The Cable

The Weekend Behind, The Week Ahead: What Will the Electoral College Do?

From a potential electoral college showdown to another South China Sea stand-off, here's quick rundown of what happened over the weekend

weekend-crop

On Monday, the U.S. electors will decide, finally, who the next president of the United States is to be. Donald Trump, who won the electoral vote handily but lost the popular vote badly, is expected to get at least the 270 electoral votes he needs, but there is some small chance of a surprise. Some electors have said that they will change their vote, taking on the title of “faithless elector.” Electors in three states have already gone to court to vote according to their conscience, not their states’ voters’ wishes (in 29 states and the District of Columbia, to be a faithless elector is to break the law).

There are two main reasons. First, as many others have noted, the electoral college exists, in large part because the Founding Fathers worried the American people might vote an unqualified demagogue into power, and wanted an institutional firewall against that. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers, “the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” Some electors, therefore, feel that to be a so-called “faithless elector” would actually be fully faithful to the Founding Fathers’ vision.

Second, since the election, intelligence officials have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the Russian hack into Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails, and those of the Democratic Party, with the specific intent of advantaging Trump. Ten electors wrote an open letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, asking to receive an intelligence briefing, to glean as much information about the hacking as possible before the vote. (They didn’t get one.)

But it is unlikely that there will be 37 faithless electors, the minimum needed to send the decision to the Republican-controlled House; the highest count of potential dissidents so far seems to be 20. Still, this year’s electoral college is more than a formality — and worth keeping a wary eye on.

As is the cat-and-mouse standoff in the South China Sea, and the ever-evolving relationship between the United States and China. On Saturday, China said that it would return the unmanned U.S. underwater glider it had snatched on Friday. The reason for the seizure is unclear — many think it was in response to Trump’s saber-rattling over Taiwan; others, that it had more to do with concern over U.S. snooping on Chinese submarines’ breakout capability.

The Trump team was quick to claim credit for the speedy promise to return it, although all Trump did was tweet that China’s action was “unpresidented.” And on Saturday, Trump tweeted again, this time bizarrely waiving U.S. ownership of the device: “let them keep it!”

Photo credit: CHRIS SCHNEIDER/AFP/Getty Images

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