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US lawmakers certify Joe Biden election victory

Wesley Rahn | James Franey
January 7, 2021

After a dramatic day of violence at the US Capitol, the House of Representatives and the Senate have confirmed Joe Biden's presidential victory. Donald Trump later promised an orderly transition of power.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Vice President Mike Pence officiate as a joint session
The certification of electoral votes is normally a quick formality Image: Erin Schaff/New York Times/AP/picture alliance

The US House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday certified Joe Biden's election as US president and Kamala Harris as vice president.

Vice President Mike Pence declared that Congress had confirmed the Electoral College result. The formal tally of Electoral College results counts the total 538 electoral votes, out of which Biden won 306 and Trump 232.

Pence, as the session came to an end, said the count "shall be deemed a sufficient declaration" of Biden’s victory, but offered no words of congratulations to the incoming administration.

It capped an extraordinary day of chaos, violence and division. Proceedings had been disrupted Wednesday afternoon by a mob of outgoing President Donald Trump's supporters who stormed the US Capitol.

Trump promises orderly transition

In another twist, after two months of repeating false claims that the election was fixed, Trump released a statement via his social media manager Dan Scavino.

"Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20," Trump said.

"While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”

It is the closest that the real estate mogul has come to conceding that he has lost November's presidential vote.

Biden is now cleared to be sworn in as president on January 20.


Why did the certification take so long?

The certification is normally a quick formality, and is the final step in confirming a president's election under the US Constitution.

A slew of Republican lawmakers had said they would object to certifying Biden's Electoral College victory in several battleground states, an unusual move following up on Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud.

Senators had to be evacuated after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, trying to prevent confirmation of Biden's victory.

"To stop the government from working, it is insurrection. It has to be dealt with very firmly so people will get the message that this cannot be tolerated in a democracy," political scientist Peter Mathews told DW.

The session was interrupted. After it reconvened Wednesday evening, the House and Senate rejected the objection to the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

What did officials say?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said following the violence that Congress "will not be deterred'' in confirming the results of the presidential election, calling the storming of the Capitol a "failed insurrection."

Vice President Pence formally presides over the session counting the electoral votes. Trump has falsely claimed that Pence has the power to reject electors that have been "fraudulently" chosen.

Pence himself rejected this claim Wednesday, saying he does not have the power to reject votes and called the process "largely ceremonial."

"To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today — you did not win," said Pence after lawmakers returned to the Senate chamber. "Let's get back to work," he added.

How did lawmakers in Trump's party react?

Wednesday's violent attack on the Capitol caused several Republican lawmakers to reverse their opposition to certifying Biden's victory.

Perhaps the most notable flip was Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler, who just lost her Senate seat in a runoff election, and had promised loyalty to Trump at a rally on Monday.

"When I arrived in Washington this morning, I fully intended to object to the certification of the electoral votes," Loeffler said. "However, the events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider and I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors."

Two other Republican lawmakers, Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma, also said they would stand down in their opposition.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress, rejected an effort by his fellow Republicans to object to investigate Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud.

"All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough," Graham said on the floor of the Senate. "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the president and the vice president of the United States on January 20."

Graphic showing results of congressional elections


How did Democrats react?

US Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said she would draw up plans to impeach President Trump; even though there are just two weeks left before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Omar wrote on Twitter that "we can’t allow him to remain in office."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another Democratic lawmaker, echoed Omar’s call in a one-word tweet: "Impeach."

Protesters storm US Capitol to support Trump

Wesley Rahn Editor and reporter focusing on geopolitics and Asia