sense that many of Warnock’s energies, particularly over the past several years, have been channeled into helping people exercise their right to vote.
“The meaning of our covenant with one another is played out, and public policy seems to give more and more to the richest of the rich and less and less to the poorest of the poor,” he tells me. “After a while, that begins to cause the fabric of democracy to begin to fray, and if we don’t defend it, the voices of ordinary people will get crowded out of the process and become more and more disconnected from the process itself.”
The races—which once would have been low-profile affairs coming on the heels of the holiday season—have dominated national headlines since November, when the state turned blue for the first time in nearly 30 years. It proved to be the most expensive single election in American history: nearly $833 million between the two races, according to Open Secrets. Both races went to a runoff since the candidates fell below the 50 percent threshold in the November general election.
The state has been something of a ground zero for President Donald Trump’s seemingly endless war with reality; he has been crying foul over his upset there, demanding multiple recounts, and most recently pressuring the Georgia secretary of state to “find” him enough nonexistent votes to change the result.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris campaigns with Democratic Senate candidate the Rev. Raphael Warnock in Georgia.Ben Gray/AP
At events and rallies for the Reverend Raphael Warnock, there are a few constants: a sea of cars; a small stage that serves a rotating cast of local politicians and activists, and, eventually, Warnock himself; and a not insignificant number of men, of all ages, sporting black, gold, and white.
While there was an underlying sense of grief at a drive-in rally last month in Albany, Georgia—home to one of the earliest coronavirus superspreader events, which particularly impacted the local Black community—the men donning the colors of Alpha Phi Alpha were still joyful, excitedly calling back and forth to each other, laughing, bumping elbows. While a few pleas made from the rally stage to physically distance were clearly pointed at them, they’re brothers, and one of their own is in a nail-biting runoff for a US Senate seat. And if he wins, he’ll make history as Georgia’s first Black senator. Following a year with so much grief and anguish, of course they wanted to celebrate.
Even as Warnock addressed the pain of loss, paired with the burdens of voter suppression and continued police violence against Black men, his brothers offered their support; one of them periodically raised a sign in response to his speech, pumping it in sync with the sound of cars honking: BLACK VOTERS MATTER.
Warnock was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha Inc., the oldest historically Black fraternity in the country, in Harlem, New York in 1993. “In a word, it means ‘service’ for me,” Warnock explained in a video on Twitter late last year. “It’s also a great fellowship. It’s a wonderful way of connecting to other men with similar values. And while I am a proud Alpha man…there’s a lot of love between all these fraternities and sororities.”
As a nonprofit, Alpha Phi Alpha cannot and does not endorse political candidates, but members do fiercely believe in supporting one another and in being a force of good in their communities. “It is important that we support [Warnock] and show the community that we are behind him,” Albany State University’s chapter president Benny Hand told me at the December drive-in rally. “But more importantly, we agree with his policies, and we believe that his policies will be beneficial to the community that we advocate for.”
Over the past year, much attention has been paid to the role of these Black Greek institutions in political organizing—specifically in the rise of Vice President–elect Kamala Harris, who was an Alpha Kappa Alpha at Howard. But while the media narrative about their political activity was (understandably) frequentlycenteredon Harris, the work has never been about just one person—as proven by these men working to boost their brother’s candidacy in a critical race that could determine the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.
“This is nothing new,” Maisha Land, an Atlanta resident and Alpha Kappa Alpha, tells me. “We don’t just pioneer for ourselves, we pioneer for everybody—but Black women do that all the time.” Black Greek institutions indeed have deep roots in organizing and political leadership that reach all the way back to their origin stories. And Warnock wouldn’t be the first member of Congress from the Divine Nine, as the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities are known; beyond Harris, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) is a member of Delta Sigma Theta, and Georgia’s new congresswoman, Rep. Nikema Williams, is also an Alpha Kappa Alpha.
As Land adds, “Media is only talking about it because they have a spotlight on Kamala. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be talking about it either—and when it settles, they’ll stop talking about.”
While that may be the case, there is no denying the role the Divine Nine have played in this year’s election cycle—in boosting voter access, in elevating Harris, and in Warnock’s historic campaign.
All it takes is a quick Google search to see that fraternities and sororities allover thecountry this year organized expansive efforts to register voters, expand ballot access, and demystify the voting process—crucial work particularly in the midst of a pandemic that caused a lot of confusion and fear.
