Something unseen the past four years happened Monday night: A legitimately elected national leader addressed the country about the strength and resilience of our democracy.
That is what Joe Biden did soon after the four electors in Hawaii cast the final ballots electing him the 46th American president. After nearly six weeks of unrelenting and unprecedented falsehood-fueled assaults by President Trump on the legitimacy of the election, which have been wholly repudiated by judges of all stripes across the country, the unmistakable takeaway from Biden will be this: The system held, the truth has been formalized, and now it is time to move on.
"If anyone didn't know it before, we know it now. What beats deep in the hearts of the American people is this: Democracy," Biden declared. "The right to be heard. To have your vote counted. To choose the leaders of this nation. To govern ourselves."
The message was designed to be heard not only to the 74 million who voted for Trump, tens of millions of whom have come to believe his baseless claims, but also to the leaders of a Republican Party — who have chosen astonishing complicity in the president's efforts over focusing on the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic upheaval.
There were no surprises as electors convened in ceremonies for casting separate paper ballots for president and vice president — foreclosing yet another of Trump's imagined paths to overturning the results and stealing re-election. (The biggest disruption was in Michigan, where officials cited "credible threats of violence" in closing the capital in Lansing while the 16 Biden electors met.)
"In America, politicians don't take power — the people grant it to them," Biden said afterward. "The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know that nothing, not even a pandemic or an abuse of power, can extinguish that flame."
Electors in 32 states and D.C. are legally required to vote the way most people in their jurisdictions did, laws the Supreme Court unanimously upheld this summer, and votes for others are extremely rare because electors are almost always partisan loyalists. There were no such "faithless electors" on Monday.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who took 81 million votes nationwide, have each earned 306 votes in the Electoral College to 232 for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
An extraordinary lawsuit by Texas, filed directly with the Supreme Court, sought to delay the Electoral College meetings in state capitals from coast to coast and block the votes of 62 electors in four battleground states carried by Biden. The justices rejected the suit outright on Friday night — but not before Trump intervened and persuaded almost two-thirds of the current Republican state attorneys general (18 of the 26) and almost two-thirds of the current GOP House members (126 of the 193) to join him.
It was the most prominent of several dozen courthouse defeats for Trump since Election Day, and the second in days at the Supreme Court. But the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani vowed Sunday that five more lawsuits would be filed in state courts this week.
Transition officials signaled that in his speech to the nation Biden would underscore the breadth of his win — a margin of 7 million votes that helped him flip five states Trump won in 2016 — in urging GOP leaders in Congress to not only accept his victory but also negotiate compromise legislation soon after the inauguration. Biden will have the support of the smallest Democratic majority in the House since World War II and at best 50 members of his party in the Senate, but only if Democrats win both seats in Georgia next month.
A quick acquiescence by prominent Republicans was far from certain, though, in part because so many of their supporters say they really do believe Trump is being robbed of a second term. Polling in the last week underscores this. Quinnipiac found just 60 percent of voters, and only 23 percent of Republicans, view Biden's victory as legitimate. Fox News found 36 percent overall, almost all of them identifying with the GOP, think the election has been stolen from the president
On Sunday, for example, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise — one of the Republicans who backed the Texas lawsuit — declined to commit even to calling Biden the president-elect after Monday and encouraged Trump's lawyers to keep fighting.
The previous day, thousands of Trump supporters rallied against his loss in downtown Washington, and dozens were arrested after skirmishes with anti-Trump demonstrators at night.
"I worry about the country having an illegitimate president, that's what I worry about. A president that lost and lost badly," Trump said in a Fox interview that was taped Saturday.
And on Sunday, he offered this comprehensively incorrect summary of the state of the election on Twitter: "Swing States that have found massive VOTER FRAUD, which is all of them, CANNOT LEGALLY CERTIFY these votes as complete & correct without committing a severely punishable crime."
The results will be sent to the Capitol, where Pence will be called on to preside Jan. 6 at the joint session of Congress where they will be formally tabulated. Several House Republicans have vowed to seek to block the counting of votes from several Biden states. And they could delay the final step if at least one GOP senator — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has signaled he's willing — supports their parliamentary move. But that would only succeed if majorities in both halves of Congress go along, which is not going to happen because the House is under Democratic control.
Trump's crusade has further heightened anxiety about the Electoral College system, which gives outsized weight to smaller states at a time the nation is becoming increasingly urbanized. Combined with the nation's increasingly polarized demographics, it has produced two presidents (Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000) who lost the popular vote — and that could have happened again with shifts of less than 100,000 votes in three states.
Getting rid of the system would require a constitutional amendment, effectively meaning rural states would have to go along. Since that looks out of the question, a leading alternative is a workaround called the national popular vote interstate compact:
States with a combined 270 electoral votes would pledge those electors to the nationwide popular vote winner. So far 15 states plus D.C., with a combined 196 votes, have joined.
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