President Trump was expected to spend New Year’s Eve at his Mar-a-Lago estate – AP
Donald Trump is skipping his New Year’s Eve party at his Florida club to return to the White House, where he is expected to focus his energy on plans to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s win by Congress next week.
The US president left Mar-a-Lago, his private members club in Palm Beach, on Thursday morning – a day earlier than anticipated – to return to Washington in what has been seen as a last-ditch attempt to overturn Mr Biden’s electoral victory.
Mr Trump’s schedule change came hours after a Republican senator announced he would object to the formal certification of Mr Biden’s election win in Congress next week, forcing a debate on the issue.
Mr Trump had been scheduled to attend his annual New Year’s Eve black tie bash at Mar-a-Lago, his private Florida club, where 500 members have reportedly paid $1,000 per ticket in the expectation of ringing in the new year alongside the president.
But Mr Trump cut short his trip on Thursday to return to the White House amid ongoing battles with Congress and rising tensions with Iran.
The schedule change came shortly after a Republican senator announced he would object to the formal certification of Mr Biden’s election win in Congress next week, forcing a debate on the issue.
Congress’ certification of the electoral college vote, traditionally a mere formality, has taken on new significance this year as Mr Trump, after losing numerous legal challenges to the result, began pressuring Republicans to contest Congress’ certification of the results on January 6.
Mr Trump has also called on his supporters to protest the ceremony, tweeting on Wednesday: “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!”
JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2020
Heeding Mr Trump’s call, Republican senator Josh Hawley announced that he would challenge Mr Biden’s victory during the certification of the electoral college vote.
Mr Hawley, who represents Missouri in the Senate, said he would object to the certification on behalf of the “millions of voters concerned about election integrity”, despite no evidence of electoral fraud.
The move by Mr Hawley, who is rumoured to be considering a presidential run in 2024, will not alter the outcome of the election but it could create an awkward scenario for many Republicans.
If Mr Hawley and Republicans in the House of Representatives proceed with their plans to challenge the result, both chambers will be required to host lengthy debates on the results and then vote on the outcome.
Trump supporters wave as the president’s motorcade passes by in West Palm Beach, Florida – AP
The challenge is all but certain to fail, but it will force many of Mr Trump’s Republican allies in the Senate into an uncomfortable vote that could put them at odds with the president.
Jen Psaki, Mr Biden’s spokeswoman, dismissed the significance of the plans to contest the electoral college results, saying: “the American people spoke resoundingly in this election” and the role of Congress was “merely a formality.”
“Regardless of whatever antics anyone is up to on January 6th, president-elect Biden will be sworn in on the 20th,” she added.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, dealt a likely death blow to Mr Trump’s bid to increase coronavirus relief aid payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000 by refusing to put the measure to a quick vote.
Mr Trump had lashed out at fellow Republicans who declined back the increased payments for struggling American s in recent days, accusing the party of having a “death wish” and singling out Mr McConnell in particular.
Mr McConnell, who has opposed the additional cost to the public purse, appeared to shrug off Mr Trump’s request, saying: “The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money.”
The tensions among Republicans have been exacerbated by a second showdown over an effort in Congress to override Mr Trump’s veto of a defense policy bill.
The House of Representatives voted to overturn Mr Trump’s veto of the bill on Monday and it appears that the Senate has the votes needed to join the measure.
The Senate is expected to vote on the veto on Friday. If successful, the effort would lead to the first veto override of Mr Trump’s presidency.
On Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that the White House is preparing to temporarily freeze some foreign aid during Mr Trump’s final days in office.
“The Trump administration can’t unilaterally cancel the funding but the act of asking Congress to recoup the money – though likely to be rejected – allows the White House to freeze it until Trump leaves office on Jan. 20,” it reported.