Notably, in October, Land, who owns a dance studio in Atlanta, organized and choreographed a “Stroll to the Polls” video that went viral. Set to Lizzo’s “Like a Girl,” Land and 19 other women affiliated with Black sororities dance (in heels, no less) against a backdrop of vibrant city murals celebrating Black women to encourage voting. A few weeks later, Saturday Night Live aired a skit featuring Kenan Thompson, called “Strollin’,” that juxtaposed the deep dedication Black people have to voting with the barriers they face in exercising their right to vote. While the SNL skit was not focused specifically on Black Greek organizing, the two videos together offered a jarring, apt representation of the enthusiasm and power that come out of the Divine Nine and the tradition of strolling to the polls, and the way white supremacist systems work to stymie Black voters. “Your vote is everything,” Land says. “You don’t have access to money, resources without a vote.”
This sentiment was felt in a mid-December Zoom rally, which was attended by Rep. Williams and brought together Black Greeks from across the country in support of Warnock’s run. While the gathering was mostly dedicated to Warnock’s stump speech, the power of the Greek networks was evident as folks logged on from all over the country and participated in something of a virtual roll call in the comments—everyone typing out their name, their affiliation, and often some cheer of support for their fraternity or sorority. Meredith Lilly, a senior adviser for the Warnock campaign and an Alpha Kappa Alpha, summed up the atmosphere: “Our call is a family call tonight.”
To his brothers and sisters watching, Warnock said, “I’m just deeply honored because we are a part of the ongoing project of ancestors who believe in America and loved America until America could learn to love us back.”
The Warnock campaign ranks are stacked with people who belong to Delta Theta Sigma, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha (of course), and others. Phillana Williams, the campaign’s surrogates director, estimates that most of the campaign staff carries a Divine Nine affiliation. Williams herself is a graduate of the University of Houston, where she pledged Delta Sigma Theta. On the phone Sunday from one of Warnock’s final drive-in rallies in Savannah, where Harris was speaking in support of Warnock, Williams mentioned that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, another Delta, was also in attendance. (“We’re everywhere!” she joked.) In between bouts of enthusiastic honking, Williams, who joined the Warnock staff after working on the Biden-Harris campaign last year, made note of how Black Greeks were a powerful force in lobbying Biden to choose a woman of color for his VP. “We’ve always been a very strong community,” she said. “And when we come together, we come together stronger.”
Williams essentially grew up in the Divine Nine. Many of her family members belong to sororities and fraternities, and a commitment to public service and social justice was instilled in her from a young age partly through their memberships. In Warnock, she sees clearly the influence of Alpha Phi Alpha and the Divine Nine network.
“I see it in the campaign, I see it in his leadership,” she said. “He’s a man of morals, and he has strong values, and I absolutely know that those values have been implemented in him from that experience [in Alpha Phi Alpha]—and not only that experience, because it’s a continued experience, it’s a lifelong commitment.”
In fact, several brothers and sisters told me of how belonging to a Black Greek organization is a lifetime membership, which creates a deep and valuable well of intergenerational knowledge. That sort of building-blocks approach is particularly useful in political organizing, a game in which human nature is a constant, and the main change that requires attention is modes of outreach. By way of explanation, Land uses an allegory about standing at a concert. “Well, I can see because I’ve been growing longer than you and I’m taller than you…So what I do, and what we do as elders, is we take you and we pick you up and we put you on our shoulders, so that you can see what we can see. But the beauty of being on my shoulders is…that you can see past what I can see,” she says. “Your job is to tell me what you can see and pass it down to me. So if I need to tell you to look to the left or to the right, I can help you continue that vision. But we can’t do it without each other…but don’t diminish the fact that you have to climb on my shoulders.”
Percival Galloway, an Alpha Phi Alpha chapter president in Augusta, Georgia, echoed this generational commitment when we spoke recently. “Alphas throughout history have always fought against social injustices and fought for the downtrodden,” he said about Warnock’s candidacy. “Our motto is, ‘First of all, servants of all, we shall transcend all’—he’s a servant, a lot of Alphas are servants at heart for their communities.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that Rev. Warnock was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha during his time at Morehouse; he joined the fraternity after he had graduated Morehouse.
