WASHINGTON — He has been President Donald Trump’s most loyal soldier, dutifully backing the unpredictable leader and largely avoiding his ire.
Now Vice President Mike Pence finds himself in the most precarious position of his tenure as he prepares to preside over Wednesday’s congressional tally of Electoral College votes, the last front in Trump’s futile attempts to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
Seated on the House of Representatives’ rostrum, Pence will bear witness to the formalization of Trump’s — and his own — election defeat, as tellers from the House and Senate record states’ electoral votes. At the end of the count, it will be his job to announce who has won the majority of votes for both president and vice president.
But Pence, whose proscribed role is largely pro forma, is under intense pressure from the president and legions of supporters who want the vice president to use the moment to overturn the will of the voters in a handful of critical battleground states.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” Trump said at a rally Monday night in Georgia for candidates in two Senate runoff elections.
“Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much,” Trump added, drawing laughs. He said Pence was “going to have a lot to say about it. And you know one thing with him, you’re going to get straight shots. He’s going to call it straight.”
Trump continued to pile on Tuesday, tweeting that Pence “has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” The Constitution does not grant the vice president any such power — it is up to the House and Senate to voice objections — and states’ electors were chosen in accordance with state law, not fraudulently.
Pence has nonetheless spent hours huddling with the president, staff and the Senate parliamentarian ahead of Wednesday’s proceedings. His office declined to discuss his plans, but people close to the vice president stressed his respect for institutions and said they expect him to act in accordance with the law and hew to the Constitution.
“I think he will approach this as a constitutionalist, basically, and say, ‘What’s my role in the Constitution as president of the Senate?’” said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth and a Pence friend. “What he’ll do is allow anybody who is going to move to object to be heard, but then abide by what the majority of the Senate makes the outcome.”
In fulfilling one of the few formal responsibilities of the vice presidency, Pence also risks compromising his own political future. Pence is eyeing his own run for the White House in 2024, and is banking on his years of loyalty to Trump — likely to be the GOP’s top kingmaker for years to come — to help him stand out in what is expected to be a crowded field.
That means he must avoid angering Trump along with large portions of the Republican base, who have bought into the president’s unsupported claims of widespread election fraud and have been falsely led to believe that Pence has the power to reverse the outcome by rejecting the votes from states like Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that swung from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020.
“Stop the steal!” voters in Georgia chanted to Pence at a rally for the Senate candidates at the Rock Springs Church in Milner, Georgia, on Monday.
“I know we all — we all got our doubts about the last election. And I want to assure you, I share the concerns of millions of Americans about voting irregularities,” Pence told the crowd. “And I promise you, come this Wednesday, we’ll have our day in Congress. We’ll hear the objections. We’ll hear the evidence.”
On Wednesday beginning at 1 p.m., Pence is to preside over a joint session of Congress. His role is to open the certificates of the electoral votes from each state and present them to the appointed “tellers” from the House and Senate in alphabetical order. At the end of the count, it falls to Pence to announce who won.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said the team had been consulting with constitutional law professors and analyzing Pence’s options. He said Trump and Pence on Monday were “going through all of the research” and would probably wait until Tuesday to make a decision on how to proceed.