A joint session of the new Congress will meet on Wednesday, Jan. 6, to count the electoral votes cast following the November presidential election and officially confirm Joe Biden as the next President of the United States.
Though this outcome is all but certain, supporters of President Donald Trump are intent on using the session to promote their commitment to him and Trump’s baseless claims, according to election and constitutional experts, that he lost the election due to widespread voting fraud.
Here’s what to know as the vote approaches:
What happens on Jan. 6?
The Constitution and federal law dictate that a joint session of Congress will convene at 1 p.m. Eastern Time at the Capitol, in the House of Representatives chamber, to count the electoral votes.
Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the session in his constitutional role as President of the Senate. In alphabetical order, he will open the electoral-vote certificates presented to him and hand them to tellers to have them read aloud.
Who will challenge the results?
At least 12 Republican senators and potentially upwards of 140 House Republicans will formally object in writing to the electoral results submitted by battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, according to reports.
It had been known for several weeks that House Republicans planned to submit formal challenges, but under federal law, Pence would have been required to dispense with them unless a senator joined in the protest.
In recent days many Republican senators have come forward, including Missouri Republican Josh Hawley and Texas Republican Ted Cruz, to say that they will also formally challenge the results in several states.
Will alternate electors be considered?
In the aforementioned battleground states, Republican state legislators there met to protest the official vote count in their state and to “vote” on an alternate slate of electors who support Donald Trump.
Though these Republicans argue the Constitution gives state legislatures the ultimate say in who wins a state’s electoral votes, in none of these states were these votes officially held by state legislatures, rather they were put forward by informal groups of elected officials.
Nevertheless, there is speculation that Vice President Pence will submit these Trump electors for Congress to consider.
“To the extent such sham electors have transmitted documents to the Joint Session, it would be proper for Vice President Pence to disregard them outright,” wrote attorney Joshua Matz in a Monday report issued by the nonpartisan Voter Protection Project. “If he does open and read such documents, Members of the House and Senate should be prepared to submit objections.”
What happens following a challenge?
If both a representative and a senator object to a slate of electors, the joint session will recess and both the Senate and House of Representatives will debate the question for a maximum of two hours. If Republicans force two hours of debate for each of the half dozen states in question, it could mean the proceedings drag on to the early hours of Thursday morning.
After that time, each chamber will hold a vote by simple majority on whether to accept or reject the objection. Given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other prominent Republicans in the Senate have urged their colleagues not to mount these challenges, it’s unlikely that even a Republican Senate would vote to accept these objections.
With Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, it’s difficult to imagine that the body would vote to reject any states’ slate of Biden electors. According to federal law, for a state’s slate of electors to be rejected, both houses of Congress would have to agree to do so.
“There can be no doubt that the Joint Session will select Joe Biden as the next President of the United States,” Matz tweeted Monday. “There may be sound and fury on January 6, but it will not change the outcome.”