Donald Trump’s Monday night rally in Dalton, Georgia, was intended, ostensibly, to garner support for Republican senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue ahead of the state’s Tuesday runoff election, which will determine the balance of power in the Senate.
But the rally seemed more like final opportunity for Trump to savor the pomp and circumstance of the presidency and to repeat the tired, thoroughly debunked claims of election fraud he’s been peddling since before Election Day.
After arriving on Marine One two hours after he was originally scheduled to speak, Trump launched into a roughly 80-minute rant in which he railed against “big tech” and the “fake news media”; threatened to campaign against Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp during the next gubernatorial primary; incited chants of “lock her up”—referring to Hillary Clinton—from the largely maskless crowd; and insisted, despite three separate tallies favoring Biden, that he had won the presidential election in Georgia.
“You can lose, and that’s acceptable,” Trump said, “but when you win in a landslide and they steal it and it’s rigged, it’s not acceptable.” Throughout the evening, Trump repeatedly and falsely claimed victory: “I’ve had two elections, I won both of them. I actually did much better in the second one.”
Trump deployed a litany of specific-yet-bogus numbers to bolster his false claims, just as he had during his problematic call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday. State officials should be conducting an “audit,” he insisted yet again, of election results that have been verified repeatedly.
Perdue, who is quarantining after coming into close contact with someone with the coronavirus, gave a brief virtual address. Loeffler spoke for about 90 seconds, closing with a vow to object to the Electoral College’s vote on Wednesday. The rest was pure Trump Show.
One day after audio leaked of Donald Trump begging Georgia’s secretary of state to somehow “find” enough votes to overturn the state’s election results, a top Georgia election official systematically debunked each “easily, provably false” claim of voter fraud the outgoing president made.
Standing in front of a poster board titled “CLAIM VS FACT” in the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, voting system implementation manager Gabriel Sterling explained that no dead people voted, no people under age 18 on Election Day voted, no stacks of ballots were scanned twice, and no voting machines erroneously flipped votes. In short, the Georgia ballots, which have been counted three times, definitively favor Joe Biden.
“We have seen nothing in our investigations of any of these data claims that shows there’s nearly enough ballots to change the outcome,” Sterling said.
"The president wanted us to do a hand recount," said Gabriel Sterling, a voting systems implementation manager. And they did.
In an hourlong call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday, Trump repeated his claims of election fraud, demanded that Raffensperger “find 11,780 votes,” and insisted that it was impossible for him to have lost the state—all this after attempting to reach Raffensperger 18 different times.
“This is all easily, provably false,” Sterling said of Trump’s fraud claims. “Yet the president persists, and by doing so undermines Georgians’ faith in the election system—especially Republican Georgians in this case—which is important because we have a big election coming up tomorrow, and everybody deserves to have their vote counted if they want it to be, Republican and Democrat alike.”
Watch Sterling’s exasperated explanation below:
Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia election official, just debunked all of the president’s claims of voter fraud. And he sounds tired. pic.twitter.com/WGUmUmzw1t
Finally, something Trump and Democrats agree on: Americans deserve more than $600 in individual stimulus payments.
Yesterday, the House passed a bill with bipartisan support to increase individual stimulus checks to $2,000, but today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring the measure to a vote in the Senate. Instead, McConnell wanted the Senate not only to increase stimulus aid, but also to indulge Trump’s irrelevant demands that the election be investigated, and that social media companies’ immunity from certain liability be curbed. “This week the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus,” McConnell said.
Trump and McConnell do not seem to be on the same page. Today, quote-tweeting a Washington Post article headlined, “McConnell blocks Democrats’ attempt to quickly approve $2,000 stimulus checks amid pressure on GOP to act,” Trump wrote, “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!”
Perhaps Trump had surpassed his Washington Post monthly article limit, because the link he attached explains that McConnell’s lack of action was a direct result of his having acquiesced to the president’s nonsensical demands. McConnell wants to figure out a way to wedge the repeal of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from having any liability for the content their users upload, into an otherwise straightforwardbill that Republican Senators—including David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia—would be willing to sign.
