This week is going to be a year to remember

Buckle up, because it’s going to be a wild ride on and off the Hill

Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ben Sasse of Nebraska are on opposite sides when it comes to overturning the Electoral College votes of several states.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ben Sasse of Nebraska are on opposite sides when it comes to overturning the Electoral College votes of several states. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 4, 2021 at 1:36pm

ANALYSIS — Thank goodness it’s Friday. Oh wait, it’s only Monday? There was enough news on Sunday alone to fit into a few months. And there’s going to be plenty more news, history and excitement over the next few days.

Instead of a restful Sabbath, the week kicked off with a bang on Sunday. 

A new Congress was sworn in, including the most narrow Democratic House majority in generations and a Senate chamber where control has yet to be decided. The vote for speaker of the House held some suspense because of the narrow margin after GOP gains in 2020, but Nancy Pelosi proved once again that she can count votes, with the defections coming as expected.

Then The Washington Post released the audio of a phone call between President Donald Trump and Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, in which the president pressured Raffensperger to "find" 11,780 votes, which just happens to be one more than President-elect Joe Biden’s margin of victory.

Today, Trump gave California Rep. Devin Nunes the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a move that will draw even more fire from the president’s critics.

Tonight, Trump is scheduled to rally for the Republican candidates in Georgia on the eve of two runoff races that will decide control of the Senate. You never know for sure what the president is going to say when he takes the stage, but with the most recent news about the phone call and upcoming Electoral College ratification by Congress, it’s going to be a must-watch speech. At a minimum, Trump has said he’ll reveal new numbers that he claims back up his allegations of fraud. Overall, some Republicans are concerned that the story will hurt GOP hopes of winning in races where neither party can afford to make a mistake. 

On Tuesday, the final votes will be cast and ballots will be counted in Georgia, in what will likely be the most-watched election night that doesn’t take place in November. Of course the results are important, but the speed with which the ballots are counted will be news, as well as the margin (because that could dictate when we know the winners), and how, when, and if the losers accept defeat. It’s possible that we’re entering a new chapter when losers never admit defeat and just vow to keep fighting. 

On Wednesday, the Electoral College ratification will be historic. With more than 100 House Republicans and potentially a dozen GOP senators pledging to protest the certified electors from key states, it will be memorable even though the challenges to Biden’s victory will be unsuccessful. 

It is interesting that the party reveling in the demise of polling chose to prominently cite a public opinion survey in the senators’ letter as a reason to explain their protest. The letter also referenced the 1877 election commission as a precedent to be followed in 2021. But there’s at least one key difference between now and 144 years ago, beyond the fact that Congress passed the Electoral Count Act a decade later to avoid a repeat of the situation. Back then, multiple states sent different sets of electors. In this case, all states (and the District of Columbia) sent just one set of electors, which added up to a 306-232 victory for Biden.

In the end, Republicans don’t have the votes in the House (because of the Democratic majority) or the Senate (where at least a handful of GOP senators say they won’t protest) to reject a state’s electors, and both chambers have to vote affirmatively to sustain a challenge.

What’s going to happen on Thursday? Who knows for sure? It’s possible the debate over the Electoral College ratification spills into a second day if Republicans challenge enough states and spawn many two-hour debates. And we might still be waiting for final results in Georgia if they are close races, as expected. At a minimum, Trump will be tweeting or talking about all of it. 

So what does it all mean? 

I’m not quite sure. I don’t want to be nonchalant about the current news, and trying to look at the future political landscape is literally part of my job. But I’m mindful that it’s hard to project events that are going to happen in the next couple of days or weeks, let alone project with certainty what impact today’s news will have on the months and years ahead.

Questioning the impact of this election  on the future of the parties and even the future of the country is absolutely valid and important. I’m just not confident enough to declare that I know the answer.

I do believe that Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, and that Trump is going to make a lot more news in his final days in office.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.

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