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A mob of violent pro-Trump protesters who oppose President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election overwhelmed security at the U.S. Capitol and broke into the building on Wednesday, halting proceedings where Congress was poised to count the votes cast by the Electoral College. One woman was shot and died. Hours after the insurrection, Congress reconvened to resume their debate.
LIVE UPDATES: Pro-Trump mob breaches U.S. Capitol
Some Republicans in both chambers had declared that they would object to the counting of some states where President Donald Trump lost his closest races to Biden. But before protesters entered the building, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a forceful to rebuke to the idea that Congress could or should attempt to overthrow the election.
Earlier, Trump spoke at a rally where he urged supporters to march to the Capitol to demand that the results be overthrown. After rioters forcefully entered the building, he tweeted a recorded message telling people to “go home now,” while repeating false claims about the election.
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On Wednesday, the nation will tune in to a dramatic and historic, if mostly symbolic, joint session of Congress.
Usually there would be relatively little fanfare over the counting of Electoral College votes by Congress — a necessary step in the presidential election process. But as the electoral votes from each state reach their final destination at the U.S. Capitol, Republicans in both chambers have declared that they will object to the counting of some states where President Donald Trump lost his closest races to President-elect Joe Biden.
Watch PBS NewsHour special coverage of the joint session of Congress starting at 12:30 p.m. ET in the player above.
Here is a look at how this unusual joint session will work and what it could mean.
The House and Senate will meet in a joint session at 1 p.m. EST tomorrow.
Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the joint session. The role is usually scripted — he announces procedures and the final result of votes. Pence does not have unilateral power to change the course of the electoral count.
The joint session will hear the electoral vote count from each state, one by one, in alphabetical order.
If at least one House member and one Senator object to any state electoral count, the joint session will immediately pause.
Watch the House debate in the player below
Next, the chambers will separate, with each holding up to two hours of debate on that state’s electoral count. The chambers will then vote on the objection and return to the joint session.
For any state electoral count to be rejected, a majority of both the House and Senate must vote that way.
Back in the joint session, the roll of states will pick up again where it left off.
Watch the Senate debate in the player below
With each objection, the cycle repeats: pause the joint session, two hours of debate, vote, then return to the joint session.
At the end, the winner of the election is declared by the vice president.
The length of time depends entirely on how many states’s results are objected to in both chambers. Right now, the focus is on six swing states where the Trump campaign has previously tried to challenge the results in court: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those six objections would lead to between 18 and 24 hours of debate and votes. But Republicans may also object to other states. Each one would add up to two more hours of debate. As a result, some lawmakers and staffers are preparing for a possible all-night session on the electoral count.
The short answer is: No.
The longer answer: The House and Senate would have to vote to block electors from multiple slates in order to take away Biden’s majority win in the Electoral College. Based on public statements, it does not appear Republicans have enough votes to do that in either chamber, and both are required.
So what is the point of this?
It depends on who you ask, but some Republicans say they are using their objections to try to argue for and leverage a commission to investigate the 2020 election. Others argue that they believe there was significant fraud and Congress should vote to block electors from sitting in states with suspicious results. For Democrats, it is a chance to debate and reject pernicious claims that the election was somehow compromised, which though unproven have sown doubt in the results.
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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