Keep in mind that the bill authorizing higher stimulus checks is separate from the defense bill that Trump vetoed in part because it didn’t repeal Section 230. In a bipartisan vote yesterday, the House overrode Trump’s veto, and the Senate may be poised to do the same. This small act of disobedience on the part of congressional Republicans has led Trump to antagonize those who have stuck by his side most loyally for the past four years. “Weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’ will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass,” he tweeted this morning. “A disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech. Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA until fixed!!!”
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Mr. Trump’s list of pardons on Tuesday included four former U.S. service members who were convicted on charges related to the killing of Iraqi civilians while working as contractors for Blackwater in 2007.
One of them, Nicholas Slatten, had been sentenced to life in prison after the Justice Department had gone to great lengths to prosecute him. Mr. Slatten had been a contractor for the private company Blackwater and was sentenced for his role in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad — a massacre that left one of the most lasting stains of the war on the United States. Among those dead were two boys, 8 and 11.
Today, Donald Trump gave US soldiers who haven’t been convicted of war crimes an early lump of coal:
President Donald Trump on Wednesday vetoed the sweeping defense bill that both chambers of Congress recently passed by veto-proof majorities…[sparking] an immediate rebuke from GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said that the defense bill must become law.
“The NDAA has become law every year for 59 years straight because it’s absolutely vital to our national security and our troops. This year must not be an exception. Our men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform shouldn’t be denied what they need— ever,” Inhofe tweeted.
Someone didn’t check their list twice!
Trump, a little baby who needs his bottle, vetoed the military spending bill because he is mad that Twitter and Facebook had the audacity to put flags on his lies about the election.
Sidney Powell is a name you probably had never heard until a month or two ago, but for the last 10 weeks she’s been unavoidable. The MAGA lawyer has worked tirelessly to overturn the 2020 election results, a goal at which she has been wildly unsuccessful. In furtherance of said failure she has played the game conspiracy and spun all manner of yarn, filing lawsuits in various states accusing various officials and voting equipment companies of being Venezuelan agents. All of this has obviously been bullshit and Powell has earned infamy in her brief time on the national stage for outdoing even the most bizarre and deranged members of the Trump team.
President Trump on Friday discussed making Sidney Powell, who as a lawyer for his campaign team unleashed a series of conspiracy theories about a Venezuelan plot to rig voting machines in the United States, a special counsel investigating voter fraud, according to two people briefed on the discussion.
Most of his advisers opposed the idea, two of the people briefed on the discussion said…
Ms. Powell accused other Trump advisers of being quitters, according to the people briefed.
But the idea that Mr. Trump would try to install Ms. Powell in a position to investigate the outcome sent shock waves through the president’s circle. She has repeatedly claimed there was widespread fraud, but several lawsuits she filed related to election fraud have been tossed out of court.
The move to name Powell as special counsel was opposed by most of Trump’s advisers as apparently being too out there. One person suggested the president issue “an executive order to take control of voting machines to examine them, according to one of the people briefed.” But that was apparently shot down by White Counsel Pat Cipollone.
Rudy Guiliani also opposed Powell, but has been pushing his own version of the seize the voting machines plan.
“Mr. Giuliani has separately pressed the Department of Homeland Security to seize possession of voting machines as part of a push to overturn the results of the election, three people familiar with the discussion said. Mr. Giuliani was told the department does not have the authority to do such a thing.”
Last but not least was Michael Flynn…
During the meeting, the president asked about Flynn’s suggestion of deploying the military, those briefed said. That was also shot down.
Well, it’s good it was shot down I guess? Pretty crazy that it was even brought up, to be honest!
Will Trump move forward with his Sidney Powell plan? Who knows. Apparently soon to be former Attorney General Bill Barr opposed naming a special counsel to investigate election fraud or Hunter Biden, but he’s on his way out.
It goes without saying that this is all terrible and everyone involved should be ashamed.
On Wednesday, the day after the Electoral College selected Joe Biden as the country’s next president, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) chaired a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to explore alleged “irregularities” in the 2020 election. While Johnson said the hearing was intended to bolster confidence in the outcome, most of the witnesses he invited echoed claims made by supporters of President Donald Trump that courts have already foundfalse.
But the star speaker was former Trump administration official Chris Krebs, who until recently led the Department of Homeland Security agency tasked with coordinating federal efforts to help states and local jurisdictions upgrade election security. While Krebs broadly addressed what he saw in his time in the post, he kept returning to a single point: The continued trumpeting of such inaccurate claims is dangerous.
