A US PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION GAMECHANGER?

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Tiko Okoye writes that whatever happens in Congress today, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President

The US Congress reconvenes on 6 January 2021 to particularly count and ratify the votes already certified by the Electoral College. It is a quadrennial ritual – a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives – performed on the first Wednesday in January following a presidential election, with the sitting vice president as the officiating chief priest. In the not-too-distant past, whatever panache had accompanied the ritual bordered more on the ceremonious than on substance.

There’s nothing unusual about Congressmen choosing to challenge the counting of Electoral College votes being counted. It has happened every now and then; but because they are perceived more as a perfunctory interlude, they have gained any traction. As a matter of fact, Joe Biden quelled many such motions of objection raised by Democratic Congressmen when he chaired a joint session in 2017 to count the Electoral College votes and ratify this same Donald Trump as President-elect. But unlike past objections, the difference in 2021 is that the losing presidential candidate is backing the dissenters big time.

Some diehard GOP supporters of Trump prepared illegal, parallel lists of “alternate” electors in the swing states that flipped from red in 2016 to blue in 2020, that they now want their Congressmen on Capitol Hill to swap with the official electors in the Electoral College, in order to throw the election to Trump. To further compound matters, some other Republicans have sued Vice President Mike Pence, demanding that he be granted discretionary power to accept or reject votes when he presides over the joint session of Congress on January 6! Unfortunately, for Pence, his principal, Trump, has equally put him on the boil by tweeting that he (Pence) should play along, else he would be committing “the worst act of betrayal ever recorded in history.”

So, what can – and would – Pence do? I can hardly see the Pence that has been a zombie sidekick to Trump for nearly four years suddenly growing the liver to deny his principal what matters most to him. And although Pence’s legal team has filed a counter motion asking that the judge summarily dismiss the suit filed against him, it is premature to interpret this as a slap on the face of Trump as many have been saying. The primary ground for Pence’s prayer is that the plaintiff’s application would deprive him of his “right to object” to the vote count when he chairs the meeting.

Something fishy is definitely going on somewhere. The Constitution doesn’t grant the vice president the “right to object.” His sole statutory duty is to “open and table” the certificates returned by the Electoral College. It is only in the case of a tie that he can cast a deciding vote. The clear and present danger lies in the probability that Pence could technically open the wrong set of certificates – those containing the rogue “alternate” electors and their non-binding votes – in a carefully stage-managed process!

The rapidly increasing number of influential GOP political office holders willing to be puppets in the hands of Trump are doing so primarily because they see him as holding the key to the future of the party and their political careers. These are no more than crass opportunists who look at the 74 million votes Trump obtained, and soliloquise: “OMG! Just imagine the height I could easily attain if I’ve such numbers backing my candidacy!” But they would receive a rude awakening from their delusions of grandeur. Trump has proven time and again that he only owes unquestioned allegiance to three individuals, namely: Trump, Trump, and Trump!

Assuming Trump decides for whatever reasons not to run in 2024, nothing would please a man with his mindset better than triumphantly sponsoring a candidate all the way from total obscurity to the White House. That would be the coup de grace he would love to deliver to the party establishment as proof that he unquestionably owns the Republican base lock, stock and barrel!

The ‘mutinous’ Congressmen are fully aware that they lack the numbers to successfully mount a challenge to counting the votes. That being the case, their antics are all for show, to convince Trump and his cult following that they are knights in shining armour who dared to risk all by promoting the interests of ‘the Leader’ above those of the nation, in return for favours like not being primaried in forthcoming elections.

The tragedy of it all is that virtually of these Republican sycophants rushing to assume pole positions in the Trump-backed plans to overturn the election would say the election wasn’t fraudulent behind closed doors, but turnaround to make a different noise in public! As one of the few high-ranking Republican critics who have courageously declared that they will take no part in Trump’s hare-brained schemes, Sen. Ben Sasse, pointed out, “The single-most telling fact is that there is a giant gulf between what President Trump and his allies say in public…and what (they) actually say in courts of law.”

Sasse went on to explain that the lawyers know that “while there’s no legal penalty for misleading the public, there’s one for deceiving judges, thus they have repeated almost none of the claims of grand voter fraud that the campaign spokespersons are screaming at their most zealous supporters.” And I should add that these ‘zealous supporters’ have become so brainwashed that they would readily swallow the hubris that Trump has lost more than 60 lawsuits – even at courts where his own appointed judges preside – because the courts are “not courageous enough” to examine the “hard” evidence collated!

“For the most part,” argued American educator and writer Bergen Evans, “our leaders are merely following out in front; (but what they really do is to) marshal us the way we are going.” There’s a dearth of real leadership in the Republican Party right now. It is the principal reason why the base is beholden to an individual – Donald Trump – rather than the party establishment – a scenario that would be exacerbated by the dethronement of McConnell as Senate Majority Leader, whenever Trump – as the ringmaster – cracks the whip.

Rather than act in a fawning, obsequious manner towards Trump, the GOP establishment ought to have conscientiously explained to their angry supporters that an election where the GOP won more seats than Democrats cannot be willy-nilly dismissed as ‘fraudulent’ just because the presidential candidate lost. They would’ve then proceeded to appeal for unity to build on the party’s 2020 electoral gains towards getting a Republican into the White House in 2024, when all perceived electoral flaws would be squarely addressed once and for all. But the opportunity to quickly tap into Trump’s huge populist base as a fundraising strategy to oil future election campaigns is too good an opportunity to pass by for many of them.

Final words. First, January 6 would prove to be an anti-climax. No matter the degree of apoplexy Trump might develop, and regardless of the number of GOP Congressmen who object to counting the votes and whatever delaying tactics they might adopt, the certified votes would ultimately be ratified, and Biden duly inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States come January 20.

Okoye is a Boston University Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow