WASHINGTON â€” President Donald Trump turned up the pressure on Tuesday to enlist Vice President Mike Pence in a futile effort to reverse the outcome of the presidential election and keep them in office for another four years.
With a president who has excelled at remaining the focus of Washington during his time in office, 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 ongoing 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 one person close to Trump said he is “dreading.”
Pence and Trump had lunch together on Tuesday, according to two administration officials.
Pence has a constitutional role in the process of officially making President-elect Joe Biden the commander in chief. On Wednesday, he will be charged with overseeing Congress’s count of the Electoral College votes that have been submitted by the states. A group of Republican lawmakers have announced they plan to object, although they are unlikely to be successful in actually throwing out the Biden votes.
But Trump wants Pence, who will oversee the Electoral College vote count, to simply reject the votes for Biden, a power that he does not have under the Constitution and federal law. Trump tweeted falsely Monday that â€œthe Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.â€ And during a rally in Georgia on Monday, he told supporters, “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us.â€
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.
Those close to Pence say they donâ€™t expect any surprises.
Pence intends to act as a moderator during the counting process, filling out his duties as president of the Senate, the sources said. They donâ€™t anticipate he will take any actions to influence the outcome aside from letting members who raise objections carry out a debate over the results as outlined in the rules. The vice president thinks it is his job to follow the Constitution and the law, said one person close to Pence.
Pence has been â€œdiligent about how heâ€™s approached tomorrow,â€ one source said. Heâ€™s been â€œstudious,â€ according to the official close to the vice president, reviewing the federal Electoral Count Act, reading legal opinions, meeting with his chief of staff and general counsel and speaking to experts on the subject matter.
â€œVice President Pence shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election,â€ said Penceâ€™s chief of staff Marc Short in a statement over the weekend. â€œThe 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.â€
In recent days, Pence met with the Senate parliamentarian to go over the process and logistics, Short said. Pence scrapped a trip that was in the planning stages to travel to Europe and the Middle East immediately after the congressional certification, according to people familiar with the discussions.
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 where the only activity on his schedule is a Covid-19 task force meeting.
If Pence follows past precedent and the rules laid out by Congress, his role will amount to reading the results once they are finalized and “maintaining order” â€” 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 are not enough votes in either chamber to overturn the outcome.
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Still Trumpâ€™s allies have pushed for Pence to use his position to force lawmakers to accept Trump votes instead of Biden electors.
A lawyer for one alternate slate of delegates said Tuesday that a letter will be sent to Pence today, signed by 75 lawyers representing alternative slates of electors â€” none of which have not be certified by any state governments â€” urging him to delay the Electoral College 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 tasked by law with receiving all the certified results from states, received alternate slates from Republicans in five states â€” Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, Nevada and Pennsylvania. But the Archives consider them as being “submitted by private individuals.”
The federal Electoral Count Act prohibits Archives from forwarding these alternate slates to Congress, because it can only pass along slates certified by the states.
The Archives provided the information in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by NBC News.
Penceâ€™s office declined to comment whether theyâ€™ve received an alternative slate of electors from any contested states, nor would they comment on what they plan to do with them.
‘Whatever reputation he has’
Pence has his own political future to consider.
As a potential 2024 presidential candidate, Pence does not want to be in his current position, those close to him say.
Pence is â€œdreadingâ€ Wednesday, one source said.
If Pence breaks with Trump, he risks alienating the presidentâ€™s supporters. If he tries in any way to block the results he could alienate independents and moderate Republicans who disagree with the presidentâ€™s behavior.
â€œHeâ€™s hoping he can get through it without incurring wrath from Trump and keeping intact whatever reputation he has,â€ one person close to Trump said Monday.
One person close to Pence said that while the vice president and his advisers understand there will be political implications to whatever he does, they see it as a no-win situation and havenâ€™t been trying to find a way to use it to score political points.
Pence is doing everything possible to â€œappear as loyal as everâ€ without â€œdestroying his future,â€ said one 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.