Congress rejects objection to Arizona votes, takes up Pennsylvania objection

Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Vice President Mike Pence presides over a joint session of Congress with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results.
Saul Loeb | Getty Images

Updated: Jan. 7, 12:02 a.m. | Posted: Jan. 6, 5:57 a.m.

Members of the U.S. House and Senate on Wednesday voted to reject objections to President-elect Joe Biden's election victory in the state of Arizona, hours after violent insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, forcing party leadership to evacuate the scene while rioters overtook the complex. Shortly after dismissing the Arizona objection, a motion to object Pennsylvania's results triggered another wave of debate. The Senate voted down that objection, as expected, while the House continues to debate.

"The United States Senate will not be intimidated," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as he returned to the Senate floor earlier in the evening. "We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats. We will not bow to lawlessness or intimidation. We are back at our posts. We will discharge our duty under the Constitution and for our nation. And we're going to do it tonight."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the violent uprising an "assault" on democracy and vowed to carry forward with the work of certifying Biden's election win.

"We know that we're in difficult times but little could we have imagined the assault that was on our democracy today. To those who strove deter us from our responsibility, you have failed."

The Senate overwhelmingly voted to reject the Arizona objection, with only six members, all Republicans, voting "yea" on the measure.

In the House, however, opposition to certifying Biden's win remained high. Though it was ultimately rejected, 121 representatives voted in favor of maintaining the objection. Among them were Minnesota U.S. Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Jim Hagedorn, both Republicans. Other two Minnesota Republicans and four Democrats in the House voted to reject the objection.

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The joint session then took the tally back up, only to break again over objections to Pennsylvania.

The Senate quickly voted to dismiss the Pennsylvania objection, which was filed by a group of House Republicans and Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley. The vote was 92-7.

Vice President Pence, who oversaw the proceedings, announced the results. The House of Representatives is still debating the challenge.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told senators he did not expect additional votes Wednesday night.

Watch the House session below:

Both chambers of Congress recessed earlier Wednesday, shortly after 2 p.m. when far-right supporters of President Trump heeded his call to go to the Capitol and eventually breached the building. At the time, lawmakers were debating an objection to Arizona's election results when the complex was put on lockdown.

As rioters — waving Trump, Confederate and Nazi flags — stormed the building and vandalized property, the scene devolved into unprecedented chaos. One person was shot and killed during the commotion.

The extremists' presence cut short debate on whether to certify Biden's election win in the state of Arizona and likely objections from other states. Biden won overwhelmingly in the popular and electoral vote. But a number of Republicans had moved to object to the certification process. Several have since backed off their pledges to object, including Sens. Kelly Loeffler, James Lankford and Steve Daines.

"The events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider," Loeffler said, "and I cannot now in good conscious object to the certification of these electors."

Mob breaches the U.S. Capitol.
U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Congress held a joint session to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a Wednesday evening letter to Congress she had consulted with fellow Democrats as well as the Pentagon, Justice Department and Pence, and that the two chambers would reconvene "tonight at the Capitol once it is cleared for use."

She wrote: "Today, a shameful assault was made on our democracy. It was anointed at the highest level of government. It cannot, however, deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden."

"To that end, in consultation with Leader [Steny] Hoyer and Whip [James] Clyburn and after calls to the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the Vice President, we have decided we should proceed tonight at the Capitol once it is cleared for use. Leader Hoyer will be sending out more guidance later today."

"We always knew this responsibility would take us into the night. The night may still be long but we are hopeful for a shorter agenda, but our purpose will be accomplished."

Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, said that while he expected a brief debate to continue regarding Arizona's election results, he did not foresee any additional objections following the day's pandemonium.

He said he expected 30 or 40 minutes of debate and one vote. "That's my prediction," Paul said, "I just don't think there's going to be another objection, I think it's over at that point."

Paul had previously tweeted out that he opposed raising any challenges to the electoral votes.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a former top House GOP leader and top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, released a statement saying she will no longer object to the Electoral College results.

