WASHINGTON -- As far as gripping drama went, Thursday's counting and certification of the Electoral College votes didn't deliver much. A handful of lawmakers took turns reading out states in alphabetical order, and listing who won how many votes in each -- Barack Obama or John McCain for president, and Joe Biden and Sarah Palin for vice president. (In case you hadn't heard the news, Obama won.)
But what the moment lacked suspense, it carried in historic importance; the certification by the Congress is the last procedural step before Obama can take the oath of office in 12 days and become the 44th president. (Unless, that is, some crackpot legal theories pan out.) The House chamber was packed for the joint session of Congress, though there were some notable absences (like McCain, and Obama's rival-turned-Cabinet-member, Hillary Clinton). Lawmakers applauded nearly every state that Obama won, with some half-hearted attempts to start ovations for McCain states, too; Democrats have a pretty wide majority in the new Congress, and their members appeared to be much more eager to show up for the formal certification than Republicans did.
And, of course, there was that familiar-looking guy presiding over the whole thing.
"Barack Obama of the state of Illinois has received, for president of the United States, 365 votes," intoned Dick Cheney, in one of his last official acts as vice president. He went on to say the certification "shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the election," before the loudest, most sustained ovation of the afternoon session. Cheney stuck to the script, closing the session down as soon as Obama was certified the victor, and he appeared to sneak out of the chamber by the back entrance without greeting any lawmakers.
There was none of the bitter irony of eight years ago, when Al Gore had to gavel down protests from Democrats trying to block the certification of his own defeat. Some Republicans looked a little less than thrilled to be there -- Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, in the front row, sat glumly through most of the proceeding, while their Democratic counterparts, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin, smiled and chatted. After the news that Obama had 365 electoral votes got a big standing ovation, so did the announcement that Biden received the same number of votes for vice president. And for that matter, so did the 173 votes McCain got, and, slightly less enthusiastically from all parts of the room, the votes for Palin.
Up next, the inauguration. Which, presumably, will involve a bit more pomp and circumstance than the ceremony Thursday.