WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump turned up the pressure Tuesday to enlist Vice President Mike Pence in a futile effort to reverse the presidential election and keep them in office for four more years.
With a president who has excelled at remaining the focus of Washington, Pence has largely played the role of quiet support character, never publicly rebuking his boss and sticking to his script with unwavering consistency.
But Trump’s effort to keep from being evicted from the White House on Jan. 20 has pushed Pence into the limelight and left him in a position that a person close to Trump said he is “dreading.”
Pence has a constitutional role in officially making President-elect Joe Biden the commander-in-chief. On Wednesday, he will be responsible for overseeing Congress’ count of the Electoral College votes submitted by the states. A group of Republican lawmakers have announced that they plan to object, although they are unlikely to succeed in throwing out the Biden votes.
But Trump wants Pence, who will oversee the vote count, to simply reject the votes for Biden, a power that he doesn’t have under the Constitution and federal law. Trump tweeted falsely Monday that “the Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” And during a rally Monday in Georgia, he told supporters, “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us.”
No vice president has that power. The position’s role in the electoral count process is essentially limited by the Constitution and federal law to simply opening the slates of electors from each state and reading them.
Pence and Trump had lunch together Tuesday, two administration officials said. The New York Times reported that Pence told Trump during their meeting that he did not believe he had the power to block congressional certification. Pence’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but Trump’s campaign later put out a statement refuting the Times’ account and making false claims about what Pence can do in his role overseeing the proceedings.
Those close to Pence say they don’t expect any surprises.
Pence intends to act as a moderator, fulfilling his duties as president of the Senate, the sources said. They don’t expect him to take any actions to influence the outcome aside from letting members who raise objections carry out debates over the results as outlined in the rules. Pence thinks it is his job to follow the Constitution and the law, a person close to him said.
Pence has been “diligent about how he’s approached tomorrow,” a source said. He’s been “studious,” according to the official close to Pence, reviewing the federal Electoral Count Act, reading legal opinions, meeting with his chief of staff and his general counsel and speaking to experts on the subject matter.
“Vice President Pence shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election,” Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said in a statement over the weekend. “The vice president welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people on January 6th.”
In recent days, Pence has met with the Senate parliamentarian to go over the process and logistics, Short said. Pence scrapped a trip that had been in the planning stages to travel to Europe and the Middle East immediately after the congressional certification, people familiar with the discussions said.
Trump met with Pence in the Oval Office on Monday evening shortly before he left for his Georgia rally, where he called on Pence to overturn the results. Pence was back at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, with a Covid-19 task force meeting as the only activity on his schedule.
If Pence follows precedent and the rules laid out by Congress, his role will amount to reading the results once they are finalized and “maintaining order” — a bit of jargon that generally means keeping the chamber quiet.
While more than a dozen Republican senators have said they will question the results in swing states won by Biden and dozens of House members plan to challenge the results, there aren’t enough votes in either chamber to overturn the outcome.
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Still, Trump’s allies have pushed for Pence to use his position to force lawmakers to accept Trump votes instead of Biden electors.
A lawyer for an alternative slate of delegates said Tuesday that a letter would be sent Tuesday signed by 75 lawyers representing alternative slates of electors — none of which have been certified by any state governments — urging Pence to delay the vote count to give the states more time to resolve any disputes.
But legal experts said any such move would violate the Electoral Count Act, which says Congress must count the votes on Jan. 6. Pence has no authority to change the date.
The National Archives, which is responsible by law for receiving all of the certified results from states, received alternative slates from Republicans in five states — Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada and Pennsylvania. But the archives considers them as being “submitted by private individuals.”
The federal Electoral Count Act prohibits the archives from forwarding the alternative slates to Congress, because it can pass along only slates certified by the states.
The archives provided the information in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by NBC News.
Pence’s office declined to comment about whether it has received alternative slates of electors from any contested states, nor would it comment about what it plans to do with them.
‘Whatever reputation he has’
Pence has his own political future to consider.
As a potential 2024 presidential candidate, Pence doesn’t want to be in his current position, those close to him say.
If Pence breaks with Trump, he risks alienating Trump’s supporters. If he tries in any way to block the results, he could alienate independents and moderate Republicans who disagree with Trump’s behavior.
“He’s hoping he can get through it without incurring wrath from Trump and keeping intact whatever reputation he has,” a person close to Trump said Monday.
A person close to Pence said that while he and his advisers understand that there will be political implications to whatever he does, they see it as a no-win situation and haven’t been trying to find a way to use it to score political points.
Pence is doing everything possible to “appear as loyal as ever” without “destroying his future,” said a person familiar with his discussions.
While the vote count is being readied, Trump will be holding a campaign-style rally outside the White House intended to stop the vote certification with his false claims of widespread election fraud.