with Brent D. Griffiths

Good morning. It's Wednesday – electoral college challenge day. Trump will rally outside of the White House at 11a.m. in protest of the congressional certification of his election defeat. Tips, comments, recipes? You know the drill. Thanks for waking up with us. 

The campaign

PHOTO FINISH: Democrats came within striking distance of total control of Washington with possible twin victories in the Georgia Senate runoffs determining which party holds the Senate majority. 

If they prevail, President-elect Joe Biden would have an easier time pushing through his agenda and getting his nominations confirmed. But it won't be easy: the Senate would be equally divided, with Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris able to break ties.

Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both took the lead over their Republican opponents on Tuesday night in suspenseful contests. Edison Research called the race for Warnock early this morning over Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.). Ossoff currently holds a narrower lead of 16,700 votes over David Perdue (R) with nearly all of the ballots counted. 

  • Firsts: Warnock would be the first Black Democratic senator from a former Confederate state; Ossoff, 33, would be the youngest incoming senator since Biden in 1973.

President Trump loomed large over the Georgia races, with a months-long campaign against the state's election officials after losing narrowly to Biden in November's presidential contest. Many Republicans blamed the president for throwing into question the integrity of Georgia's system by insisting the state's presidential results were fraudulent.

Trump's quest to overturn the presidential results will today come to Congress when a slew of House members and senators intend to challenge the certification of the electoral college vote. As The New York Times reported, it's all but certain to fail. The spectacle will put the spotlight squarely on Vice President Pence, who Trump has urged to meddle with the results even though his role today is largely ceremonial.

Here we go again: As Georgia votes were still being counted, Trump and his campaign cast doubt on their veracity: “Just happened to have found another 4000 ballots from Fulton County. Here we go!,” Trump wrote on Twitter at around midnight And Eric Trump threatened on Twitter to help primary Republicans who don't “stand up against” the president's unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. 

The reality?: Warnock and Ossoff benefited from late breaking counts in Democratic parts of the state after record turnout for a runoff election.

  • “The Warnock win — and the possibility of a second Democratic victory — represented a historic upset in a longtime Republican bastion, signaling a clear shift in the political makeup of the state that Biden won nine weeks ago," our colleagues Reis Thebault, Michael Scherer, and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. report.
  • All about that majority: “In the end, about 95 percent of voters in both runoff races said that determining control of the Senate was a ‘major factor’ in their vote, according to A.P. voter surveys, with about three in five calling it ‘the single most important factor,'" the New York Times's Shane Goldmacher reports.

Making history: Warnock delivered a virtual victory speech early this morning: “We were told that we couldn't win this election…Tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work, and the people by our side, anything is possible,” he said. 

  • “May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American Dream," he said.
  • “Georgia,” Warnock added, “I am honored by the faith that you have shown in me.”
  • If elected, Ossoff also would be “the first Jewish candidate ever to become a U.S. Senator from Georgia — and from any state in the Deep South since the 1880s,” historian Michael Beschloss noted. 

By the numbers: According to our colleagues Scott Clement and Emily Guskin, Democrats made gains among Hispanic and Black voters compared to November, early exit polls found: 

  • White voters in Georgia are supporting Republican Senate candidates by similarly wide margins as they did in November according to early exit polling. But voters of color appear to be more supportive of Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s runoff election than they were in November,” per Scott.  
  • About 3 in 10 voters in Georgia are Black and they support Democrats Ossoff and Warnock by a margin of well over 80 points according to preliminary network exit polling by Edison Research, wider than the 76-point margin Black voters supported Ossoff by in November. 
  • Hispanic voters make up a small share of voters in the state about 5 percent but exit polling finds that nearly two-thirds support each Democratic candidate for Senate, up from 52 percent who supported Ossoff in November’s election. The Democrats’ current standing is closer to Biden’s 62 percent support in the presidential race among Latinos, helping fuel his narrow victory in the state,” Scott and Emily report. 
  • Exit surveys also showed Democrats benefited from changing demographics: AP VoteCast showed signs that newcomers to Georgia were more Democratic than longtime residents of the state,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Tim Darnell reports. “Those who have lived in the state for longer than 20 years leaned Republican, while those who have moved more recently favored Democrats.”

The other winner: Accolades for Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, poured in throughout the night, crediting her for spearheading the push to turn the state blue via her work on electoral reform and voter registration.

  • “While Ms. Abrams is widely expected to run for governor again in 2022, she is at the moment one of the most influential American politicians not in elected office,” the New York Times's Reid Epstein and Astead Herndon report. “It was her political infrastructure and strategy of increasing turnout among the state’s Black, Latino and Asian voters that laid the groundwork for both President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in November and the Democrats’ performance in the Senate races.”

Let the finger pointing begin: Most Georgia Democrats and independents say the state's presidential election was fair, according to preliminary exit polling but about 2 in 10 Georgia Republicans said it wasn't, according to Scott and Emily. Gabriel Sterling, Georgia's voting systems manager, told CNN that if Republicans lose the runoffs, Trump's disinformation campaign would be to blame: 

  • “This is an opinion that it will fall squarely on the shoulders of President Trump and his actions since November 3… When you tell people your vote doesn’t count, it’s been stolen, and people start to believe that, and then you go to the two senators and tell them to ask the secretary of state to resign and trigger a civil war inside the Republican Party,” Sterling told CNN.
  • “Trump is the cause of this, lock, stock and barrel,” one Republican strategist told Politico's Meridith McGraw, Gabby Orr and Andrew Desiderio. “But when you’re relying on someone to win you a Senate race that also lost statewide eight weeks prior, you’re not in a position of strength.”
  • From former Virginia congresswoman and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): 

The full impact of Trump's attacks has yet to be determined but some areas where Republicans expected high turnout appear to have lagged behind November. 

