“Keep your hands on that plow, hold on.” — The refrain from an old American gospel/folk song
The wonderful thing about the annual celebration of the arrival of a New Year is the spirit of hope it inspires. Whatever the troubles of the old year were — though they can’t all be consigned safely to history or memory — they can be met with a new resolve. For a wonderful moment, anything is possible again. The earth, this precious, little, blue-green jewel of a planet, has come full circle. Another journey has begun; and with it the chance, again, to get things right, or at least start heading decisively, resolutions in hand, in that direction.
I really would like to continue this post in a hopeful, positive tone, about how I’ve got my seed order in already for the 2021 gardening season, how the renewed interest in growing and eating food you grow yourself is a good thing for more than that good reason. It is also a continuous learning experience that helps keep your body, mind, and spirit healthy and hopeful. Or to put it another way: being close to the soil is good for the soul.
But first, dear, patient, persevering reader, allow me to pause long enough to consider an important event in a few days that could have a huge impact on the shape of things to come in 2021, and beyond. One way or another, January 6, 2021 could be a date that will go down in history as an epic turning point; hopefully, for the better.
This coming Wednesday, starting at 1 p.m., a joint session of the U.S. congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, will meet in the House, to formally hear and confirm the results of the November 3, 2020 U.S. election. That is, the state-by-state, certified electoral college results as voted on December 14, 2020. That process gave the Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden, 306 electoral votes for President, compared with 232 for incumbent, one-term President, Republican Donald Trump. Biden won the national, popular vote by more than seven million, in an election that saw more than 155 million American voters cast ballots, the most ever.
But Trump has not conceded defeat and continues to claim there was widespread fraud during the election, despite the claim being repeatedly dismissed in court for lack of evidence. Inauguration Day is January 20. The January 6 Joint Session, normally a routine affair, is shaping up to be anything but routine.
Sitting Vice-Presidents of the U.S., in their capacity as President of the Senate, preside over the Joint Session, unless they choose not to, or otherwise are not available. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey declined the job in 1969. In those circumstances the President pro tempore of the Senate presides, the Congressional Research Service says in its December 8, 2020 report, Counting Electoral Votes.
If the current Vice-President, Mike Pence, is not willing or available for whatever reason, he would be replaced by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the current President pro tempore of the Senate.
Assuming he will be presiding, Pence’s job will be to open the sealed electoral college result envelopes from each state, and hand them over to appointed ‘tellers’ to be read aloud to the Joint Session. At that point, his other role, to maintain “order,” could get much more than routinely interesting.
“When the certificate or equivalent paper from each state or the District of Columbia is read, the President of the Senate shall call for objections, if any,” the Congressional Review Service says. “Any such objection must be presented in writing and must be signed by at least one Senator and one Representative. The objection ‘shall state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof.’ During the joint session of January 6, 2001, the presiding officer intervened on several occasions to halt attempts to make speeches under the guise of offering an objection.”
The report goes on to say, “When an objection, properly made in writing and endorsed by at least one Senator and one Representative, is received, each house is to meet and consider it separately. The statute states, ‘No votes or papers from any other State shall be acted upon until the objections previously made to the votes or papers from any State shall have been finally disposed of.’ However, in 1873, before enactment of the law now in force, the joint session agreed, without objection and for reasons of convenience, to entertain objections with regard to two or more states before the houses met separately on any of them.”
The report does not clarify what effect, if any, the actions of 1873 may still have on the application of the statute if multiple objections are raised during the upcoming Joint Session. Recent news reports have said up to 140 Republican members of the House may raise or support objections, and so far, 11 Republican senators. Might it be up to Pence to rule objections be handled state-by-state, or collectively, as in 1873? When objections are accepted as valid by the presiding vice-president the Joint Session is required to adjourn, and the House members and Senators go to their separate chambers to debate the issue, for a maximum of two hours. If Pence rules multiple objections during the reading of each state’s electoral results should be handled one at a time, that will certainly spell a long delay in the Joint Session process, and disruption.
The Congressional Review Service report raises another interesting point regarding the “basis for objections.” It says the federal statue and “historical sources” appear to suggest the “general grounds” for objections include “that the elector was not ‘lawfully certified’ according to state statutory procedures.”
The paragraph continues, “It should be noted that the word lawfully was expressly inserted by the House in the Senate legislation (S. 9, 49th Congress) before the word certified. Such addition arguably provides an indication that Congress thought it might, as grounds for an objection, question and look into the lawfulness of the certification under state law.”
The Trump campaign has raised the issue of the lawfulness of state election law — in swing states, not states he won – but the actions were dismissed in court. Will it be raised again on January 6?
There does seem to be lots of potential for the Joint Session to become problematic, to put it mildly. The chances of Trump and his political enablers succeeding in overturning the election results are said by many in the news media to be slim at best, to impossible. But after four years of Trumpism it seems anything, no matter how outrageous, is still possible. And the mechanism of the Joint Session leaves that door open.
Bad enough the fate of the world’s first and once-greatest democracy is at stake; but the fate of the world itself also hangs in the balance.
So much for my hopeful, positive intentions for this post.
Yes, I have ordered my garden seeds for the 2021 season. I strongly recommend you long-time, or Brave New Gardeners, do the same, ASAP, because lots of people are getting on board the grow-your-own bandwagon. It was true last year, and is likely just as true, or even more so, this year.
I promise, you’ll be glad you did: there’s nothing like gardening to offer refuge for the worried mind.