Washington girded for the volatile final act of the Trump presidency on Wednesday, as President Trump — unwilling to cede the limelight or his fantasy of victory — threatened to transform a moment of Democratic triumph into a day of defiance by summoning angry supporters to his backyard for an airing of grievances.
Mr. Trump watched from the White House residence, according to aides, as the Rev. Raphael Warnock claimed victory and Jon Ossoff led in the Georgia runoff elections on Tuesday night, smarting over a report that Vice President Mike Pence had rebuffed his attempts to block the certification of President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s election on Wednesday.
“States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter early Wednesday. “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
The Georgia results, if they hold, would deliver to Mr. Biden control of both chambers of Congress, a staggering loss many Republicans blame on the president’s tardy and tepid efforts on behalf of the incumbents in the runoff election.
Unable to win his race — and unwilling to set aside his personal grudges for his party’s greater good — Mr. Trump has chosen, as he often has when cornered, to distract, disrupt and upstage his opponents.
At 11 a.m., the president will make the short trip the Ellipse behind the White House to deliver remarks to his die-hard supporters, who began streaming into Washington late Tuesday, with some engaging in an ugly confrontation a few blocks from where he watched the results.
His rally may overlap with a gathering of greater importance at the eastern end of the National Mall. The House and Senate will convene Wednesday afternoon for a remarkable joint session to formalize Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory, as Trump allies plot to hijack what is typically a mundane, ceremonial exercise into a last stand — a move opposed by a growing number of their fellow and doomed to failure.
Bipartisan majorities in both chambers are prepared to meet late into the night to beat back the challenges and confirm Mr. Biden as the winner. But by using what is typically a ceremonial proceeding as a forum for trying to subvert a democratic election, Mr. Trump and his allies are going where no party has since the Reconstruction era of the 19th century, when Congress bargained over the presidency.
Its implications, for future elections and the Republican Party, could be significant.
At least four Republican senators — Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama — have agreed to join House members to challenge the results of three battleground states Mr. Biden won: Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Senators were still weighing whether to join House members to similarly challenge the outcome in Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.
In each case, their objections will force the House and Senate to debate Mr. Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud for up to two hours and then vote whether to accept or reject the results certified by the state. A process that typically consists of less than an hour of glorified paperwork could take anywhere from nine to 24 hours, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern.
Congress anxiously prepared for a marathon session on Wednesday to formalize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory, after Republican loyalists to President Trump confirmed they would object to the results of at least three battleground states the Democrat won.
Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama planned to object to the certification of Arizona’s electors; Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia intended to object to those from her state; and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri planned to object to Pennsylvania’s slate, according to people familiar with their plans.
Their challenges were all but certain to fail amid bipartisan opposition. But their decision to join House Republicans in seeking to overturn the election ensured that Congress would be thrust into a caustic debate over the results and Mr. Trump’s repeatedly debunked claims of widespread fraud and irregularities that could last nine hours or more.
It will culminate in at least three votes that have already badly divided the Republican Party, forcing lawmakers to go on the record either siding with the president or upholding the results of a democratic election.
Lawmakers anticipated possible objections for up to three additional states — Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin — although it was not clear whether they would draw the requisite backing from a member of both the House and the Senate to be considered.
Even before it began, the session was already driving sharp wedges into the Republican Party that threatened to do lasting damage to its cohesion, as lawmakers decided to cast their lot with Mr. Trump or the Constitution. Top party leaders in the House and Senate appeared to be headed for a high-profile split. And while only a dozen or so senators were expected to vote to reject the outcome in key states, as many as 70 percent of House Republicans could join the effort, stoking the dangerous belief of tens of millions of voters that Mr. Biden was elected illegitimately.
At the White House, Mr. Trump continued an extraordinary pressure campaign on Vice President Mike Pence, who will oversee the joint session as president of the Senate, urging him to move unilaterally to reject electors from battleground states that he lost. The president wrote on Twitter that Mr. Pence had “the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” Under the Constitution and the statute governing the counting, he does not. In any case, all 50 states have properly certified their electors as legitimate.
