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Pence: Man in the middle as Trump seeks unlikely miracle

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US Vice President Mike Pence has been President Donald Trump's chief defender, but finds himself in a bind as his boss pressures him to overturn election results so that he can remain in power./AFP
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Jan 06, 2021 - 05:53 AM

WASHINGTON — For three years and 11 months Mike Pence has been Donald Trump’s most devoted footsoldier, but in the administration’s closing weeks the vice president faces intense pressure from his boss to thwart final certification of the election that they lost.

US election law dictates that Pence preside over Wednesday’s joint session of Congress, in which lawmakers will count and confirm the Electoral College votes sent in from all 50 states.

But avoiding Trump’s wrath — and that of his all-important base, whose support Pence would need if he launches his own 2024 White House bid — is a political imperative for the vice president.

That puts him in a precarious position for Wednesday, which many Republicans are eyeing as the last chance to help Trump overturn Joe Biden’s November 3 election win.

Pence’s role is largely administrative and ceremonial: to oversee final confirmation that the vote was won by Biden, who will be sworn in on January 20.

Straying from his duties, say, by refusing to allow confirmation of legal Electoral College votes, would put him at odds with the US Constitution.

Despite there being no evidence of substantial election fraud, Trump has refused to concede defeat and is pressing Pence to do something — anything — to overturn the results and make him president for four more years.

“The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Trump tweeted inaccurately Tuesday.

The Constitution grants the vice president no such power; that role belongs to US lawmakers.

A Republican-backed lawsuit filed last month against Pence sought to give him the authority to reject electoral votes, but the vice president opposed that effort, and a federal judge dismissed the suit.

But Pence, facing an extraordinary balancing act, felt the heat when Trump mentioned him at a rally in Georgia on Monday.

“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” Trump said, referring to Wednesday’s proceedings.

Trump called Pence “a great guy,” but said that “if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”

‘Threatening comments’ 

Trump has simultaneously been goading his supporters in Congress to try to reverse the results.

Several House and Senate Republicans have signalled they will object to certifying the votes in some swing states won by Biden, a move that would prompt a debate and vote in each chamber, potentially forcing proceedings into the overnight hours.

The chance of the gambit working is virtually zero. Democrats control the House of Representatives, while only a dozen Republicans in the 100-member Senate are likely to object to confirmation.

Senate Democrat Chris Van Hollen meanwhile reminded Pence of his “purely ceremonial” duties.

“Despite Trump’s threatening comments in Georgia last night, the American people should be able to count on VP Pence to stand with the Constitution and confirm the vote of the people,” Van Hollen tweeted.

Pence’s hands are mostly tied. His role involves opening the certificates of electoral votes from the states, handing them to “tellers” who tabulate the vote, and ultimately declaring who won.

That would obligate Pence to announce his own defeat, just as Democratic vice president Al Gore did in 2000 and Walter Mondale 19 years before that.

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