“We’re going to have to move past this somehow,” Krebs said, warning that failing to could jeopardize the republic. “It requires commitment and follow-through on both sides. If a party fails to participate in the process and instead undermines the process, we risk losing that democracy. We have to come back together as a country.”
Witnesses who backed Trump and his allies’ unsubstantiated claims of fraud included Ken Starr, who had pushed for the Pennsylvania legislature to disregard the outcome of the state’s election and appoint its own electors, and Jesse Binnall, a Trump campaign attorney in Nevada who’d claimed that roughly 87,000 votes in the state were improper or illegal—a figure a state court found was not based in fact, a conclusion that was later backed up by Nevada’s Supreme Court. Another witness was James Troupis, whose failed legal efforts in Wisconsin prompted a liberal state supreme court justice to say his allegations “smack of racism” and a Trump-appointed federal judge to say the claims “fail as a matter of law and fact.”
In his testimony, Krebs decried threats made against election administrators as a result of Trump’s attacks and the consistent undermining of confidence in the system, and called on members of the president’s party to take a different course. “I would appreciate more support from my own party, the Republican Party, to call this stuff out and end it. We’ve got to move on.” He took aim at the invective directed against two Republican officials in Georgia—Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his subordinate Gabriel Sterling—who he said “are putting country over party” but had been “subjected to just horrific threats as a result. This is not America.” (On Tuesday, Trump retweeted a message hoping Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp would be jailed.)
Trump fired Krebs from his job heading the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on November 17 after Krebs signed a statement alongside representatives of a host of other relevant government and private entities that declared the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.” After Trump campaign lawyer Joseph DiGenova responded by saying Krebs should be “drawn and quartered,” and “taken out at dawn and shot,” Krebs filed a lawsuit earlier this month against him the campaign alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, said that Krebs’ in-person appearance required additional security arrangements.
Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams speaks before members of Georgia's Electoral College cast their votes at the state Capitol, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Atlanta.John Bazemore/AP
While the halls of Georgia’s Capitol were fairly quiet and sparsely populated on Monday, the day carried emotional weight and significance for the state electors who congregated in the Senate chamber to cast their votes for a Democratic president for the first time since 1992.
For Nikema Williams, the congresswoman-elect who will fill the seat formerly held by the late Rep. John Lewis, the occasion felt like Christmas morning—anticipation woke her up at 5:15 a.m. She thought about the electoral college process and the birth of the United States, “knowing that I’m casting a ballot today for president and vice president in a country where this process was not designed for me or for people who look like me,” she says. “But here I am today as one of Georgia’s 16 electors casting my ballot, and as the first Black woman to ever chair our state Democratic Party.”
Williams called the meeting to order precisely at noon, opening with a vote to have Stacey Abrams preside. Abrams, who has gotten a lot of credit over the past six weeks for helping Georgia go blue through her voting rights work, told her fellow electors that she had dreamed of this moment, having “planted [her] flag and [her] feet here in Georgia.”
She explained, “I look around this room and I see people who have not only planted their feet, but planted their dreams here in Georgia, folks who have given their time and their talent and their treasure to invest in the communities that they serve.”
One of the electors Abrams mentioned in her remarks was Bobby Fuse, a lauded veteran of the civil rights movement in Georgia who has deep roots in the state’s politics; in fact, Abrams joked she can’t go to south Georgia without calling him first. Fuse tells Mother Jones that was deeply emotional for him. Before the meeting, he had been feeling weighed down by the last several weeks of recounts and Republicans’ broad refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect. Georgia has been something of a ground zero for Republican resistance and in just a few weeks it will host two highly competitive runoffs that will determine control of the US Senate.
But today took Fuse back to the ninth-grade classrooms where he taught government classes for many years. He says he thought of his former students, and of his insistence that they memorize the dates for the federal elections, the Electoral College meeting, the first day of Congress, and Inauguration Day. “It brought back a lot of memories of some things I used to try to encourage young people to know as important, and they probably were looking at it like it’s not all that important at that time in their lives,” he says. But for him, it was crucial to instill in them that these moments and processes are protected, and are “not left to our weather or political dysfunction.”
