Having failed to get state officials, judges, and federal courts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential campaign, President Donald Trump’s legal team and right-wing activists have initiated an intense pressure campaign on Vice President Mike Pence, asking him to flout the law and Constitution and misuse the vice president’s ceremonial and administrative role in this week’s congressional certification of the Electoral College results. Religious-right activists are at the forefront of the effort to keep Trump in office.
Pence has no legal or constitutional authority to overturn the will of the voters and reject the Electoral College votes that were cast in state capitols on Dec. 14. But that doesn’t matter to the Trump supporters who have floated a series of theories that, if true, would make the largely powerless vice president one of the most powerful people in the country, with the unilateral authority to determine the winner of a presidential election.
The pressure on Pence is coming from the top. “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” Trump said at the rally he attended in Georgia Monday night. “He’s going to have a lot to say about it.” Trump signaled that he expects loyalty, saying, “If he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
Other right-wing activists have been less subtle than the president. “If Pence steps up and throws out the electoral votes in certain states where rampant fraud ensued, he will go down in history as one of the most courageous leaders of our generation,” wrote Joe Hoft at the Gateway Pundit, a far-right disinformation site, Dec. 28. But, said Hoft, “If he approves the nomination of Joe Biden, he will go down as the greatest traitor in history.”
In response to a tweet about Hoft’s claim that Pence could go down in history as a “courageous leader” should he flout the Constitution, the Twitter account of the religious-right Jericho March tweeted “Truth.”
Attorney Lin Wood, an ally of so-called “Stop the Steal” organizers who claims he filed one of the unsuccessful lawsuits challenging Biden’s victory in Georgia at Trump’s request, called Pence disloyal to Trump and “a traitor to We the People” in a Sunday night tweet. In recent days, Wood has called for Pence to be arrested for treason and executed by firing squad.
Some right-wing activists were angry that Pence asked a federal court to toss a lawsuit brought by Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas and a few Arizona Republicans that CNN’s Dan Berman called “part of the desperate and extraordinary GOP attempt to overturn the presidential election using baseless and unproven allegations of mass voter fraud.” Gohmert’s suit asked courts to declare that the vice president “may exercise the exclusive authority and sole discretion in determining which electoral votes to count for a given State.” Pence’s legal response noted that the lawsuit sought to “empower the Vice President to unilaterally and unreviewably decide objections to the validity of electoral votes, notwithstanding the Electoral Count Act.” Gohmert’s suit was rejected by a federal judge and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Gohmert’s lawsuit wasn’t the first effort to concoct out of whole cloth new powers for the vice president to override voters and state courts. In December, unnamed staffers within the White House prepared a memo arguing that Pence could unilaterally reject Electoral College certificates but that he would have to act by Dec. 23. Intercessors for America, a religious-right group closely associated with White House aide Paula White, picked up on the proposed “Operation Pence Card” and rushed an alert to its “prayer warriors” urging them to send a message to Pence urging him to reject electors. IFA’s suggested message included, “I believe it is ‘for such a time as this’ that leaders like yourself may be in office—for the sake of the protection of godly principles and the protection of our constitutional republic.”
Pence did not embrace “Operation Pence Card,” so Trump die-hards shifted their focus to Jan. 6 as the next opportunity to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.
On Dec. 27, Trump attorney Jenna Ellis, who is also a fellow at Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, tweeted a link to what she called an “interesting” article in the hard-right American Thinker blog. That article contended that Pence’s power during the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress would be “plenary and unappealable.” The article repeated many of Team Trump’s false claims that have been rejected by courts and were debunked in spectacularly methodical fashion by Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling on Monday. The article argued that Pence could and should declare that the states being challenged by Trump had “not conducted a presidential election” and therefore that their Electoral College votes should not be counted.
Ellis floated yet another possibility during a Monday interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody. Ellis said Pence should refuse to accept electors from states being challenged by Trump and throw the question of the electors’ legitimacy back to the state legislatures, something for which there is no legal or constitutional authority. With a straight face, Ellis said such an act “wouldn’t be political” and would create a “clean outcome” for the election. Brody endorsed Ellis’s scheme, tweeting, “Good idea!”
Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA and co-founder of Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, also weighed in on Monday, saying Pence represents an “almost guaranteed way that Donald Trump serves four more years.” He said Pence should refuse to certify the election results of Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan and declare that no candidate has a majority of electoral college votes. “All Pence has to do is reject electors from states that are compromised,” said Kirk. “Some people say that’s not constitutional. Then try it!” Kirk said with a sneer. “Make them sue and get the Supreme Court into action.”
John and Andy Schlafly, sons of the late right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly, have also called on Pence to refuse to recognize electors from the battleground states, claiming that the vice president “alone has the constitutional authority to recognize Electoral College votes.”
Pence has said little publicly about demands that he assert the power to hand the election to Trump, but his chief of staff said on Saturday that Pence “welcomes” the plan by some congressional Republicans to “raise objections” on Jan. 6.
On Monday, Pence tweeted, “If GA steps up to #HoldTheLine, if you vote to send @Perduesenate & @KLoeffler back to the Senate & if we stand with President @realDonaldTrump, with the support of the people across this state, & with God’s help, we’re going to keep on Winning!”
On Tuesday morning, Roll Call reported that Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate president pro tempore, “says he and not Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the certification of Electoral College votes, since ‘we don’t expect him to be there.’” But Pence’s office disputed that claim, saying Pence intends to preside, and Grassley’s office “clarified” that the senator was trying to explain that “he would fill the chair if Pence does not show or steps out at points for a break.”