Republican politicians have mounted their first official challenge to Joe Biden’s presidential election win, objecting to state results from Arizona as they took up Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the results in an extraordinary joint session of Congress.
Rep Paul Gosar of Arizona, flanked by Sen Ted Cruz of Texas, rose to object to the typically routine acceptance of electors.
The objection now forces two hours of debate in the House and Senate, sending politicians away to separate deliberations.
President Trump’s allies are acting out the pleas of supporters at his huge rally up Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House to “fight for Trump”.
But it is a fight that’s tearing the Republican Party apart.
The last-gasp effort is all but certain to fail, defeated by bipartisan majorities in Congress prepared to accept the November results.
Mr Biden, who won the Electoral College 306-232, is to be inaugurated on January 20.
Still, President Trump vowed to he would “never concede” and urged the massive crowd to march to the Capitol where hundreds had already gathered under tight security.
“We will never give up,” President Trump told the noontime rally.
Vice President Mike Pence was most closely watched as he stepped onto the dais to preside over the joint session in the House chamber.
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 was under growing pressure from Mr Trump to overturn the will of the voters and tip the results in the president’s favour, despite having no legal power to affect the outcome.
“Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted.
But Mr Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied President Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes that make Mr Biden president.
Despite President 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.
Arizona was the first of several states facing objections from the Republicans as Congress took an alphabetical reading of the election results.
Mr Biden won Arizona by more than 10,000 votes, and eight lawsuits challenging the results have failed. The state’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of an election challenge.
The joint session of Congress, required by law, convened before a watchful, restless nation — months after the election, two weeks before the inauguration’s traditional peaceful transfer of power and against the backdrop of a surging Covid-19 pandemic.