The Electoral College vote started on Monday morning in states across the country, in a move that will officially designate Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the president-elect and pass a crucial milestone that President Trump has sought to upend with legal challenges and political pressure to overturn the results of a popular election.
“It’s not just out of tradition but to show folks, especially now more than ever, our system works,” said Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, a Republican, in opening remarks before the state’s four electors cast their ballots for Mr. Biden.
And in Vermont, the state’s electors gathered for a basic rite of democracy normally invisible to the public. But this year, because of Mr. Trump’s ongoing campaign to subvert the election, the session was carried live by national news outlets. The states three electors, dressed casually, gathered in an empty, ornate statehouse chamber and signed their names to votes for Mr. Biden on six certificates.
Vermont and New Hampshire were two of a handful of states, including Indiana and Tennessee, where electors gathered at around 10 a.m. Eastern. Voting will continue throughout the day, with the schedule determined by individual states. California, the state with the most electors, will most likely push Mr. Biden past the 270-vote threshold needed to win the presidency when it votes at 5 p.m. Eastern.
Though the meeting of the Electoral College is an important moment in American democracy, it is rarely one that becomes a major political event. But as the president has continued his quixotic campaign to subvert the election, the vote on Monday has loomed as an important deadline, made all the more unusual because there was no state in which the vote was close enough to leave its result in doubt.
Despite the definitive defeat in the Electoral College, Mr. Trump has remained defiant, spending his weekend attacking the Supreme Court for rejecting a Texas lawsuit against four battleground states and issuing more baseless accusations about the election from his Twitter account. The president has shown no indication he intends to concede the election.
The increasingly caustic remarks from the president have kept tensions high, with some states providing security for the sites where the electors will convene and protests expected in some swing states that Mr. Trump has targeted in recent weeks.
The vote will largely remove any cover for Republicans in Congress who have refused to acknowledge Mr. Biden as the president-elect. In providing Mr. Trump the room to dispute his loss, Republicans in Congress presented the Electoral College vote as the new marker for when a presidential victory should be recognized.
“Everything before Monday is really a projection,” Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “If the president loses, and it appears that he will when the electors vote, he should put the country first, take pride in his accomplishments, congratulate Joe Biden and help him off to a good start.”
The Monday vote was not in doubt. But Mr. Alexander’s appearance on Sunday showed the party’s tortured position as it seeks to accommodate the anti-democratic push of its standard-bearer.
Part of that push had been a legally dubious effort to force Republican-controlled state legislatures in states Mr. Trump lost to ignore the popular vote and appoint their own slate of electors.
But in court case after court case, Mr. Trump was dealt loss after loss, often coupled with withering opinions decrying the effort as meritless, and electors met on Monday with no major court case lingering over the day.
The members of the Electoral College are gathering in their respective states today to cast their official ballots for president. Here’s more on how the voting will work, and on the next steps in the process:
Can I watch the Electoral College vote?
Yes — most states offer livestreams to watch the proceedings, including crucial battlegrounds won by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. Here are links for four of them: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
The electors don’t meet in one place or at the same time; some start at 10 a.m. Eastern, and most vote in the afternoon.
How does the Electoral College voting work?
The electors cast their ballots for president and vice president via paper ballot. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia legally require their electors to choose whoever won the state’s popular vote, so there should be no surprises there. The other 17 states don’t “bind” their electors, meaning they can vote for whomever they choose. But the likelihood of “faithless electors” switching sides and handing the election to President Trump is essentially zero.
After the votes are counted, the electors sign certificates showing the results. These are paired with certificates from the governor’s office showing the state’s vote totals. The certificates are sent to Vice President Mike Pence, in his capacity as president of the Senate; the Office of the Federal Register; the secretary of state of the respective state; and the chief judge of the Federal District Court where the electors meet.
What happens next?
Congress officially counts the votes in a joint session held in the House chamber on Jan. 6, with Mr. Pence presiding. When Mr. Biden reaches a majority with 270 votes, Mr. Pence announces the result.
The session cannot be ended until the count is complete and the result publicly declared. At this point, the election is officially decided. The only remaining task is the inauguration on Jan. 20.
Can members of Congress block the results?
There is no debate permitted during the counting of the electoral votes. But after the result is read, members of Congress get one opportunity to lodge their concerns.
Any objection to a state’s results must be made in writing and be signed by at least one senator and one member of the House. The two chambers would then separate to debate the objection. Each member of Congress can speak only once — for five minutes — and after two hours the debate is cut off. Each body then votes on whether to reject the state’s results.
What’s the likelihood of Congress changing the outcome?
Stopping Mr. Biden from assuming office remains a long-shot strategy for Republicans.
For an objection to stand, it must pass both houses of Congress by a simple majority. If the vote followed party lines, Republicans could not block Mr. Biden’s victory.
Congress will reconvene today for a make-or-break week in the effort to deliver badly needed relief to Americans and an economy hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic before the Christmas holidays.
After months of impasse, lawmakers are now staring down a Friday deadline to complete a must-pass government funding bill to which they hope to attach new money for small businesses, unemployed Americans, the airline and restaurant industries, and schools. Many of the relief programs created this year are set to expire next week, putting millions of Americans at risk of losing government support as the health crisis continues in their communities.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers who have been working for a month on a $908 billion proposal met through the weekend and planned to introduce their final product on Monday, with Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, declaring “we’ve broken the gridlock” in a phone interview on Sunday.
