The era of Donald Trump’s presidency began Friday, after Vice-President Joe Biden shut down objections by a handful of Democratic House members during a joint session of Congress called to certify the 2016 Electoral College votes.
“It is over,” Biden said, to cheers by Republicans, cutting off a congresswomen from Georgia who started to state her objection, with Biden interrupting that without a U.S. senator willing to join the objection, the ratification would continue. “The objection cannot be entertained,” Biden repeated minutes later when a California congresswoman also objected.
At least half a dozen House members stood to oppose Trump’s election, saying—before they were cut off—that various states’ Electoral College votes should be rejected because of partisan voter suppression by Republicans, Russian interference in the election helping Trump, and the apparently illegal seating of more than 50 Trump electors. That final objection is based on a legal team’s report revealing that the electors live outside of the congressional districts they represent, or already hold elective office in a state barring dual-office holders.
The objections by House members from Arizona, Massachusetts, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona and California were cut off by Biden. Nonetheless, the Democrats repeatedly uttered the phrase “massive voter suppression!” and singled out North Carolina.
“There is no debate in the joint session,” Biden repeated. “The chair has previously ruled.”
The protests were a response to intense lobbying by grassroots activists. They succeeded in finding several House members to sponsor a formal challenge, just as Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, D-OH, did in 2005, when she opposed the ratification of Ohio’s 2004 Electoral College votes. But they could not find a senator like Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who in 2005 led the challenge in that body. If one House member sponsored the objection, and a second House member and a senator signed on, the joint session of Congress to ratify the Electoral College results would be suspended and each body would hold a two-hour debate.
That’s what happened in 2005, when Tubbs-Jones and Boxer lectured their colleagues on GOP voter suppression efforts in Ohio and other efforts targeting presumed Democratic voters and their ballots. It didn’t stop President George W. Bush’s re-election, but it made a symbolic point that Democrats were willing fight for Americans’ voting rights. Boxer later said she did it because she was disgusted with happened in Florida four years before, when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recount and awarded the presidency to the governor’s brother.
If anything, the anti-democratic features of the 2016 presidential campaign are more serious than what occurred back in 2004. The Republican Party’s ongoing state-level efforts to police the polls to discourage voting in communities of color; the deepening revelations of involvement of Russian spy agencies in assisting the Trump campaign and attacking a range of Democratic candidates; and the apparently illegal seating of dozens of Trump presidential electors all add up to the illegitimitacy of Trump’s presidency.
“Is there one senator who will join me?” yelled a California congresswomen. Not a single one replied.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues.