“The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Trump declared falsely on Tuesday, lending credence to an erroneous theory that Pence can overturn the results of the election during Wednesday’s tally of Electoral College votes and again pressuring his top lieutenant to act outside constitutional bounds.
His message came the morning after Trump riled up a crowd of supporters in Georgia using Pence’s upcoming engagement on the Senate floor.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” Trump said Monday night during a political rally in Georgia, where his public arm-twisting was met with cheers. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him as much.”
It was a direct message to a vice president whose defining political characteristic remains his unyielding fealty to Trump. How Pence proceeds on Wednesday when he presides over the certification of the Electoral College tally could determine his future relationship with the man he has served loyally, even in moments of political peril.
The two men had lunch together on Tuesday, according to two sources. Their lunches are typically put on their public schedules, but was not listed Tuesday.
Over the past several weeks, Trump has become intensely interested in Pence’s ceremonial role during the certification of the Electoral College. He has raised the matter repeatedly with his vice president and has been “confused” as to why Pence can’t overturn the results of the election on January 6, sources told CNN.
As he was flying to Florida for his vacation last month, Trump retweeted a call from one of his supporters for Pence to refuse to ratify the Electoral College results on January 6 — a prospect that has captured his imagination even if it remains completely impossible.
Pence and White House aides have tried to explain to him that Pence’s role is more of a formality and he cannot unilaterally reject the Electoral College votes. Pence has walked Trump through his largely procedural role in hopes of downplaying the pressure on him, a strategy that doesn’t appear to have worked given the President explicitly urged him to take action Monday night without saying exactly what he wanted Pence to do.
There is little expectation among Trump or Pence’s aides that he will divert from his constitutionally-prescribed role.
“He will follow the law and Constitution,” one person familiar with the matter said.
Undeterred, Trump still seems taken with the idea and has not let up on asking Pence how he could somehow reverse or prevent Biden from being certified the winner, according to people familiar with the conversations.
“He’s a wonderful man and a smart man and a man that I like a lot but he’s going to have a lot to say about it,” Trump said on Monday. “You know one thing with him. You’re going to get straight shots. He’s going to call it straight.”
Traditionally, the vice president presides over the electoral vote certification, though it’s not a requirement. In 1969, then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey didn’t preside over the process since he had just lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon. The president pro tempore of the Senate presided instead.
One source close to Pence said it is not seen as a good option for Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley — the current president pro tempore — to be there instead of Pence on January 6.
Pence and Trump were seen meeting in the Oval Office on Monday, along with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, before Trump departed for Georgia. According to Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, the pair were set to discuss how they would proceed on January 6.
“That decision has to get made by the President and vice president, and they are actually meeting today and going through all the research — they probably aren’t going to make that decision by sometime tomorrow,” Giuliani said on a podcast hosted by Charlie Kirk, a conservative activist.
Giuliani ticked though several issues he characterized as constitutional matters that he said Pence and Trump would discuss. He framed the decision as one for both Trump and Pence — even though the President has made clear he believes Pence should somehow act to prevent the certification, and Pence, in private, has explained his role is merely ceremonial.
On Sunday, Pence met for a lengthy session with the Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough in his office just off the Senate floor. Pence chief of staff Marc Short, who was also in the Capitol and seen at one point going into the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, denied the purpose of the meeting was to find a way to overturn the Electoral College results.
“No,” Short said. “We’re just meeting.”
Asked why he was meeting with the parliamentarian, Short said they are “trying to figure out the exact process.”
Still, procedure and process can hardly inure Pence from the outrage of a President who still believes the election was stolen from him and has been fed conspiracies about the results from a band of fringe advisers.
Even as recently as this weekend, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro claimed on Fox News that Pence had the power to move back Inauguration Day, contradicting the Constitution.
Last month, Trump offered tacit approval for the lawsuit filed by his Republican ally Rep. Louie Gohmert pressuring Pence into overturning the election results and was later disappointed to learn his own Justice Department was asking a judge to reject the suit, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump and Pence discussed the matter at the end of last week.
Trump for weeks has told associates that he does not believe Pence is fighting hard enough for him. That frustration is partly what led Pence’s chief of staff to issue a statement Saturday night saying he welcomed efforts in Congress to raise objections to the Electoral College, though several noted it seemed carefully worded and did not say he supported the objections outright.
“Vice President Pence shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election,” Short wrote. “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.”
Speaking at his own rally in Georgia on Monday, Pence offered little insight into his thinking about January 6, even as he bolstered Trump’s false claims of voter fraud.
Instead, he kept his remarks vague.
“I know we’ve all got our doubts about the last election,” he said. “I want to assure you, I share the concerns of the millions of Americans about voting irregularity. I promise you, come this Wednesday, we’ll have our day in Congress, we’ll hear the objections, we’ll hear the evidence.”
Pence did not say what happens after.