WASHINGTON - Senate lawmakers have voted by a wide margin to reject an effort by Republican lawmakers to challenge results of the presidential election in Arizona.
Earlier on Jan. 6, prior to a violent storming of the U.S. Capitol building that left a person dead, a number of Republican lawmakers mounted their first official challenge to Biden’s presidential election by objecting to state results from Arizona during an extraordinary joint session of Congress.
Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, flanked by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, rose to object to the typically routine acceptance of electors.
The objection forces hours of debate in the House and Senate, sending lawmakers away to separate deliberations.
Biden, who won the Electoral College 306-232, is to be inaugurated Jan. 20. Still, Trump vowed to he would "never concede" and urged the massive crowd to march to the Capitol where hundreds had already gathered under tight security.
"We will never give up," Trump told the noontime rally.
Vice President Mike Pence was most closely watched as he stepped onto the dais to preside over the joint session in the House chamber.
Pence has a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud. But he was under growing pressure from Trump to overturn the will of the voters and tip the results in the president’s favor, despite having no legal power to affect the outcome.
"Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!" Trump tweeted Wednesday.
But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim "unilateral authority" to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.
Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.
Arizona was the first of several states facing objections from the Republicans as Congress took an alphabetical reading of the election results.
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: U.S. Sen. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) speaks on the floor of the House Chamber during a joint session of congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-
Biden won Arizona by more than 10,000 votes, and eight lawsuits challenging the results have failed. The state’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of an election challenge.
The joint session of Congress, required by law, convened before a watchful, restless nation — months after the election, two weeks before the inauguration’s traditional peaceful transfer of power and against the backdrop of a surging COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers were told by Capitol officials to arrive early, due to safety precautions with protesters in Washington. Hundreds of Trump supporters filled the Capitol plaza area and sidewalks, many bearing enormous flags and few wearing masks. Visitors, who typically fill the galleries to watch landmark proceedings, will not be allowed under COVID-19 restrictions.
The session also comes as overnight results from Georgia’s runoff elections put Democrats within reach of a Senate majority.
The current majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who tried to warn his Republican Party off this challenge, was expected to deliver early remarks. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a day of "enormous historic significance," about "guaranteeing trust in our democratic system."
With the Senate results from Georgia streaming in and Democrats within reach of controlling the chamber, Trump amplified his pleas to stay in office as a veto check on the rival party. At the rally he said he had just talked to Pence and criticized Republicans who are not willing to fight for him as "weak."
While other vice presidents, including Al Gore and Richard Nixon, also presided over their own defeats, Pence supports those Republican lawmakers mounting challenges to the 2020 outcome.
It’s not the first time lawmakers have challenged results. Democrats did in 2017 and 2005. But the intensity of Trump’s challenge is like nothing in modern times, and an outpouring of current and elected GOP officials warn the showdown is sowing distrust in government and eroding Americans’ faith in democracy.
The group led by Cruz is vowing to object unless Congress agrees to form a commission to investigate the election, but that seems unlikely.
Those with Cruz are Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
Many of the Republicans challenging the results said they are trying to give voice to voters back home who don’t trust the outcome of the election and want to see the lawmakers fighting for Trump.
Hawley defended his role saying his constituents have been "loud and clear" about their distrust of the election. "It is my responsibility as a senator to raise their concerns," he wrote to colleagues.
As criticism mounted, Cruz insisted his aim was "not to set aside the election" but to investigate the claims of voting problems. He has produced no new evidence.
Both Hawley and Cruz are potential 2024 presidential contenders, vying for Trump’s base of supporters.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Jill Colvin and Kevin Freking in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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