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.
Mr. Pence’s message, delivered during his weekly lunch with the president, came hours after Mr. Trump further turned up the public pressure on the vice president to do his bidding when Congress convenes Wednesday in a joint session to ratify Mr. Biden’s Electoral College win.
“The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning, an inaccurate assertion that mischaracterized Mr. Pence’s largely formal and constitutionally prescribed role of presiding over the House and Senate as they receive and certify the electoral votes conveyed by the states and announcing the outcome.
Mr. Pence does not have the unilateral power to alter the results sent by the states to Congress.
More Republican senators came out on Tuesday against attempts to undermine the results, including Tim Scott of South Carolina and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who said he viewed challenging any state’s certification as “a violation of my oath of office.”
In a process that is likely to go on for many hours, Mr. Pence will preside on Wednesday over a roll call of the states. If at least one senator and one House member object to the results from a state, they can force a debate of up to two hours about those results. Each chamber will then vote separately on whether to certify that state’s results.
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.
When the results from all of the states have been considered, Mr. Pence, who as vice president also serves as presiding officer of the Senate, will be called on to read out the Electoral College votes for each candidate, formalizing Mr. Biden’s victory.
Mr. Pence has spent the past several days in a delicate dance, seeking at once to convey to the president that he does not have the authority to overturn the results of the election, while also placating the president to avoid a rift that could torpedo any hopes Mr. Pence has of running in 2024 as Mr. Trump’s loyal heir.
Even as he sought to make clear that he does not have the power Mr. Trump seems to think he has, Mr. Pence also indicated to the president that he would keep studying the issue up until the final hours before the joint session of Congress begins at 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to the people briefed on their conversation.
While Democrats celebrated the election of the Rev. Raphael Warnock to the Senate, Georgia’s second runoff race — which will determine which party will control the Senate — remained too close to call on Wednesday. The Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, was leading his Republican challenger, David Perdue, by 16,370 votes with thousands more that still need to be counted, many of them from Democratic-leaning areas.
After trading leads earlier in the evening, Mr. Ossoff pulled ahead of Mr. Perdue overnight, but by just 0.4 percent — within the range that could trigger a recount. By 4 a.m. Wednesday, an estimated 98 percent of votes had been counted. Georgia elections officials said they expected to complete the count by noon on Wednesday.
Even so, Mr. Ossoff, a 33-year-old documentary film executive, declared himself the winner Wednesday morning in a video posted on Twitter. The Associated Press has not yet called the race. The news organization called Mr. Warnock’s victory over the Republican incumbent, Kelly Loeffler, early Wednesday.
The largest bloc of uncounted ballots was the in-person vote in DeKalb County, a heavily Democratic area that includes part of Atlanta.
Mr. Ossoff’s campaign manager Ellen Foster said in a statement on Wednesday that she expected Mr. Ossoff to win. “The outstanding vote is squarely in parts of the state where Jon’s performance has been dominant,” she said.
Mr. Perdue’s campaign officials said in an early Wednesday statement that the race was “exceptionally close,” but said they believed Mr. Perdue would win and would use “every available resource and exhaust every recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted.”
It could be some time before there is a call in the race, with thousands of late absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted. Under Georgia law, a candidate can request a recount if the margin of victory is less than half a percentage point.
Democrats benefited from a strong turnout among Black voters. According to data compiled by georgiavotes.com, Black voters made up a larger share of early voters for the runoff — nearly 31 percent — than they did in the general election, when it was closer to 28 percent.
Mr. Warnock, who is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from the South. He and Mr. Ossoff ran in tandem throughout the runoffs.
Mr. Perdue, the former chief executive of Dollar General, and Ms. Loeffler, who was appointed to the Senate a year ago and was seeking a full term, had cast the race as a necessary check on Democratic power in Washington in 2021, though these efforts have been complicated by President Trump’s continued insistence, without evidence, that he won re-election.