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A prominent Republican senator has declined to clearly answer a question about whether he is involved in a bid to reverse the result of the 2020 presidential election that Democrat Joe Biden won convincingly in November.

Asked if he was trying to “overturn the election” and keep Donald Trump in power, Missouri senator Josh Hawley told Fox News: “That depends what happens on Wednesday.”

That is when Congress will meet to count Joe Biden’s 306-232 electoral college victory, which has been certified by all 50 states. Formal objections due to be raised by Hawley, around a dozen other senators and more than 100 Republicans in the House will not overturn the result – as Trump and his supporters hope they will.

Democrats hold the House, guaranteeing defeat there, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and other senior Republicans in that chamber also oppose the objections.

Speaking on Monday night, Hawley at first avoided questions about whether he was trying to overturn an election and thereby disenfranchise millions of Americans, insisting he was objecting to the handling of the presidential election in states including Pennsylvania.

“I just want to pin you down,” anchor Bret Baier said, eventually, “on on what you’re trying to do. Are you trying to say that as of 20 January [inauguration day] that President Trump will be president?”

“Well,” said Hawley, “that depends on what happens on Wednesday. I mean, this is why we have to debate.”

Baier answered: “No it doesn’t. The states, by the constitution, they certify the election, they did certify it by the constitution. Congress doesn’t have the right to overturn the certification, at least as most experts read it.”

“Well,” Hawley said, “Congress is directed under the 12th amendment to count the electoral votes, there’s a statute that dates back to the 1800s, 19th century, that says there is a right to object, there’s a right to be heard, and there’s also [the] certification right.”

Baier countered: “It’s from 1876, senator, and it’s the Tilden-Hayes race, in which there were three states that did not certify their electors. So Congress was left to come up with this system this commission that eventually got to negotiate a grand bargain.”

That bargain left a Republican president, Rutherford Hayes, in power in return for an end to Reconstruction after the civil war. In August, the historian Eric Foner told the Guardian: “Part of the deal was the surrender of the rights of African Americans. I’m not sure that’s a precedent we want to reinvigorate, you know?”

Baeir continued: “But now all of the states have certified their elections. As of 14 December. So it doesn’t by constitutional ways, open a door to Congress to overturn that, does it?”

“My point,” Hawley said, “is this is my only opportunity during this process to raise an objection and to be heard. I don’t have standing to file lawsuits.”

Trump’s campaign has filed more than 50 lawsuits challenging electoral results, losing the vast majority and being dismissed by the supreme court.

Hawley dodged a subsequent question about whether his own White House ambitions are the real motivation for his objection – as they seem to be for other senators looking to appease the Trumpist base of the party.

Also on Monday night, activists from the group ShutDownDC held what they called an “hour-long vigil” at Hawley’s Washington home. Demanding he drop his objection, they said they sang, lit candles and delivered a copy of the US constitution.

Hawley, in Missouri at the time, complained that “Antifa scumbags” had “threatened my wife and newborn daughter, who can’t travel. They screamed threats, vandalized, and tried to pound open our door.”