The goal, she said, is to show there is overwhelming support in both parties for accepting the results and rejecting a “coup.”
“The coup-fighters are a group that is bipartisan,” Klobuchar said in an interview. “You use the moment to show that there is still bipartisan support, including people who didn’t support Joe Biden, that they will stand up for a cause larger than themselves.”
Klobuchar added, “This is game day.”
In contrast, Biden himself plans to keep a studiously low profile, consistent with his goal of softening the country’s rhetoric as he prepares to take office, in hopes of being able to work with Republicans. The president-elect will stay in Wilmington, Del., where he intends to focus on his plans for helping small businesses through the economic collapse, allowing photographers and reporters a quick glimpse of his meeting.
That contrast by design — showing Biden tending to pocketbook issues while Republicans squabble over politics — is a typical Biden response: an attempt to hover above the latest Washington outrage while his staff pays close attention to the moment-to-moment intrigue.
“If the opening weeks of the transition to a Democratic administration are more fighting and more finger-pointing and more accusations, then I think that will deprive us of the opportunity to try to return to normal,” said Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a Biden confidant.
But it remains far from certain that Biden can achieve normalcy after he faces such an extraordinary challenge from an increasingly polarized body. His team was intently watching developments to gauge how many Republican senators, and which ones, might be open to cooperation after he takes office — and which ones might be more likely than they had realized to follow in Trump’s scorched-earth path.
Biden’s publicly hands-off stance was especially notable for a figure who usually rushes to defend the Senate as an institution. He also was the last person to preside over an electoral college certification — in 2017, when as the sitting vice president he batted down objections from his own party and supported a smooth transition of power to the Trump administration.
While Biden’s allies expressed confidence that Wednesday’s events would amount to futile “antics” with no hope of changing the outcome, they nonetheless crafted a detailed plan to rebut key points of the challenge and move rapidly through the proceedings, a sign that Biden sees a drawn-out affair as potentially damaging.
Some allies also ramped up their rhetoric about President Trump’s final days in office, suggesting that Wednesday might not be the last gasp of GOP resistance. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told MSNBC on Tuesday, “We’re certainly worried about military hostilities that might occur between now and the 20th. Who knows what an angry, illogical president might do with the remaining days in power.”
During Wednesday’s proceedings, a joint session of Congress is set to accept the electoral college tallies as they are called out alphabetically by state. If at least one senator and one House member question any state’s result, the chambers individually debate and vote on that challenge.
The Republican dissenters say they will object to the tallies of at least three states — Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania — and adding more could prolong the process to more than 24 hours. Klobuchar, who as the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee will be one of four lawmakers tallying the votes, said that although the rules allow for a break — Klobuchar said she and Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) have decided they would not take one.
Biden has no plans to make a formal speech once the tally is complete, but he may address it in some fashion depending on when Congress is done, according to a Biden official familiar with his plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.
The fierceness of Wednesday’s fight will also give an early hint about the odds Biden faces in taming this Senate. During the campaign, he regularly presented his long history in the chamber, and his record of working across the aisle, as a reason he would be successful in enacting an agenda that includes combating climate change, shoring up the economy and getting relief to pandemic victims.
“You need old hands to know where the old bodies are buried,” Biden told a group of journalists recently, explaining why he had picked so many longtime Washington insiders for his Cabinet.
But Washington has been changing, and many of the old-school power brokers are gone. Biden spent 36 years in the Senate, but the body has transformed since he departed in 2009 to serve as Barack Obama’s vice president. Only one-third of the current senators served with Biden, including about a dozen of the current Republicans.
All four of the newly elected Senate Republicans have signed on to the effort to contest the election results and challenge Biden’s legitimacy, and the Republicans leading the effort also did not serve with him.
Many Democrats are skeptical these GOP senators will ever come around, but Biden has predicted that Trump’s grip on the GOP will loosen over time and that it will take about six months for him to develop a working relationship with Senate Republicans. Regardless of the outcome of the two Georgia runoff elections held Tuesday, Biden will need Republican cooperation to enact large chunks of his agenda, because 60 senators are needed to pass most legislation.
Given that, Wednesday’s proceedings could provide an early guide to who might be helpful to Biden, said Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia attorney and longtime Biden donor and fundraiser. Kessler said the decision by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) not to support the electoral challenge, for example, could mean he is someone that Biden could work with, despite Toomey’s deep conservatism.
“It’s a clear signal that that’s someone you can talk to, who is rational, reasonable, may ultimately go against you, but certainly someone you can talk to,” Kessler said.
Biden’s team has also been somewhat encouraged that firebrands such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is believed to have presidential ambitions, rejected the effort to contest the results. Another senator they are watching closely is Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who also has not joined the dissenters despite his close relationship with Trump. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has actively tried to tamp down the GOP opposition.
On the other hand, Biden’s allies are disappointed that some Republicans they had viewed as potential partners are signing on to the protests. In particular, they were dismayed that Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who are not seen as partisan firebrands, joined the challengers despite the lack of any evidence of election fraud.
Some Senate Democrats are worried that this foreshadows a tough road in the Senate for Biden’s presidency, especially if Republicans continue to be influenced by the GOP’s Trump-friendly faction of voters.
“I’m a pretty patient person, but I’m kind of tired of the excuse, ‘Well, you know, I’ve got to do this because of the base,’ ” said Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.)., who said he’s heard that from his GOP colleagues in recent days.
Casey said he sees little silver lining in the fact that most Republican senators are expected to oppose the electoral challenge.
“I guess you have to differentiate between those who will go over any cliff for Trump versus those who won’t go over this cliff,” Casey said. “But I don’t think it necessarily gives you the road map for a substantive legislative agenda, because I think it’s going to be difficult even with those who didn’t go along with it.”
Still, Biden’s transition team, eager to keep the path open for potentially working with Republicans, is going to great lengths to downplay Wednesday’s drama.
“This is merely a formality and certainly should be treated as such by people who are covering it,” incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki told reporters on a recent call. “Regardless of whatever antics anyone is up to on January 6th, President-elect Biden will be sworn in on the 20th.”
John Morgan, a prominent Biden donor from Orlando, said Biden’s reluctance to publicly wade into the debate reflects his experience navigating politics on Capitol Hill and working with those who disagree with him, or even seek to undermine him.
“The thing about Joe Biden is, this is not his first rodeo. This is his 47th rodeo,” Morgan said. “Joe Biden doesn’t take this stuff personally, because he’s been through it so many times. He’s been betrayed and lied to so many times that he has alligator skin.”
Part of Biden’s calculation is that it would be a mistake to expend political capital on this fight given the all-but-certain outcome, said Kessler, the Philadelphia Biden donor.
“It would be different if it had a chance on carrying the day, but it doesn’t, so you just move on,” Kessler said. “What’s to gain from it?”
Referring to the legal challenges filed by Trump supporters alleging voter fraud, Kessler said, “Ninety judges have ruled against it, including any number of Republican-appointed judges. . . . Why not let it just play out?”
Four years ago, Biden, in one of his final acts as vice president, presided over that election’s version of Wednesday’s event. Several members of his own party rose to object to their state’s electoral college tally, and at times, Biden appeared to grow annoyed by the dissenters, even though the results went against his own party.
And the joint session of Congress came to a close with a head-scratching moment. After gaveling the proceedings to a close, Biden turned to then-House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and said, “God Save the Queen.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a comment by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The story has been corrected.