"What happened today and continues to unfold in the nation's capital is disgraceful and un-American. Thugs assaulted Capitol Police Officers, breached and defaced our Capitol Building, put people's lives in danger, and disregarded the values we hold dear as Americans. To anyone involved, shame on you," McMorris Rodgers said.

"We must have a peaceful transfer of power. The only reason for my objection was to give voice to the concern that governors and courts unilaterally changed election procedures without the will of the people and outside of the legislative process. I have been consistent in my belief that Americans should utilize the Constitutional tools and legal processes available to seek answers to their questions about the 2020 election. What we have seen today is unlawful and unacceptable. I have decided I will vote to uphold the Electoral College results and I encourage Donald Trump to condemn and put an end to this madness."

How the joint session works

Vice President Pence presides over the joint session, and it is his duty under the law to announce the results. Members of the House and Senate convened in the House chamber at 1 p.m. ET.

The certificates from each state are opened and read in alphabetical order. According to GOP sources familiar with the discussions about the plans, the Republican lawmakers planning to object on Wednesday are focused primarily on three states — Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. They are also weighing challenges for Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz signed onto the challenge regarding Arizona's results and is pressing for the appointment of an electoral commission that can examine any claims related to voter fraud.

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who was the first senator to announce he would join the House GOP effort, said Wednesday night that he is still going forward with his objection to the Electoral College results in Pennsylvania. Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who just lost her seat in a runoff decided overnight, announced Monday she would sign on to a challenge to her home state's results.

Process for considering and voting on an objection

If any House member is joined by a senator to object to any state's electoral vote tally, they can object and force a debate and votes. More than a dozen Republican senators and a large group of House GOP lawmakers indicated they would register challenges to multiples states' results.

Some of those members even acknowledged that they don't expect to succeed or change the outcome but are using the process to highlight what they believe are instances of fraud. None have provided any evidence to date, and legal challenges in states mounted by the Trump campaign and its allies have consistently failed.

If both a House member and senator register their objection in writing, the joint session is recessed, and the House and Senate meet separately to debate the issue for up to two hours. Members are allowed up to 5 minutes each to speak, and then both chambers vote. A simple majority is needed in both chambers for an objection to succeed.

With social distancing rules during the coronavirus pandemic, voting takes longer, so each objection could result in multiple hours of debate and vote timing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is presiding over House debate and has tapped Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Zoe Lofgren, Jamie Raskin and Joe Neguse to lead any responses to GOP objections. But Democrats from states challenged by Republicans are also expected to speak out against the effort as well.

In a letter to House Democrats on Monday evening, Pelosi called the day one "of historic significance" and says Biden and Harris won "decisively." She cautioned that members should view the session as "a solemn occasion" and "we will have a civics lesson about protecting the integrity of our democracy."

Supporters of President Trump attend a rally at Freedom Plaza on Tuesday, a day before Congress meets to certify the 2020 Electoral College results.
Supporters of President Trump attend a rally at Freedom Plaza on Tuesday, a day before Congress meets to certify the 2020 Electoral College results.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Pence, as president of the Senate, is presiding over the Senate debate. But Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is president pro tem, is prepared to also be available if Pence is not available for any portion of the debate. The president falsely claimed the vice president could alter the results, but neither the Constitution or any federal law allows for that.

An administration official who was not authorized to speak on the record told NPR on Tuesday, "The VP intends to follow the law and uphold the Constitution tomorrow." This official noted that Pence, who is a lawyer by training, has prepared for the joint session by meeting with the Senate parliamentarian, reading legal opinions and studying the Constitution.

Pence released a statement as the session began Wednesday, saying he does not have "unilateral authority" to reject votes. At nearly the same time, in remarks to supporters outside the White House, Trump again called on Pence to reject Biden's win.

After each chamber votes — and no challenge is expected to garner enough to succeed — the members of House and Senate return to the joint session and move onto the next state. After they have processed all the results, Pence reads the final tally and announces the election results for president and vice president.

Leaders have warned members that the process is likely to last several hours and could involve late-night votes. Democrats hold the majority in the House and roughly two dozen Republicans in the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have indicated they will join Democrats to certify Biden as the winner, so the outcome is not in doubt.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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