'It really is over now': The 24 hours that likely thwarted Trump's effort to overturn the election
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's unprecedented effort to overturn the presidential election likely died in a 24-hour span capped Tuesday morning by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recognizing Joe Biden as the president-elect.
Any Republican efforts in Congress to reject Biden's victory now would almost certainly lack enough support in the Senate to go anywhere.
"The legal avenues for pursuing a change in the outcome of the 2020 election have closed," said Rebecca Green, director of William and Mary School of Law's election law program. "It's not for lack of trying. There's just a lack of evidence of irregularities in this election."
Already a long-shot, Trump's pursuit was thwarted Monday, when the Electoral College formalized Biden's Nov. 3 election win, electing Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris by a 306-232 vote over Trump.
More: 'Democracy prevailed': Joe Biden passes 270-vote threshold to win Electoral College
In rapid succession, several Senate Republicans acknowledged for the first time what had been clear to many for weeks.That included seven GOP senators, according to Biden, who called the former vice president Monday night. Even Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who built a friendly relationship with Trump, wished "the president-elect every success."
Then came McConnell, who from the Senate floor Tuesday morning said, "The Electoral College has spoken" as he offered congratulations to Biden, referring to him as "the president-elect." The powerful Republican leader had been previously unwilling to call Biden the winner.
McConnell's position makes it virtually impossible for any such plot to gain momentum in the Senate. During a private call Tuesday to GOP caucus members, NBC and Politico reported, McConnell warned Republican senators not to object to the election results on Jan. 6. Doing so, he told them, would force Republicans to take a "terrible vote" by voting down the objection and thus appearing against Trump.
After court losses, new tactic on the right
Over the past six weeks, the Supreme Court twice refused to take up Trump-endorsed lawsuits that sought to overturn the election results. Federal and state courts dismissed Trump's claims of voter fraud nearly 60 times. And recounts in Georgia and Wisconsin upheld Biden's victories in those states.
Trump's allies Monday introduced a new tactic to try to overturn the outcome. Republicans in states that Trump has contested, including Michigan, Arizona and Georgia, met on their own, posing as electors and vowing to send their votes for Trump to Congress, which meets Jan. 6 to count the electoral votes and certify a winner.
More: Mitch McConnell congratulates Joe Biden, Kamala Harris for election win
Trump adviser Stephen Miller outlined the far-fetched strategy, saying the plan to send votes from "alternate slates of electors" to Congress would "ensure all of our legal remedies will remain open.” With Trump's blessing, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama is also leading an effort to reject the official electoral votes submitted by some swing states Biden won.
But Green said she doesn't see any serious argument for Congress to count votes from competing slates of Trump electors over those submitted by official electors established by law.
"We're even past the point of game-changers if you look at the law and what it requires," Green said, adding that it would take new evidence unearthed in multiple states for Congress to have the "political impetus" to reject the certified electoral votes. "Even in the most extraordinary circumstances it would have to be triply extraordinary. The sun has set on upsetting the outcome."
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., told reporters that McConnell and Senate Republican leaders encouraged members "to accept the result" and "try to do what's best for the American people. "
More: 'The moment of truth': The Electoral College prepares to hand Trump the loss he refuses to accept
Objections to a state's electoral votes would require support from one House member and one senator for consideration when the votes arrive in Congress on Jan. 6. The two chambers would meet separately to vote on any disputes.
But even if one senator does endorse an objection, the effort is destined to fail in the Democratic-controlled House and now likely to fail in the Republican-led Senate as well. Because of those dynamics, Congress is also likely to reject a competing slate of Trump electors from states Biden won.
"The so-called rival electors scenario, even if it does get sent to Congress, is essentially dead on arrival," said Ned Foley, director of the election law program at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. "It's not going to be successful. It might take a little more procedure, but it's not going to affect the outcome."
"The time for litigating was before the meeting of the Electoral College," he added. "That happened, and now that's done and over. That's why it really is over now."
In addition to Putin, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Tuesday he sent a letter of congratulations to Biden, becoming one of the last world leaders to do so. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, another Trump ally, also extended his "best wishes" to Biden following his electoral victory.
Even Newsmax, a pro-Trump conservative media network, announced its reporters would be referring to Biden as the "president-elect" in future news coverage.
No public concession from the president
Still, Trump and his aides aren't conceding publicly.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described the Electoral College vote on Monday as "one step in the constitutional process," and signaled Trump will continue to fight the outcome of the election until the Jan. 20 inauguration.
"He's still pursuing ongoing litigation at the moment for this election," McEnany said.
More: Joe Biden won the Electoral College. Here's what happens next in the election process
Trump administration officials said they weren't surprised by the Electoral College vote, nor by McConnell's salute to Biden – and Trump probably wasn't surprised either.
Campaign advisers and attorneys have made clear to Trump that success was unlikely, aides said, but they expect the president to continue protesting. They do not believe he will ever concede, and may make complaints about the election the cornerstone of a potential 2024 campaign for the presidency.
In his remarks from the Senate floor, McConnell said, "The president-elect," referring to Biden, "is no stranger to the Senate. He has devoted himself to public service for many years."
Noting Harris’ historic win, McConnell said, “beyond our differences, all Americans can take pride that our nation has a female vice president for the very first time.”
Biden said he called McConnell, R-Ky., Tuesday to thank him for his remarks. Biden called it a "great conversation."
"I told him that while we disagree on a lot of things there are things we can work together on. We agreed to get together sooner than later. And I'm looking forward to working with him."
Stumping for Georgia Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in Atlanta Tuesday, Biden said, "I'm starting to feel like I won Georgia three times."
Trump did not publicly acknowledge McConnell's remarks in a tweet posted shortly after the Republican leader spoke. He instead doubled down on his claims: "Tremendous evidence pouring in on voter fraud. There has never been anything like this in our Country!"
And yet Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who is set to hold a Senate hearing Wednesday on “irregularities" in last month's election, said he acknowledged Biden as the president-elect and believed the election was legitimate.
"I haven’t seen anything that would convince me that the results – the overall national result – would be overturned." he said.
Contributing: Associated Press, Nicholas Wu, John Fritze, David Jackson, Bart Jansen and Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison.
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