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9 November 2020updated 28 Jul 2021 5:55am

Joe Biden’s route to a Donald Trump-free White House

What must happen next – and when – in order for the outgoing US president to submit to defeat?

By Emily Tamkin

After days of counting and waiting and presidential tweets containing baseless allegations about voter fraud and false claims of victory, the United States has a president-elect: Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated, on 20 January 2021.

Those who had hoped that President Donald Trump would graciously accept defeat and go gently into that good night for the first time in his presidency, and perhaps his adult life, will be disappointed. The president has not conceded. He and his supporters are still alleging that there was fraud. Trump has promised more lawsuits this week, though whether any of those will bear fruit is as yet unclear. A Trump appointee in the General Services Administration is reportedly refusing to sign a letter to “formally ascertain” that Biden is the president-elect, which the Biden campaign needs in order to get access to, among other things, transition funds and government officials.

Lawrence Douglas, author of Will He Go, has suggested that a Trump loss would result, eventually, in Trump leaving the White House — that he would eventually submit to defeat, even if he did not admit to it. But there are still a number of checkpoints America must clear before that happens.

The first come in early December. By 8 December, all state-level election disputes need to be resolved and all recounts completed. Then, on 14 December, electors from all 50 states and the District of Columbia (which has three electoral votes and whose residents pay federal taxes but do not get a vote in Congress) meet and cast their votes. Many states (33 to be exact) and DC have laws or regulations that require electors to vote the way the majority of citizens in their state did.

While it’s possible that the Trump team could try to tie things up with recounts and legal challenges up until the deadline, so that the various states’ legislatures pick electors, at present that seems unlikely.

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[See also: Why Joe Biden’s US election victory matters even with a Republican senate]

Some have suggested that electors swing their votes to Trump. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, went on Fox News and suggested that that option should remain on the table, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has said that Michigan and Pennsylvania should send “faithless electors,” as they are called, to vote for Trump. In theory, it could happen, although both Michigan and Pennsylvania are among the 33 states that have laws penalising such behaviour. But in practice, it probably won’t: a spokesperson for Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman reiterated last week that they would not be sending faithless electors.

On 23 December, certificates are delivered to officials and then, finally, on 6 January of next year, the House and Senate come together to count the electoral votes. The outgoing vice-president of the Senate, who is Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, is expected to announce the winner. It is, again, possible that this could be some kind of pro-Trump scene, but some elected Republicans — like Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mitt Romney of Utah — have come out and chastised Trump for casting aspersions regarding the democratic process. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put out a carefully worded tweet, and while it did not dismiss the idea of “illegal votes” as unfounded and a transparent attempt to cling to power, nor did it back Trump’s claims of victory.

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America made it through this election, and it made it through the counting of the votes, and it made it through a first week of unfounded presidential claims about the democratic process. Now it just needs to get through the Electoral College actually voting; certification; the House and Senate meeting and counting the votes; and then, finally, Biden’s inauguration day.

[See also: How accurate were the US presidential election polls?]