Inauguration planning the latest thing to enter the controversy zone

Republicans oppose recognizing Biden will be inaugurated

Construction workers build bleachers at the inaugural platform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 19, 2020, in anticipation of the Jan. 20, 2021, inauguration ceremony. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Construction workers build bleachers at the inaugural platform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 19, 2020, in anticipation of the Jan. 20, 2021, inauguration ceremony. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 8, 2020 at 3:21pm, Updated at 4:47pm

A meeting of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies turned sour Tuesday, when Republican leaders on the typically uncontroversial panel rejected a resolution that would assert that Joe Biden is president-elect.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have been slow to acknowledge the election results, in deference to President Donald Trump, who continues to deny his clear defeat despite recounts affirming them, states certifying electors and loss after loss in court cases challenging Biden’s win.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., offered a motion recognizing that the group was preparing for the inauguration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a member of the Senate, during a closed-door meeting of the JCCIC in Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s office.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and JCCIC Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., all voted against the motion. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, voted with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Hoyer in favor of the motion.

The rejected proposal would have prompted the JCCIC to announce that they are preparing for the inauguration of Biden and Harris, in coordination with the Biden Presidential Inaugural Committee and public health experts.

“So, you know, I made a motion that the committee notify the American people that it is preparing for the inauguration of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, and in consultation with them and health experts are doing so to protect the health of our people — those who attend or don’t attend. And that motion was defeated 3 to 3,” Hoyer told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Hoyer declined to speculate why Republicans voted against the measure.

“You’ll have to ask them, you’ll have to ask them,” Hoyer said when pressed about whether Republicans voted against the motion because it recognized Biden as president-elect.

But later, Hoyer said in a statement that the panel’s GOP members were, along with Trump’s refusal to accept the election results, undermining faith in the country’s election systems.

“The extent to which Republicans are refusing to accept the outcome of the election and recognize Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next President and Vice President is astounding,” Hoyer said in a statement.

 “Their continued deference to President Trump’s post-election temper tantrums threatens our democracy and undermines faith in our system of elections. … Republicans are refusing even to allow JCCIC to say that President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will be inaugurated on January 20, even when there is no serious dispute over that fact.”

Blunt, in turn, criticized Hoyer for bringing up the proposal in the first place.

“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,” Blunt said in a statement after the meeting.

“The JCCIC is facing the challenges of planning safe inaugural ceremonies during a global pandemic. I would hope that, going forward, the members of the JCCIC would adhere to the committee’s longstanding tradition of bipartisan cooperation and focus on the task at hand,” Blunt said.

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill have repeatedly pointed to Dec. 14, when the Electoral College meets, as the end of the elections, giving Trump a runway to mount a flurry of legal battles and continue to refuse to acknowledge Biden as president-elect.

There is acknowledgment on both sides of the aisle that the 2021 inauguration will look very different from previous ceremonies because of the risks associated with gathering people in large groups amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Blunt told CQ Roll Call on Monday evening that final decisions on size of the ceremonies and scope of the changes had not yet been made, but he stressed that planning has been underway for months.

“We’ve got all the tickets printed and all that; it’s easy to not give out 150,000 of them,” said Blunt.

He said the focus will be on outdoor events because there is broad agreement that outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor spaces in terms of spreading the coronavirus.

“In all likelihood, masked and distanced would be my view,” said Blunt. “I just don’t know how distanced yet.”

No final decisions on the size and any alterations to the inauguration plans had been expected at Tuesday’s meeting. Blunt said the middle to end of next week is when he expects to have more details on what the ceremonies will look like and how many people will be allowed to attend.

Tuesday’s meeting seems like it will be the last, according to Blunt.

“I don’t know that we’ll meet again,” he told reporters late Tuesday afternoon.

He noted that the when he chaired the committee for the 2017 inauguration, the group never actually met.

One item the group is still working through is breaking to their own colleagues that they won’t have as many tickets to dole out to family, friends and supporters.

“Trying to get everybody on the same page, what happens when the members, in all likelihood, don’t have anywhere close to the number of tickets that they previously had?” he said.

“It’s clearly going to be quite a bit different than any inauguration in the past. Probably some costs of testing we haven’t had before. People will have masks on, would be socially distanced, wherever we are.”

When asked what, if any, access the public will have to the inaugural ceremonies, Blunt said, “It will be minimal.”

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., who is chairman of Biden’s presidential inaugural committee, said Tuesday morning that with scaled-back festivities expected in January, he hopes there can be a more robust celebration of Biden’s presidency on July 4.

Clyburn, appearing on CNN, said he expects up to 80 percent of Biden’s inaugural activities to be virtual, drawing a parallel to this summer’s Democratic National Convention as a comparison.

“We’re going to discourage anything that could be a spreader. We are going to say to people, ‘Please follow our example,’” Clyburn said when asked about the prospect of such traditional events as an inaugural parade.

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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