President Donald Trump’s extraordinary effort to overturn the US presidential election result is going before Congress as legislators convene for a joint session to confirm the Electoral College vote won by Joe Biden.
The typically routine proceeding will be anything but, a political confrontation unseen since the aftermath of the Civil War as Mr Trump mounts a desperate effort stay in office.
The president’s Republican allies in the House and Senate plan to object to the election results, heeding supporters’ plea to “fight for Trump” as he stages a rally outside the White House.
The longshot effort is all but certain to fail, defeated by bipartisan majorities in Congress prepared to accept the results.
Mr Biden, who won the Electoral College 306-232, is set to be inaugurated on January 20.
The joint session of Congress, required by law, will convene months after the November 3 election, two weeks before the inauguration’s traditional peaceful transfer of power and against the backdrop of a surging Covid-19 pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who warned his party off this challenge, is expected to deliver early remarks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, set to gavel proceedings on her side of the Capitol, called it a day of “enormous historic significance”.
It is about “guaranteeing trust in our democratic system”, she said in a letter to colleagues.
But it is vice president Mike Pence who will be closely watched as he presides over the session.
Despite Mr Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome.
All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.
Mr Pence has a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud.
But he is under growing pressure from Mr Trump to tip it to the president’s favour, despite having no power to affect the outcome.
While other vice presidents, including Al Gore and Richard Nixon, also presided over their own defeats, Mr Pence supports those Republican legislators mounting challenges to the 2020 outcome.
“I hope that our great vice president comes through for us,” Mr Trump said at a rally in Georgia this week.
“He’s a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
It is not the first time legislators have challenged results – Democrats did in 2017 and 2005.
But the intensity of Mr Trump’s challenge is like nothing in modern times, and an outpouring of current and elected Republican officials warn the showdown is sowing distrust in government and eroding Americans’ faith in democracy.
“There is no constitutionally viable means for the Congress to overturn an election,” said Senator Tim Scott, announcing his refusal to join the effort on the eve of the session.
Still, more than a dozen Republican senators led by Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, along with as many as 100 House Republicans, are pressing ahead to raise objections to the state results of Mr Biden’s win.
Under the rules of the joint session, any objection to a state’s electoral tally needs to be submitted in writing by at least one member of the House and one of the Senate to be considered.
Each objection will force two hours of deliberations in the House and Senate, ensuring a long day.
House Republican legislators are signing on to objections to the electoral votes in six states – Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Democrats have the majority in the House and the Republican-led Senate is divided over the issue.
Bipartisan majorities in both chambers are expected to soundly reject the objections.
Mr Trump has vowed to “fight like hell” to stay in office.
He said at a rally in Georgia the electors voting for Mr Biden are “not gonna take this White House!”
Many of the Republicans challenging the results said they are trying to give voice to voters back home who do not trust the outcome of the election and want to see the legislators fighting for Mr Trump.
Mr Hawley defended his role, saying his constituents have been “loud and clear” about their distrust of the election.
“It is my responsibility as a senator to raise their concerns,” he wrote to colleagues.
As criticism mounted, Mr Cruz insisted his aim was “not to set aside the election” but to investigate the claims of voting problems.
He has produced no new evidence.
Both Mr Hawley and Mr Cruz are potential 2024 presidential contenders, vying for Mr Trump’s base of supporters.