US President Donald Trump hosted several Republican lawmakers at the White House on Monday (US time) to discuss an ultimately futile effort to block the US Congress from affirming President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the November election.
The meeting underscored Trump's refusal to accept the reality of his loss and his eagerness to entertain undemocratic efforts to overturn the will of the American voters. Biden will be sworn in as president on January 20.
With no credible legal options remaining and the Electoral College having confirmed Biden's victory earlier this month, Trump is turning his attention to January 6. That's when Congress participates in a count of the electoral votes, which Biden won 306-232.
The count, required by the Constitution, is generally a formality. But members can use the event to object to a state's votes.
Republican Mo Brooks of Alabama said he organised Monday's session with about a dozen House Republicans who are willing to make such an objection to challenge the results.
"President Trump is very supportive of our effort," Brooks said in an interview.
The White House meeting was originally scheduled for about an hour, but lasted for three hours, Brooks said. Other attendees included Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has spent the weeks since the election promoting false claims of voter fraud.
Brooks said he also met with Vice President Mike Pence. As president of the Senate, Pence is to preside over the January 6 session and declare the winner.
Brooks said the group is making plans to challenge the election results from Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada, all battleground states Biden carried. Brooks in particular has raised questions about the way state elections were conducted this year, with some having made changes to ballots and procedures during the pandemic. While the new procedures may have led to confusion in some states, state and federal officials have said there was no credible evidence of widespread fraud.
Still, Trump's top aides and his legal team have continued to push false claims of election malfeasance.
A range of non-partisan election officials and Republicans have confirmed that there was no fraud in the November contest that would change the results of the election. That includes Attorney General William Barr, who on Monday said he saw no reason to appoint a special counsel to look into the President's claims about the 2020 election.
Trump and his allies have filed roughly 50 lawsuits challenging election results, and nearly all have been dismissed or dropped. He's also lost twice at the US Supreme Court.
With no further tenable legal recourse, Trump has been fuming and peppering allies for options as he refuses to accept his loss.
The President has called on governors to order vote audits, proposed appointing a special prosecutor to investigate voter fraud, and even mulled the possibility of imposing martial law to rerun the election.
The next step in the transition process is on January 6 when the US Congress meets to affirm the Electoral College's vote count.
In that joint session of both the House and the Senate, any lawmaker can object to a state's votes on any grounds. The objection will not be heard unless it is in writing and signed by both a member of the House and a member of the Senate.
If there is such a joint request, then the joint session suspends and the House and Senate go into separate sessions to consider it. For the objection to be sustained, both chambers must agree to it by a simple majority vote. If they disagree, the original electoral votes are counted.
Because Democrats control the House, any objection is already doomed to fail.
McConnell privately asked his colleagues not to make an objection, saying they would have to vote it down and it would be "terrible".
Senator John Cornyn of Texas said any such effort by his own party would be a mistake.
"I think there comes a time when you have to realise that, despite your best efforts, you've been unsuccessful," Cornyn told reporters, explaining that an objection "would be futile and it's unnecessary".
Senator John Thune of South Dakota urged his colleagues to remember that an effort to block the election results in Congress was "just not going anywhere".
"I mean, in the Senate, it would go down like a shot dog," Thune told CNN. "I just don't think that it makes a lot of sense to put everybody through this when you know what the ultimate outcome is gonna be."
Still, Trump continues to entertain the possibility of congressional intervention to keep him in office.