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Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution, H.Res.1155, committing to the peaceful transfer of power after the election. The Resolution text is fairly short:

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) reaffirms its commitment to the orderly and peaceful transfer of power called for in the Constitution of the United States; and
(2) intends that there should be no disruptions by the President or any person in power to overturn the will of the people of the United States.

In my layman understanding, it only reaffirms provisions stated in the United States Constitution.

I understand the circumstances in which this resolution has emerged. However, looking at the big picture, I'm still struggling to understand the political reason for actions like this (not only this particular one).

My naive understanding (correct me if I'm wrong) is that the Constitution is already supreme law and nothing can be above it, not even resolutions adopted by Congress. If anyone acts against the Constitution, it must be already unlawful. On the other hand, if someone is able to break the higher law and get away with it, he could also safely ignore common law.

What is the political reason to reassure that the Constitution is still valid? Or is it rather a statement than a law?

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    Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please write a real answer. – Philipp Oct 1 at 21:56
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about whether or not this question would be improved by adding statements [or lack thereof] form the current US president which prompted this affirmation has been moved to chat. – Philipp Oct 2 at 9:14
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My naive understanding (correct me if I'm wrong) is that the Constitution is already the supreme law and nothing can be above it, nor Congress Resolutions. If anyone acts against the Constitution, it must be already illegal. On the other hand, if someone is able to break the higher law and get away with it, he could also safely ignore common law.

In the face of repeated threats by the incumbent President to violate the law and not peacefully transfer power, the mere fact that the law says that someone is supposed to do something is besides the point. Judges simply have pieces of paper that the appropriate officials almost always listen to voluntarily.

But once the top official in the government signals he's going to disregard the law and by association the Courts, or implies that his three recent U.S. Supreme Court appointees will back him up if a dispute reaches the courts, out of loyalty to him and partisan sentiment (which even if not true, could sow fear and indecision in the hearts of people who might be afraid that he's right and that they will be pay a price for disagreeing with the President on this issue), reliance on government officials including the President whom government employees are usually required to obey, to obey court orders, isn't enough.

One of the ways to get a politician who could conceivably have the power to execute an extra-legal self-coup which is what the resolution is aimed at avoiding, is to get the overwhelming majority of the President's natural allies to commit to not supporting his extra-legal efforts before he starts engaging in them as he has threatened to do.

It was a risky move. The Democrats in the U.S. House basically forced the opposition to either disavow democracy which would disrespect the voters members of Congress will themselves be appealing to in a month and a half, or to take a vote that discredits and rebukes their own Presidential nominee in the same election. If Republicans in the U.S. House had backed the President as the five dissenters did, the vote would have set the stage for a likely self-coup attempt if Trump does not win the election.

This gambit was successful. Trump's extra-legal rhetoric was publicly rebuffed and rejected by all but about 5 members of his own caucus in the U.S. House. The measure was adopted in a bipartisan 397-5 vote. (A U.S. Senate vote on a substantially similar resolution, held September 24, 2020 was unanimous.)

Similarly, someone (probably senior civil servants who aren't politically appointed and senior military officers) has managed to get Trump's own political appointees in the Justice Department and the Department of Defense to publicly disavow his rhetoric about not making a peaceful transition of power, sending a message to rank and file soldiers in the military, and to rank and file career lawyers in the Justice Department, that on this critical issue, the President will not be supported by the people who in ordinary times report to him, if he tries to overstay his term of office.

The same individuals, had they not committed to a position pre-dispute and if they had not shared the information with each other authoritatively that no one supports this particular ploy of the President, might feel much more intense partisan pressure and fear to let the incumbent President disobey the law with impunity if first forced to take a position once the incumbent President's self-coup was already in the works.

A collective strategy of securing public pre-dispute commitments to not support the actions that the incumbent President has threatened to take gives everyone whose loyalties may be tested when a transition dispute arises confidence about which side will prevail in that dispute, because the worst outcome for any senior official or politician in a constitutional crisis is to appear to be a traitor to the political winner of the dispute. So its critical to influence the perception of who will win the dispute in the face of what amounts to gaslighting by the President over whether basic shared political norms like a peaceful transition of power are still in place. If it is manifestly clear to the incumbent President that he has no support from members of Congress from his own party, the military, or the rank and file in the Justice Department, for his plan, his incentive to never carry out the threat is much stronger.

Put another way, somewhat crudely, the purpose of the resolution is to insure that Republicans and other senior government officials don't perceive peer pressure to go along with a Presidential effort to refuse to transfer power peacefully.

More technically, it can be considered a "game theory" move, similar to a pact to address the "Prisoner's Dilemma" in which everyone participating comes out ahead if no one betrays anyone else in the pact, by having everyone commit to the pact before it is tested.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about what the current US president did and did not say regarding a power transfer to the next elected president has been moved to chat. – Philipp Oct 2 at 9:09
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It is mostly a statement.

When Congress does something, it is generally reported in the news. Congress passing declarations like this is a way for the members of Congress to make a big deal about an opinion the governing party holds very strongly. By formalizing this opinion (even an opinion as basic as "The Constitution exists"), they are able to shape media narratives and give politicians a reason to talk about the subject the proclamation is about.

