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Pence breaks with Trump and says he won’t overturn election as president threatens him on stage

Ever-loyal VP likely about to feel his boss’s full wrath with just two weeks left in term as Congress is set to certify Joe Biden’s victory

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Wednesday 06 January 2021 19:14 GMT
Trump urges Pence to ‘do the right thing’ and overturn election result
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Vice President Mike Pence told lawmakers he lacks the legal powers to reject Electoral College votes cast for President-elect Joe Biden, even as Donald Trump used a midday rally in Washington to continue pressuring him to do just that.

“It is my considered judgment than my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrained me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” the vice president wrote to members of Congress in a letter released minutes before a joint session will count the electoral tally.

The vice president’s office released the letter just as Mr Pence was about to preside over a joint session of Congress to count the Electoral College result and debate any objections. Once he did, House Republicans and Senator Ted Cruz objected to the Arizona result, which was called in favour of Mr Biden. The chambers will separately debate and vote on each objection throughout the day.

But before the joint session kicked off, Donald Trump was headlining one of a few rallies protesting his loss and pressuring his VP to try overturning the states’ certifications of their presidential votes.

Mr Trump said he would be “disappointed” if Mr Pence did not try sending some vote results “back to the states", arguing without evidence that some states’ Electoral College delegates were "defrauded" because they were allegedly given data to vote on that contained illegal ballots.

As he and his legal team have done for weeks, however, the outgoing president did not provide any specific evidence.

Mr Trump called on Mr Pence to “do the right thing.” 

The VP’s letter showed he has a different definition of what that constitutes.

“Given the controversy surrounding this year’s election, some approach this year’s quadrennial tradition with great expectation, and others with dismissive disdain,” Mr Pence wrote in a “dear colleague” letter.

The vice president also is the president of the Senate. Under that role, as enshrined in the Constitution, that individual presides over the vote-counting joint session. 

Most legal scholars of both political ideologies say existing statutes make the VP’s role strictly ceremonial, mostly the one in the House chamber that keeps the process moving and gavels the session in and out if there are any objections that cause the chambers to split up. 

Former US Appeals Court judge J. Michael Luttig, who reportedly is close to Trump and Pence’s worlds, also broke with the president on his contention that the vice president possesses the legal powers to reject Electoral College votes and send them back to states. 

"The only responsibility and power of the vice president under the Constitution is to faithfully count the electoral college votes as they have been cast,” Mr Luttig tweeted. “The Constitution does not empower the vice president to alter in any way the votes that have been cast, either by rejecting certain of them or otherwise.”

Mr Pence agrees with that reading of the Constitution.

“Some believe that as vice president, I should be able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally. Others believe that electoral votes should never be challenged in a Joint Session of Congress," he told lawmakers in his letter. "After a careful study of our Constitution, our laws, and our history, I believe neither view is correct.”

The vice president has been Mr Trump’s most loyal ally for four years, rarely objecting in public or private to Mr Trump’s most bombastic statements or threats. Sources have said he hoped to follow Mr Trump as president with his own 2024 run following a second term as VP.

He has echoed his boss’s concerns about alleged voter fraud and irregularities at rallies, but has stopped short of saying he thinks Democrats cheated.

Now, with just 14 days left as Mr Trump’s No. 2, Mr Pence likely is about to finally feel his boss’s full wrath.

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