President-elect? Republicans may wait until January to say Biden won

Americans waiting for Republicans in Congress to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect may have to keep waiting until January as GOP leaders stick with President Donald Trump’s litany of legal challenges and unproven claims of fraud.

Tuesday’s deadline for states to certify their elections — once viewed as a pivot point for Republicans to mark Biden's win — came and went without much comment. Next week’s Dec. 14 Electoral College deadline may produce just a few more congratulatory GOP calls to Biden.

Increasingly, GOP lawmakers say the Jan. 6 vote in Congress to accept the Electoral College outcome may be when the presidential winner becomes official. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled Jan. 20 as the certain date when the country is “going to have the swearing-in of the next president.”

The result is a risky standoff like none other in U.S. history. The refusal to agree upon the facts of the election threatens to undermine voter confidence, chisel away at the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency and restack civic norms in still-unknowable ways.

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Yet some GOP officials see the dragged-out process as their best shot at answering the fiery questions, calls and complaints of their constituents who voted for Trump and refuse to believe he legitimately lost the race to Biden.

“The country needs to understand, at least, it was fair,” Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., said in an interview.

Mooney said he was being pressed by voters back home, including Republican Party activists at an event last month in Harper’s Ferry, demanding to know why no one was helping the president. They were “very concerned,” he said, and so he stepped up. He introduced a House resolution Tuesday that encourages neither Trump nor Biden to concede until all the investigations are completed.

"The end is when the roll call is put up here,” he said about the Jan. 6 vote in Congress.

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Trump sent his party down this unprecedented path by claiming the election was “rigged,” but Republican officials enabled doubts to swell through their past four weeks of silence. He personally called on some local elected officials to reconsider the results. Now, the disputed election has taken on a political life of its own that the party’s leadership may not be able to squash, even as Trump's legal challenges crumble.

Republicans say it makes little political sense at this point for them to counter Trump’s views lest they risk a backlash from his supporters — their own constituents — back home. They're relying on Trump voters to power the Georgia runoff elections Jan. 5 that will determine control of the Senate. And while some GOP lawmakers have acknowledged Biden's victory, most prefer to keep quiet, letting the process play out “organically,” as one aide put it, into January.

But election experts warn of long-term damage to the long-cherished American system.

“It clearly hurts confidence in the elections,” said Trey Grayson, the Republican former secretary of state for Kentucky and a past president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

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“My hope,” he said, is by Dec. 14 “there will be some more voices, but my gut is it won't be until the 6th” (of January).

Edward Foley, an elections expert and constitutional law professor at Ohio State University, said it’s true that the election winner is not officially the president-elect until the Congress declares it so with its vote on Jan. 6 to accept the Electoral College results.

“I’m less concerned about the timing, but that it happens,” he said.

For Americans to “have faith” in the elections, the losing side has to accept defeat. “It’s very, very dangerous if the losing side can’t get to that,” he said.

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“It’s essential for the parties to play by that ethos — even if one individual, Mr. Trump, can’t do it, the party has to do it,” he said.

“What's so disturbing about the dynamic that has developed since Election Day is that the party has been incapable of conveying that message because they’re taking their cues from Trump.”

In the House and the Senate, the standoff is playing out in ways large and small as lawmakers prolong the instability, some boosting their own profiles to pick up the mantle with Trump's movement of voters and others fighting more broadly for an overhaul of election systems.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show that he was prepared to deliver oral arguments for Pennsylvania lawmakers' legal challenge to the elections if the Supreme Court takes up the case.

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Cruz said in a statement he believes the court “has a responsibility to the American people to ensure, with its powers, that we are following the law and following the Constitution.”

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Republicans’ bid to reverse Pennsylvania’s certification of Biden’s victory.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., is delivering daily House floor speeches ahead of his planned formal protest during the Jan. 6 voting that he believes will show Trump was reelected.

“Others are joining me,” he said in an interview. And back home, “I have had a lot of pats on the back.”

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Even the Republicans, led by McConnell, on the bipartisan inauguration committee refused to allow a Democratic motion Tuesday to publicly announce that planning was underway. The committee that has organized every inauguration since 1901 is planning COVID-19 health and safety protocols for the traditional Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony next year.

Committee chairman Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, “It is not the job of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies to get ahead of the electoral process and decide who we are inaugurating.”

Former congressman David McIntosh, who now heads the conservative Club for Growth, said in the new year there should be an independent, bipartisan commission established to investigate the 2020 election.

Until then, his group is trying to push Georgia's Trump voters to the polls, even as the president disputes Biden's win of the state.