In situations where proclamations discuss partisan topics, it can also be a way for a party to force the other party to seem like they oppose a common-sense opinion. For an example of this, Senate Democrats recently attempted to insert language into a Senate resolution honoring the late Justice Ginsburg by noting that her dying wish was to not be replaced until after the election. While it may seem silly to include this in an official Congressional resolution, by moving to add this amendment the Democrats forced the Republicans into publicly opposing the amendment which provides the Democrats (possibly) some political fodder to run ads on or talk about in interviews.

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    This was my first guess, but how do we know it for sure? Is there any source to confirm this point? Did any Congressman or perhaps an analyst say this more or less explicitly? – bytebuster Oct 1 at 3:39
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    I think that this statement is as much about Republican elected officials and senior political appointees messaging to each other, after being forced to do so by Democrats, as it is about messaging to the general public. The swing voters will be mostly oblivious to this inside the beltway move. – ohwilleke Oct 1 at 7:18
  • "When Congress does something, it is generally reported in the news." I would disagree, Each congress passes hundreds of bills, yet most of them are too mundane, such as naming a post office, to make the national news cycle. – psaxton Oct 2 at 15:57
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The current President, Donald Trump, has refused to commit to leaving office if he loses the election. Justifying this by claiming baselessly, that postal voting is rigged against him.

"We're going to have to see what happens, you know that. I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster."

Perhaps he does not agree with your interpretation of the constitution? And concerned lawmakers wish to explicitly legislate for a contested point of law.

To explicitly address the political reasons for passing such a resolution (or a later bill) it brings Trump's unwillingness to state that he will accept the result of the election back into the news. And it forces Republicans to chose between publicly backing the peaceful transition of power or stating why they don't back it. House Republicans have almost unanimously backed the Resolution and a near identical one in the Senate last week.

Both resolutions specifically address what law makers see as the very serious situation that President Trump has not committed to accept the result of the election.

Senate;

"We're in the most difficult times right now, and for the president to even address — to even address the subject of maybe not knowing if he would accept or not is beyond all our checks that that would ever happen in America," Manchin said.

House;

“Everyone in America knows that this (Peaceful transition of power) is what makes us American. Everyone, that is, except President Trump,” Swalwell said.

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    In the first sentence, "commit to leaving office" is not accurate. The linked source mentions "commit to a peaceful transition of power". Refusing to commit to the latter does not imply refusing to commit to the former. There are other actions that may be taken that would be deemed less than peaceful during the transition period; such as, attempting to withhold funds, office space, or other government support for the challenger's transition team. – Rick Smith Oct 1 at 13:11
  • @RickSmith I'm not sure I agree with your summation. What you're suggesting is that they'd leave office, but act childishly on the way out, achieving nothing but proving they should have been removed in the first place. Your argument hinges on whether peaceful or transition is the key word in the question as answered by someone else. Without clarification either interpretation is equally valid. – Jontia Oct 1 at 22:04
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The House adopting a resolution isn't actually legislative law. It's just the House making an official statement with each member's vote on the record. Actual laws need to be passed by both the House and Senate and then either be signed by the President or passed again by two-thirds super-majorities in both the House and Senate. The Constitutional requirements of the election and its results are not in any way affected by the resolution; they remain in force as they always have.

The reason for this particular resolution (and, for that matter, most House or Senate resolutions) is politics. The House is currently controlled by the Democratic Party, so they get to set the agenda of what votes take place there (just as the Republican Party does in the Senate.)

There are a couple of political reasons for this particular resolution:

  • First, it provides attention to an issue that the Democrats who control the House think will help their party in the upcoming elections, namely, the notion that Trump might somehow try to remain in power even if he's voted out. Obviously, the prospect of a President trying to remain in office after fairly losing an election is not one that voters like and, as such, it's not unusual for the opposite party to suggest that the current President might have that intention. Democrats (especially the far-left) suggested the Bush might not leave office if he lost or that he would try to find some excuse to delay or cancel the elections. Republicans (especially the far-right) suggested the same about Obama. It was, of course, generally baseless fear-mongering in both of those cases (and, big surprise, neither happened,) but it helps to get out the vote among the party's base, especially its more radical portions.

  • Second, forcing a House vote on the resolution puts House Republicans in the rather awkward position of either refusing to vote a resolution that literally just says the basic principles of democracy and peaceful transfer of power will be upheld (which will be played up without context in attack ads in their district for the remainder of the election cycle) or else vote for it and be seen as lending legitimacy to the notion that there was actually a real threat of the President actually refusing to leave office if he's voted out. Both parties love holding votes for the purpose of putting members of the other party in such situations when they control a given house of Congress. Another relatively recent example of such a purely-political vote was when Senate Republicans forced a vote on the so-called "Green New Deal". While they obviously didn't support it, the vote was forced in attempt to put Senate Democrats on the record of either supporting it (which would be unpopular with centrists in their districts in a general election) or opposing it (which would be unpopular with the leftists in their district in a primary election.)

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