Though, of course, political dysfunction did make an appearance. In an unusual, but now-to-be-expected bit of posturing, Republican electors also showed up to the capitol for a closed-door meeting on a separate floor to cast (non-official) votes for President Donald Trump to remain in office for another term. David Shafer, the chairman of Georgia’s Republican party, explained their move like this:
Because the President’s lawsuit contesting the Georgia election is still pending, the Republican nominees for Presidential Elector met today at noon at the State Capitol today and cast their votes for President and Vice President.
As official electors continued to carry on their official business, Shafer told a gaggle of reporters waiting outside the second-floor room where the Republicans were meeting that they “were asked by the president’s lawyers to hold this meeting to preserve his rights under the pending litigation.” He clarified that a lawsuit is pending in Fulton County Superior Court, and the Republicans met so that the lawsuit could move forward and prevent the president’s rights from being “mooted.” He maintained that the election was still contested in Georgia, despite three counts that were certified by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
It’s nearly impossible that today’s efforts from Republicans will amount to anything more than political theatrics. Allies of the president, and the president himself, attempted to reverse results from four states, including Georgia, and keep those states’ electors from voting, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against the lawsuit on Friday. Biden officially crossed the 270 Electoral College-vote threshold later on Monday.
Williams, for one, simply called the Republicans’ actions “unfortunate.” “I was too busy casting an official Electoral College vote, and I did not know that they were even downstairs,” she told reporters inside the capitol after their meeting. “The voters of Georgia have spoken.”
Today was instead a historic victory to be celebrated. “This is what democracy looks like—when we looked around the chamber at the 16 Democratic electors today, we truly look like the state of Georgia, we represented every corner of the state, and we truly look like this country,” she tells me. “So I am proud to be a part of this moment, and to look forward to the future of what is yet to come in this country.”
California’s 55 electors just formally concluded the fraught 2020 election season by casting ballots for Joe Biden, driving the former vice president’s Electoral College total past the 270 votes needed to officially win the presidency.
Today’s Electoral College proceedings presented no surprises. In red states, electors voted for Donald Trump. In blue states—including Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—electors voted for Joe Biden. By the end of the day, the formal process for electing Biden president will be complete.
Some Republicans have suggested this would be the day they put the false claims of election fraud behind them and acknowledged Biden as president-elect. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) have all suggested that the Electoral College vote would mark the end of any squabbling over election results. Whether Trump will ever formally concede remains to be seen.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune said that Joe Biden is president-elect once he crosses 270 electoral votes and says efforts to challenge the results in Congress is “not going anywhere.” He said “it’s time for everybody to move on” after today.
Despite the lack of an officially projected winner on Election Day, Joe Biden’s eventual victory was not unexpected. It didn’t defy any odds. If anything, Republicans guaranteed that Biden’s lead in vote totals would increase as that week went on: GOP-controlled state legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin refused to count mail-in ballots before Election Day. And it’s no surprise that those late-counted ballots heavily favored Biden, given that Donald Trump campaigned on the false notion that efforts to expand mail voting were a huge conspiracy to steal the election through fraud, rather than a way to allow people to exercise their civic duties safely amid a pandemic.
The White House is keeping up the ruse. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News that the odds of Biden coming back from Trump’s lead on election night were “one in a quadrillion to the fourth power.” Sounds real scientific. Today, Trump tweeted that on November 3, the “bookies”—known for their accuracy—had his odds of winning at 97 percent. How ever could Biden have won, if not through Democrats’ fraud?
Even if there weren’t a completely logical reason for the way events played out, stranger things have happened. How did the Cleveland Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA finals? How did Dave Wottle overcome tendinitis in his knees to kick his way from the back of the pack to an unforeseen Olympic gold medal in the 800 meter race in 1972? And how in the world did the New England Patriots turn around a 28–3 Atlanta Falcons lead in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI in a comeback so bizarre that columnists cited it as proof we live in a simulation? (I’ve been told the Buffalo Bills’ 1993 comeback over the Houston Oilers was more impressive, but I’m a New Englander, so you know where my allegiances lie.)
Stunning, seemingly physics-defying comebacks happen in the sports world all the time. Even if Biden’s win were surprising, the time has long passed for Trump to learn to take the L.
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While it may have sounded like good news, it was alarming for wolf advocates: In late October, the Trump administration announced the “successful recovery of the gray wolf,” and in doing so formally delisted the species in the lower 48 states from the Endangered Species Act. Environmental activists called the action “premature and reckless,” “political theater,” and “illegal,” arguing the wolf hasn’t fully recovered in all regions.
But now, environmentalists have a reason to celebrate: On Tuesday, after weeks of vote-counting and certification, nearly 51 percent of Coloradans officially passed Proposition 114. The first-of-its-kind measure instructs the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to reintroduce gray wolves in the state by the end of 2023. (It was such a close race that several major outlets hadn’t called the vote even weeks after the 2020 election.) While wolves have been re-established in areas including, most famously, Yellowstone National Park, this is the first time a reintroduction plan has been mandated by voters, not the government.
Gray wolves, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, once roamed across much of North America. But as settlers moved West, hunters wiped out their primary food source—bison and elk, for example—and wolves “naturally turned to a new food resource in the developing frontier: livestock.” Wolves were then considered pests and were “systematically eradicated” in Colorado and elsewhere “by shooting, trapping and poisoning,” according to the commission. By the 1940s, gray wolf populations in Colorado had been wiped out.
Proponents of reintroducing wolves argue that doing so will “restore the balance of nature,” which has long been a popular idea among voters.As biologist Ethan Linck wrote for High Country News in March:
According to a recent poll of 900 demographically representative likely voters, two-thirds supported “restoring wolves in Colorado,” echoing similar polls over the past 25 years. Yet state wildlife officials have been reluctant to comply, wary of the toxic politics surrounding reintroduction in the Northern Rockies.
In response, activists seized an unprecedented strategy. A coalition of nonprofit groups in Colorado, led by the recently formed Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, spent 2019 tirelessly gathering support to pose the question to voters directly through a 2020 ballot initiative. They succeeded, delivering more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of State. Initiative 107 was officially ratified in January and will be voted on this November.
Beyond wildlife officials concerned about “toxic politics,” opponents of Proposition 114 and wolf reintroduction broadly say that as populations in other states recover, gray wolf sightings in Colorado indicate the animals are migrating to the state on their own; they also argue that major conservation decisions should be left to wildlife officials, not voters. “Wolf reintroduction may or may not be a good Colorado. But we think that’s for the experts to decide,” the Grand Junction Daily Sentinelwrote in a June editorial opposing the proposition. “Other states have made that determination based on the judgment of federal and state wildlife managers. Why should Colorado be any different?”
Still, wolf advocates say the species is far from recovered in Colorado and see their fight as a necessary, if imperfect step to getting there. “We’re not excluding experts, we’re simply telling them, get it done!” Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund president Rob Edward told Linck in March. “Figure it out! Don’t keep machinating about it for another five decades. Get it done!”
Joe Biden will be inaugurated the 46th President of the United States on January 20, but this hasn’t stopped the 45th President and his allies from filing an increasingly deranged and unlikely series of lawsuits in a slapdash attempt to overturn the results of the November 3 election. None of these lawsuits have ever had a good chance of accomplishing their stated goal, but life being what it is, they have made it difficult to totally foreclose the possibility that Trump will somehow stay in office. (He won’t.)
The framework for how this country handles presidential election disputes is codified in the Electoral Count Act of 1887. It provides for three key dates between the election and the inauguration when electoral challenges become increasingly less likely to succeed. The final and most severe is January 6, when Congress will formally vote to accept the electoral votes. But weeks before that, “on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December” the electors in each state convene (virtually this year) to cast their votes for president. And then there is the earliest date: Safe harbor day. It is the most confusing and amorphous. And it’s today.
Under federal law, any state’s selection of its presidential electors that has been finalized six days before the formal Electoral College voting date (this year, December 14) is final and presumptively cannot be challenged in court or in Congress. In other words: Come December 8, the determinations of the states cannot effectively be challenged—by Trump or by his “elite strike force” legal team led by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. The states are not required to finalize their electoral votes by the safe harbor date—but if they do, those determinations are protected by federal law.
To find out whether this is finally the end of the road for Trump’s destructive attempts to overturn the results, I called Ned Foley, the director of Election Law at Ohio State:
What’s important about this day?
