WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence publicly on Tuesday to reject the results of the Electoral College when they come before Congress on Wednesday, part of Trump’s doomed-to-fail, last-ditch effort to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
“The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
Trump’s tweet represents a fringe and ahistorical interpretation of Pence’s constitutionally required role presiding over a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, when lawmakers are required to count the Electoral College votes affirming Biden’s win, the last procedural step before his Jan. 20 inauguration.
The process is normally an uncontroversial formality, but it has taken on larger import as dozens of Republican members of Congress prepare to contest Biden’s victory in several battleground states, citing baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and irregularities.
Trump has latched on to the Jan. 6 gambit, referencing the upcoming congressional proceedings at a Monday political rally in Georgia.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” Trump said. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him so much.”
Trump also used the rally, ostensibly to promote Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue ahead of their runoffs that will decide the fate of the Senate majority, to urge reluctant Republicans to support the bid to overturn Biden’s victory.
But at lunch on Tuesday, Pence informed Trump that he didn’t think he had the power to block he certification of Biden’s victory, according to two White House officials. The vice president told Trump that he planned to allow objections and possibly make his own statement on election fraud, they said.
Trump went into damage control later Tuesday evening and released a statement through his campaign denying Pence’s resistance. He claimed that he and Pence are “in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act” and that Pence still “has several options under the U.S. constitution.”
The president’s effort has divided the GOP, particularly those who are believed to harbor future presidential ambitions, in yet another test of their loyalty to Trump.
The vice president was also tangentially involved in a minor imbroglio Tuesday about whether he would show up on the Capitol at all Wednesday, leaving the duties to Sen. Chuck Grassley — the Senate pro tempore. However, both the vice president and Grassley’s offices moved quickly to defuse the speculation.
“We have every expectation that Pence will be there tomorrow for the joint session,” a spokesperson for Grassley said in a statement.
Some of Trump’s boosters have also fixated on Pence’s role, arguing that he has the unilateral authority to not accept the results — and open the door for alternative slates of Trump electors instead. Rep. Louie Goehmert (R-Texas) sued Pence in a failed bid to empower the vice president to overturn the election results. That lawsuit has twice been rejected by federal courts in the past week.
At the heart of the issue is an 1887 law called the Electoral Count Act, which governs the procedures by which Congress counts electoral votes. Under the vaguely written law, Pence is required to read each state’s slate of electors alphabetically, entertaining potential challenges for each.
Under Trump’s newly embraced theory, Pence has the unilateral authority to decide whether to introduce Biden’s electors at all — and could even opt to ignore them and introduce Trump-friendly electors instead. It’s a conception of the vice president’s role that’s at odds with every election in history, and one that constitutional scholars say makes no sense given that sitting vice presidents often have a stake in the outcome of the election.
Even if Pence embraced Trump’s calls, Congress has adopted rules that bind themselves to the Electoral Count Act’s requirements — which require lawmakers to count electoral votes certified by the states and submitted in December. And majorities in both chambers of Congress have indicated they have no interest in overturning the results.
Trump and his allies’ effort is aimed primarily at keeping Biden’s elector total under 270, the required minimum to obtain the presidency. If enough electors were invalidated to prevent him from reaching that threshold, the election would be thrown to the House in an unusual procedure that gives each state delegation a single vote. Though Democrats have the House majority, this mechanism would favor Republicans, who control more state delegations.
Gabby Orr, Anita Kumar and Matthew Choi contributed to this report.
Trump pressures Pence to throw out election results — even though he can’t The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Politico.