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Congress' Role In Election Results: Here's What Happens Jan. 6

Then-Vice President Joe Biden presides over a joint session of Congress in January 2017 to name Donald Trump formally as president-elect.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden presides over a joint session of Congress in January 2017 to name Donald Trump formally as president-elect.

Updated at 8:19 p.m. ET

As President Trump continues to claim falsely that he, and not Joe Biden, won the Nov. 3 presidential election, the next date that looms on the electoral calendar is Jan. 6. That's when Congress meets in a joint session to count formally the votes of the Electoral College.

The states have already counted their own electors, and Biden won with 306 to 232 for Trump. Now it's up to Congress to count the votes as submitted by the states. Here's a look at how the process is expected to play out:

1. A joint session, presided over by the vice president

At1 p.m. lawmakers from the House and Senate will assemble in the House chamber, with Vice President Pence presiding in his role as president of the Senate. He will then begin to open the sealed certificates submitted by each state and hand them to tellers appointed from among the House and Senate members to read.

In some recent elections, the count was expedited, and the entire process was over in less than half an hour. But if there are objections to any of the state's certificates, it could take much longer.

2. What happens if there are objections, and will there be?

It seems all but certain there will be objections from House members to the certificates from some states that Biden won but where Trump and some of his supporters baselessly charge the vote was "rigged."

After a meeting Monday with Trump, Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., tweeted that he would be lodging an objection to Georgia's electors, falsely claiming, "The courts refuse to hear the President's legal case."

In reality, courts in several states have heard Trump's claims and have rejected them.

A key thing to remember is that a member from the House andthe Senate must lodge an objection, in writing, for it to be considered. It's not entirely clear if any senators will choose to do so, although newly elected Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama indicated he would. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has reportedly urged Republicans not to object. Objecting would put Republicans in the awkward position of supporting a challenge that is all but certain to fail.

If a senator does go along with a challenge, then the House and Senate retire to their own chambers, for a period of "not more than two hours," according to the Congressional Research Service, and members get up to five minutes to speak in favor or against the objection.

Then each chamber will vote, with a simple majority required to uphold the objection. Both chambers must agree to the objection for it to succeed.

3. Has this been tried before?

As recently as 2005, two Democrats — Rep. Stephanie Tubbs and Sen. Barbara Boxer — objected to Ohio's electors, believing there were irregularities in that state's presidential election. The House and Senate each rejected the objection, and the joint session resumed, counting Ohio's electors.

In 2017, with Biden, then the vice president, presiding, several Democrats roseto object to Trump's election. None, however, had submitted their objections in writing, and Biden gaveled them down, later declaring, "It's over."

4. Will it work this time?

It would seem all but certain any attempted challenges to any of the states' electors will fail, simply because Democrats hold the House majority and would not vote to overturn any of Democrat Biden's electors.

Control of the Senate currently hangs on Georgia's two special elections on Jan. 5, but even if the Democrats win those races, the Senate would be 50-50 and Pence would cast the tiebreaking vote.

Either way, it remains unclear how many Senate Republicans would vote to uphold a challenge. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., colorfully, if a bit disturbingly, gave his assessment of that likelihood, telling reporters Monday that "it's just not going anywhere. It's going down like a shot dog."

Thune's remarks appear to have caught Trump's attention. On Tuesday evening the president blasted the senator on Twitter, writing: "South Dakota doesn't like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!!"

For some Republicans, the spectacle, and a show of unyielding support to Trump and the GOP base may be as important as the ultimate results. And if they lodge enough objections, the proceedings could go on for a while, even if the outcome is preordained.

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NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.