  • For example, the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman notes that in “Whitfield Co., where Trump held his pre-election rally, turned out at just 86.1% of November levels. The state as a whole is on track to exceed 89% of November levels.” 

On the Hill

ALL EYES ON PENCE:  The vice president will preside over the certification of electoral college votes taking place today on Capitol Hill. Though his role is largely ceremonial, Trump urged his No. 2  in a an early-morning tweet to “win the presidency."

  • Huh? “Mike can send it back!” Trump claimed of electoral college tallies certified by their states.
  • Fact check: Pence does not have the authority to meddle with the results.
  • The president’s faulty belief that Pence can somehow overturn the election results is being fueled by agitators who are feeding Trump misinformation, said several people in touch with the president and the White House, who along with some others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the relationship between Trump and Pence…Few if any legal experts agree,” our colleagues Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report. 
  • For his part: Vice President Mike Pence told President Trump on Tuesday that he did not believe he had the power to block congressional certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the presidential election despite Mr. Trump’s baseless insistence that he did, people briefed on the conversation said,” the New York Times's Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni scooped. 
  • Reality check: “For results to be overturned, both the House and the Senate would have to agree to do so. Because the House is controlled by the Democrats, there is no realistic possibility of any state’s outcome being rejected. In addition, many if not most Senate Republicans appear likely to join all Democrats in rejecting challenges to the results,” per Haberman and Karni.
  • “If the rules that have been in place and understood since 1887 are fairly applied and tradition followed, there is no possibility of any vote being discounted and certainly not enough to change the election,” Stephen Siegel, a legal historian who has spent years studying the electoral vote count, told our colleague Ann E. Marimow.

Eyes are also McConnell:When Congress meets for a joint session Wednesday to certify the electoral college vote, McConnell will speak first in the Senate on any challenges, according to a person familiar with his plans. That will be an opportunity to make an early and definitive statement that Trump lost and it is time to move on,” our colleagues Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report. 

  • He has urged his Republican colleagues not to challenge the results, but that was before several of them decided to do so.
  • Axios reported previously these are “most consequential vote(s)” of his entire career, a striking statement given he supported  the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He's also voted in two of the only three presidential impeachments.

How this will go down: “Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) plans to formally object to the certification of electors from Arizona,” Seung Min Kim and Mike DeBonis report. This will kick off expected objections to electors from Georgia and Pennsylvania as well, though other states may also be challenged. 

  • The key thing to know: Based on an 1877 law, an objection needs to be formally made by both a House member and a senator. Our colleague Daniela Santamariña explains what happens from there:
Trump's allies in Congress will mount a final challenge to Biden’s win during a joint session on Jan. 6. But history shows it's destined to fail. (The Washington Post)

Stealing home: Multiple members of Congress are expected to object to the certification of electors from their own states. They've previously said their fears are based on unsubstantiated fraud that somehow only affected the presidential election and miraculously didn't impact their own races.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) tried to point out the hypocrisy of this earlier by forcing to colleagues to vote on this very question.

  • Loeffler will be the highest-profile member of this group. Given her projected loss, this will be one of the final votes she will ever cast. Perdue's term ended before the runoff, so Georgia's other Senate seat is vacant. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) will join Cruz in objecting to his state's slate.

What will the backlash be?: Perhaps in a sign of things to come, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was shouted down during a flight to D.C. last night as pro-Trump supporters branded him a “traitor," CBS News's April Siese reports. Another video appears to show Romney being confronted prior to boarding the flight.

The people

DEMONSTRATIONS BEGIN IN D.C.: “All Tuesday afternoon, people bundled against the cold but free of masks arrived in downtown Washington for what they see as a last stand for Trump, who has continued to falsely assert that the election was stolen from him,” Marissa J. Lang, Emily Davies, Peter Hermann, Jessica Contrera and Clarence Williams report.

  • What happened: “For nearly eight hours, speakers repeated election conspiracy theories, closed their eyes to pray and shared discount codes for MyPillow, a company owned by a Trump ally … In all, D.C. police made five arrests Tuesday and Park Police made one. Charges included weapons violations and assault.”
  • The city is preparing for potentially violent clashes: “Far-right online forums are seething with references to potential violence and urging supporters of Trump to bring guns to [today's] protests — in violation of local laws,” Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell report.

Trump has said he will speak at one of the rallies near the White House at 11 a.m. 

In the media

Hospitalizations are overwhelming the West and South: “Los Angeles County has been so overwhelmed it is running out of oxygen, with ambulance crews instructed to use oxygen only for their worst-case patients. Crews were told not to bring patients to the hospital if they have little hope of survival and to treat and declare such patients dead on the scene to preserve hospital capacity,” Fenit Nirappil and William Wan report.

  • It's not just California: “Arizona now has the nation’s highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations. In the Atlanta area, nearly every major hospital is almost full, prompting state officials to reopen a field hospital for the third time.”

No charges will be filed against the officer who shot Jacob Blake: “Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced that his office would not seek charges against Rusten Sheskey, the 31-year-old Kenosha police officer who has been on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice since the Aug. 23 shooting, which Blake survived,” Mark Guarino, Mark Berman and Kim Bellware report from Kenosha.

  • “Blake, who witnesses said had been trying to break up an argument between two women, was shot as he walked back toward his vehicle. In his written report, Graveley said Blake was armed with an open knife he was holding in his right hand. The report also says video footage showed Blake carrying a knife.”

Viral

RECEIVING HISTORY: Alabama's DeVonta Smith became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy, college football's most prized award, in 29 years, Chuck Culpepper reports.