Mr. Manchin said the bill would be offered in what he called “two tranches,” with one part featuring compromises on the two most polarizing provisions — $160 billion to bolster state and local governments and a temporary liability shield to protect businesses, nonprofits, schools and hospitals from lawsuits related to the pandemic.
The second package would include the remaining $748 billion allotted for more widely supported proposals to fund vaccine distribution, schools, unemployment insurance benefits, small businesses and other institutions struggling to stay afloat because of the pandemic.
The decision to present the $908 billion framework in two parts, which was first reported by Politico, reflects in part a push from Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, to approve a narrow measure that excludes both any liability provision and state and local funding. Democrats have been resistant to a liability shield they say could harm worker protections and Republicans have been reluctant to support what they have derided as a “blue state bailout” for state and local governments.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, who spoke for about 30 minutes with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, on Sunday, seemed prepared to fight to keep that money in an agreement.
During the phone call, Ms. Pelosi suggested to Mr. Mnuchin that she was open to a compromise on the liability shield issue, provided that it “does not jeopardize workers’ safety,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi.
Mr. Manchin acknowledged that congressional leaders would ultimately make the final decision as to what elements of pandemic relief would be wrapped into an omnibus government funding package.
Adding to the complications for a final agreement, lawmakers will likely have to address a campaign led by Senators Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, and Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, to include another round of direct payments to Americans.
Despite recently suffering the most consequential in a string of defeats in his quest to subvert the results of November’s election, President Trump continued to insist over the weekend that his plans to challenge his loss were “not over.”
“It’s not over. We keep going,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox News that aired on Sunday and was taped on Saturday at the Army-Navy football game. “And we’re going to continue to go forward.”
The president’s vow to press on came after the Supreme Court rejected a Texas lawsuit against four battleground states, in effect ending his attempt to overturn the results. Mr. Trump’s allies have also lost dozens of times in lower courts. The Electoral College meets on Monday to cement President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s win.
Many top Republicans in Congress continued to stand by Mr. Trump in refusing to recognize Mr. Biden as the president-elect. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, did so again on Sunday, arguing on “Fox News Sunday” that the legal process was not over despite the Supreme Court ruling.
“There will be a president sworn in on Jan. 20, but let this process play out,” he said.
Some party elders, though, have begun to say more than a month after Election Day that it is time to move on.
“The courts have resolved the disputes. It looks very much like the electors will vote for Joe Biden,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, in a prerecorded interview aired Sunday by NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Mr. Trump has made baseless claim after baseless claim of election fraud in his attempt to deny Mr. Biden’s victory. Some states “got rigged and robbed from us,” he falsely claimed in the Fox interview. “But we won every one of them.”
When the interviewer, Brian Kilmeade, tried to ask if Mr. Trump would attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration, Mr. Trump interrupted. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he said. “I want to talk about this. We’ve done a great job.”
He also tore into Attorney General William P. Barr again for not violating Justice Department guidelines against publicly discussing open cases and trying to keep information from leaking out about an investigation into the finances of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, during the presidential campaign.
Mr. Trump, who spent months denouncing the work of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, used Mr. Mueller as a positive example when compared with Mr. Barr.
The president noted that Mr. Mueller had said that an article by BuzzFeed News claiming that Mr. Trump had directed his lawyer to lie to Congress was flawed. He argued that Mr. Barr should have contradicted Mr. Biden’s statements in one of the presidential debates minimizing questions about his son.
“Bill Barr, I believe — not believe, I know — had an obligation to set the record straight, just like Robert Mueller set the record straight,” Mr. Trump said, saying that Mr. Mueller “stood up” against a false report.
After a steep decline in border crossings through much of this year, interceptions of unauthorized migrants are climbing again, setting the stage for the first significant challenge to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pledge to adopt a more compassionate policy along America’s 1,100-mile border with Mexico.
Detentions in October were up 30 percent over September, and the figure in coming months is expected be even higher, despite the biting cold in the Sonoran desert.
The rising numbers suggest that the Trump administration’s expulsion policy, an emergency measure to halt spread of the coronavirus, is encouraging migrants to make repeated tries, in ever-more-remote locations, until they succeed in crossing the frontier undetected.
And they are likely the leading edge of a much more substantial surge toward the border, immigration analysts say, as a worsening economy in Central America, the disaster wrought by Hurricanes Eta and Iota and expectations of a more lenient U.S. border policy drive ever-larger numbers toward the United States.
“If there is a perception of more-humane policies, you are likely to see an increase of arrivals at the border,” said T. Alexander Aleinikoff, director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at the New School in New York.
“That doesn’t mean that those flows cannot be adequately handled with a comprehensive set of policies that are quite different from Trump’s,” said Mr. Aleinikoff, “but you need a well-functioning bureaucracy to handle it.”
Mr. Biden has vowed to begin undoing the “damage” inflicted by the Trump administration’s border policies. He has said he will end a program that has returned tens of thousands of asylum seekers to Mexico and restore the country’s historical role as a safe haven for people fleeing persecution.
But swiftly reversing Trump administration policies could be construed as opening the floodgates, risking a rush to the border that could quickly devolve into a humanitarian crisis.
Any misstep would threaten a replay of 2014 and 2016, when the Obama administration scrambled to stem a chaotic influx of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Human-rights groups were outraged when families and children were locked up and deportations were accelerated. Immigration hard-liners attacked Mr. Obama for allowing tens of thousands to enter the United States and remain in the country while their asylum cases wound through the courts, which can take years.