2020 Scenario: Wyoming Congresswoman Decides the Outcome

There’s no shortage right now of wild scenarios involving this presidential election, but here’s probably the most dramatic: The election comes down to a vote in the House of Representatives a few days before Christmas. The vote is nationally televised, the nation is riveted as control of the White House hangs in the balance, and the outcome remains undecided until the last member — a delegate from Wyoming — votes.

Sounds far-fetched, but it could happen. Should election chaos, actively abetted by President Trump and his followers, lead to an inconclusive vote in the Electoral College, the Constitution clearly states that the House, and not the Supreme Court, elects our next president. And the court, with strict constitutional textualists on its bench and a proud legacy of political independence, will likely agree, even with a new Trump appointee.

A House vote to elect the president would be close. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, this vote would be by state delegation rather than by individual member. Republicans control 26 delegations, Democrats 23, with the Pennsylvania delegation split 50/50. The District of Columbia, despite having three votes in the EC, would  not vote. Given this math, and the partisan nature of this Congress, a House vote would likely give Donald Trump a second term.

Unless, perhaps, Joe Biden wins convincingly in Pennsylvania, and one of that state’s nine Republican House members decides to honor the wishes of Pennsylvania citizens and cast a vote for Joe Biden. The House delegation count would then be 26-24 in favor of Republicans. At this point, all that would be necessary for Biden to win is for one more red state delegation to flip, since in the event of a 25-25 vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi breaks the tie.

 The Biden campaign would be turning over every rock to get one more red state delegation into its column. Their focus would likely be on the five states whose delegations consist of a single member: Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The Bidens would quickly discover that four of the members from these states are staunch, unequivocal Trump supporters; but one, occasionally, has stood up to the president and criticized him publicly: Rep. Liz Cheney. The sole member of the Wyoming House delegation, and the last representative to cast a vote.

Cheney is no Lincoln Project Republican. She blasted Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris for vice president, calling her “a radical” with a voting record “to the left of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.” She said this choice cast doubt on Biden’s claim to be a moderate. Cheney’s voting record in the House, for the most part, has been red-meat Republican. Her father was one of the most reliably conservative Republicans in American politics for three decades.

But Liz Cheney was a strong voice of opposition when Trump threw our longtime Kurdish allies under the bus. She supported Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman during House impeachment hearings regarding Trump and Ukraine, and did so at a time when this Purple Heart winner was being vilified. She conceded on Fox News that on matters of foreign policy, she and the president have “some disagreements.” (Trump, displaying his typical level of graciousness, tweeted that she was an advocate of “endless wars.”) She has defended Dr. Anthony Fauci repeatedly. A group of prominent Republican House colleagues recently questioned her party loyalty — and by Trumpian standards, perhaps they are right.

Progressive Democrats regard Cheney’s opposition to Trump as tepid. Yet she is behind only the late John McCain and Mitt Romney in challenges to the President by Republican members of Congress.

Liz Cheney picks her battles carefully, but once she decides to engage, she comes out with guns blazing. She’s from Wyoming, after all, and this is not her first political rodeo.

Could she bring herself to cast the decisive vote for the Biden/Harris ticket and give Democrats the White House the next four years? Could the daughter of Dick Cheney, Republican archvillain for a generation of liberals, be the one to fulfill Democrats’ dreams of a world without Trump?

It’s possible.

In response to recent Trump election hoax rants, Cheney tweeted, “The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath.”

The odds of this election making it to the House are greater than you may think. All that’s necessary is that the chaos president and his followers disrupt the staid Electoral College process enough so that neither candidate gets the magic number of 270 elector votes. For that to happen, Trump need not change vote counts. He simply needs to delay them, because the Electoral College’s Dec. 14 “safe harbor deadline” — the day states need to deliver their official state results to the EC — is set in constitutional stone.

If fomenting confusion and causing delays that result in the election moving from the EC to the House is Trump’s secret plan, he has much in his favor. This will be the first modern election conducted in the midst of a pandemic, and many states will struggle with unprecedented numbers of mail-in ballots. Curtesy of Trump’s blatant politicization of the U.S. Post Office, we can expect mail delays. The first Republican lawsuits and Justice Department legal actions aimed at blue and swing states have already been filed. Russia is again producing a constant stream of fake news. There could be a COVID-caused shortage of poll workers, and the menacing presence of Trumpian poll watchers, along with a host of other problems. The one certainty about this election: It will be the most chaotic in modern history — which, given current ambiguous law governing contested elections, could easily lead to an EC stalemate.

If this election were come down to the Wyoming delegation in the House, how would Liz Cheney vote? Nobody knows. But the Biden campaign should make it its mission to find out.

And Liz, if you are listening, remember that if you were to cast your vote against Trump, he would be out of power virtually that instant. Your place in American history would be secure. I doubt you would agree today, but by late December you may see your House vote not as a choice between Trump and Biden, but between American democracy and Putin-style autocracy. No pressure.

Charles Jennings is a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council.

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