Safe harbor is optional in the sense that states don’t have to comply with it, it’s advantageous to do so. But sometimes I use the analogy to college admissions. Most colleges have a deadline. If you don’t apply for college by this date, we’re not going to consider your application. Whereas, early decision or early action is an option. If you want to put yourself in that category, then you have to meet the earlier deadline. But if you don’t, you still can apply.
How will safe harbor affect Trump’s legal challenges?
I think Wisconsin, unfortunately, is going to not comply with a proper deadline, because they’ve got a hearing scheduled for Thursday, pursuant to state law, and that’s going to take them out of the safe harbor. Wisconsin has already certified, but they authorize a statutory challenge to the certification. That and the statute, if you’re going to be safe-harbor-compliant, mean you have to achieve a final determination of any contest procedure. Wisconsin has that procedure, but it’s not going to achieve final determination until after December 8.
Do we need to worry about other states not getting safe harbor because of these lawsuits?
The mere filing of a lawsuit can’t deprive a state of safe harbor status, if the lawsuit is not timely. In Pennsylvania law, if you want to contest the certification of the appointment of electors, you can do that, but there’s a deadline. My understanding is, if somebody files a purported contest after the deadline, that does not deprive Pennsylvania of safe harbor.
Likewise, if Rudy Giuliani makes up some new procedure that only he and Jenna Ellis know about that doesn’t exist in Pennsylvania law, the fact that they file a new lawsuit claiming they want the courts to do something doesn’t deprive Pennsylvania of Safe Harbor.
The problem with Wisconsin is there is the statutory procedure. Wisconsin Supreme Court invoked it when it said “Don’t sue us in original action—go to the right court.” And then that court says, “Oh, we’re going to hold a hearing on Thursday.” That’s what will deprive Wisconsin of safe harbor. It’s an authorized procedure and it’s not going to be finished by tomorrow.
Let’s say I’m a very paranoid person who wants Joe Biden to become president. Is there anything left for me to be paranoid about?
No, I mean, none of this is going to matter in terms of inauguration. Joe Biden is going to take the oath on January 20. He’s going to get the nuclear codes and become president and commander-in-chief.
There’s lots of reasons to be concerned about what Trump is doing and how the Republican Party is reacting, and Congress. What I am a little bit concerned about is whether any senator joins Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL). Brooks announced he’s going to object to Biden’s electoral votes on January 6. If members of Congress are acting properly on January 6, they should care about whether a state has safe harbor status or not. And if a state does have it, they should not even begin to think about evidence or anything. Let’s say Georgia gets safe harbor status, then the whole question about Dominion voting or did Georgia do the right thing or not the right thing, a conscientious member of Congress should say, “I don’t get to look at that. What safe harbor means is Georgia got to make that decision, right or wrong, and I’m bound by whatever Georgia did. So, President Trump, don’t be mad at me; I don’t get to make this judgment.”
That’s why safe harbor uses the word conclusive. It means that Georgia’s decision is conclusive on Congress. If a state like Wisconsin loses safe harbor status, as I think Wisconsin will, given the scheduled hearing, then I don’t think a senator can say Wisconsin’s already made the decision. I can’t look at it. The senator has to say, all right, what’s the merits of Wisconsin now? Again, the merits should be that Biden won. But how many members of Congress are going to agree with Brooks’ objection? I’d like to think that number is as small as possible. I mean, any senator or representative who agrees with Brooks is, in effect, claiming that Biden didn’t win that state. And since that doesn’t comport with reality, that’s problematic.
One could see all of this as an expression that our institutions are vulnerable, but maybe another way to look at it is a stress test—which we are passing.
Both things are true. My view is that the glass half empty is the better view at the moment than the glass half full. Yes, we survived the stress test, but we were stressed more than we should have been. The anti-reality forces have made this more of an issue than is warranted on the facts. So even though they are not going to prevail, the fact that they’ve shaped the discussion as much as they have is not a sign of health. It’s a sign more of weakness and vulnerability.
The current facts I would have considered beyond the range of contestation. The fact that they are within the range means that, if it had been even closer, the ability to make a real contest out of it would have been more likely. So if it had been one state with a 1,000-vote margin, we’d be in a lot different shape than we are with six states significantly beyond that. The fundamental point is that these forces were not willing to accept whatever the objective facts were. And that’s worrisome, right? If they’re not willing to accept the objective facts this time, what about next time?
Ah, so there’s still plenty to be paranoid about!
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