Joint session of Congress to count votes in November state elections

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NOEL KING, HOST:

It is a victory in Georgia for the Reverend Raphael Warnock, now elected senator. He will be the state’s first black senator. He beat Republican Kelly Loeffler in one of two crucial Senate races in Georgia. Earlier this morning he declared victory.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: I go to the Senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you vote for in this election.

KING: Now, the second race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff is too close to be called at this point. If Ossoff wins, Democrats will control the Senate. Also happening today, lawmakers currently in Congress will certify Joe Biden’s presidential victory. While there’s no doubt about the results, some Republicans plan to oppose it, which means they’ll officially vote to overthrow a Democratic election – phew. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell covers it all. Hello, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hello.

KING: So the races in Georgia were both tight. Warnock took the victory. What do we learn from Georgia?

SNELL: You know, the polls showed some very close races leading up to this second round election. And Democrats systematically work on turnout, especially early voting. You know, this race really depended on the massive presence of their voters. And Republicans who got into this business were concerned that President Trump’s posts about voter fraud and his battles with Georgia’s secretary of state and, you know, his Twitter speech would suppress Republican participation. And as you said, the balance of power in the Senate depends on the remaining race between Ossoff and Perdue. If they end up within half a percent, it could eventually lead to a recount. This would mean that the Senate cannot really get started until Georgia is finalized.

KING: What would a Democrat-controlled Senate mean to Joe Biden?

SNELL: You know, that last Senate seat really changes everything if Ossoff wins. There is a 50-50 Senate. And Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would break any tie. His victory would mean Democrats control which bills get a vote, which committees look at things, basically how the Senate fully functions. It is an important power. But it also puts a lot of pressure on the ideological divisions within the Democratic Party. You know, moderate Democrats have shown a willingness to work across the aisle. And a narrow cleavage could favor them. But progressives have a long list of priorities if Democrats are to regain full control of Washington.

KING: Okay. So there is still a lot of unfinished business in Georgia, but not with regard to the presidential election. Joe Biden won. Congress will today certify its victory. How does this process work?

SNELL: Yeah. So the basics are that Vice President Mike Pence will chair these proceedings alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Republicans will have the opportunity to oppose each state individually. And we expect it to start with Arizona. Texas Senator Ted Cruz and a group of others will start their objections there. And I was told that they were planning to focus on appeals to an election commission, not putting the election result aside. We hear that there are about six states that could be involved. While it could be more, it could be less. And that could drag on all night long because each objection opens up hours of debate. You know, Congress should vote to certify states with little problem in the end. And we understand that Vice President Pence intends, as we are told, to follow the law while he presides.

KING: And it’s worth noting that Republicans are divided on this, with many of them telling their colleagues, look; it’s done.

SNELL: Yeah. About two dozen Senate Republicans are expected to join all Democrats in easily voting against these objections. Republicans are divided. And, in part, it’s about deciding who they are as a party in a post-Trump era. There are divisions over culture wars and political fighting and real deep concerns about the extreme positions and conspiracy theories that have taken root in some elements of the party, including some members of Congress. You know, supporters of President Trump have gathered in Washington for days of protest. And much of the inner city of the city is simply closed to traffic. You know, the protests are based on false allegations of Trump’s election fraud mixed with conspiracy theories and other misinformation. It’s such a tense scene that DC officials have called on the National Guard to stand by. So there’s a lot of churn in Washington right now.

KING: Yes, a lot, indeed. Kelsey Snell, Congress correspondent for the NPR.

Thanks Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you very much for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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