Donald Trump is putting the pressure and the blame on his long time loyal vice president, Mike Pence, for his election loss, an act one White House aide called 'shameful.'
The president has repeatedly hammered Pence to act illegally and overturn the election in his favor, while Pence aides said the vice president will follow the constitution when he oversees a Joint Session of Congress on Wednesday afternoon to certify the election results.
'If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election,' Trump told a crowd of supporters on the National Mall shortly before the session began.
But he also demonstrated he doesn't understand Pence's role in presiding over the session, which is largely ceremonial.
'All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president,' Trump claimed, which is false. Pence doesn't have that power and such a move would not give Trump a victory.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
He said he spoke to Pence about the matter. Trump addressed his rally as Pence prepared to gavel in the the Congressional session that will certify Joe Biden's victory.
'I just spoke to Mike, I said Mike, that doesn't take courage - what takes courage is to do nothing. And then we’re stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot and we have to live with that,' he said.
But Trump keeps beating the drum on the issue.
Earlier, he demanded Pence ignore the constitution and instead 'return' swing states' slates of electors for Joe Biden to Republican-controlled legislatures who would then submit their own Trump electors.
Pence has no such power to do so - and told Trump that over lunch on Tuesday, the New York Times reported - but Trump doubled down on his demands as thousands of his supporters, some in camouflage, gathered close to the White House.
'States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!' Trump tweeted.
At the White House there was shock that Trump would turn so publicly on his ultra-loyal VP.
that one aide called attacking the VP 'shameful,' amid fears from Pence's camp that worse was to come.
Yesterday a senior White House official (who is very Trump-y) said what he’s doing to Pence, who has remained loyal to him through Access Hollywood and all, is “shameful.” https://t.co/6QJtYVhoTg— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) January 6, 2021
The tweet was hours before Pence was due to preside over the joint session of Congress which will formally declare Biden the election victor - and as the Republican party adsorbed the shock of being on the brink of losing the Senate.
Trump appeared to concede that the Senate was lost in an all-capitals tweet claiming that Republicans need to keep 'the power of the veto.'Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
'THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, OUR COUNTRY, NEEDS THE PRESIDENCY MORE THAN EVER BEFORE - THE POWER OF THE VETO. STAY STRONG!THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, OUR COUNTRY, NEEDS THE PRESIDENCY MORE THAN EVER BEFORE - THE POWER OF THE VETO. STAY STRONG!' Trump tweeted.
A move to turn on Pence had been growing in inevitability for days. Axios reported that Trump had no idea that Pence oversaw the certification of the election results - until he learned about it from a television ad by the Lincoln Project, the never-Trump Republican group led by Kellyanne Conway's husband George.
Donald Trump is putting the blame on his long time loyal vice president, Mike Pence, for his election loss
Tweetstorm turning on Pence: Donald Trump went after his own VP in a tweetstorm
On Tuesday night ABC News' White House Correspondent Jon Karl reported that Trump was 'prepared to go after Pence and go after him hard' if he does not get in line and overturn the election at the special session of Congress which begins at 1pm Wednesday.
'Decertifying' the results would plunge the country into a constitutional crisis but Trump claimed that Pence was in 'total agreement' that he 'has the power to act.'
Trump's statement publicly turned the heat up on Pence after a pressure campaign which has been going on in private for weeks and exploded into the public on Monday night at Trump's Georgia rally, then on Twitter Tuesday.
'The New York Times report regarding comments Vice President Pence supposedly made to me today is fake news,' Trump said in a statement issued by the White House. It was dated 2020.
'He never said that. The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.
'The November 3rd election was corrupt in contested states, and in particular it was not in accordance with the Constitution in that they made large scale changes to election rules and regulations as dictated by local judges and politicians, not by state legislators. This means that it was illegal.
Delivering bad news: Mike Pence was spotted at the White House Tuesday after Trump had tweeted that the vice president could disqualify Electoral College votes. Pence was on his way to tell Trump that he could not
Trying to lighten the blow: Mike Pence told Trump he might attempt to 'acknowledge' his claims of fraud - partly driven by his own fear that confirming Joe Biden's victory will be used against him
Trump's tweet is false and Pence does not have the power to reject slates of electors
'Our Vice President has several options under the U.S. Constitution. He can decertify the results or send them back to the states for change and certification.
'He can also decertify the illegal and corrupt results and send them to the House of Representatives for the one vote for one state tabulation.'
Significantly, however, the statement was not signed by Pence - and the legal claims Trump made appeared to be in line with plans outlined by Rudy Giuliani, not the Senate Parliamentarian who has advised Pence that his powers are limited to confirming the Electoral College votes read out on the floor of Congress.
Trump also tweeted 'big news from Pennsylvania' with a copy of a letter sent by Republican state lawmakers to Mitch McConnell and the Republican minority leader in the House asking for certification to be 'delayed.'
The lawmakers claimed that the election outcome should be put off until after the Supreme Court has considered a Republican challenge to how Pennsylvania's voting was run - which the justices have scheduled no date to hear, and asked for responses on January 22, after Trump leaves office.
The letter repeats claims about the election which have been dismissed by state and federal courts repeatedly.
That Trump tweeted it shows his level of desperate clutching at straws with Congress all but certain to torpedo his bid to overturn the election as early as Wednesday.
Trump had first wanted Republicans to vote to reject electors from swing states, but a majority of GOP senators have made clear they will not go along with that, making it dead on arrival.
His next attempt is to claim Pence has powers to simply reject votes himself, a claim advanced by Rudy Giuliani and other fringe lawyers but dismissed by constitutional experts as absurd.
Pence was himself reported to have told Trump Tuesday that he was wrong.
He delivered the bad news over lunch, the New York Times reported, sugaring the pill by suggesting he could in some way acknowledge Trump's discredited claims when he presides over the Senate.
Ahead of the traditionally ceremonial event, President Donald Trump had escalated his pressure campaign on Pence to help him overturn the election results and spend another four years in the White House.
'The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,' the president tweeted on Tuesday morning, wrongly stating what Pence can do when he is in the presiding chair.
But shortly after when the two met for their regular lunch, Pence delivered the bad news that he could not.
The New York Times reported that Pence also told Trump to lighten the blow that he would keep 'studying the issue' until the joint session begins at 1pm Wednesday.
In fact Pence spent hours this week with the Senate Parliamentarian, who advises senators and the vice president on the rules when they are on the floor of the Senate - or in Pence's unique case, presiding over the joint session certifying the election.
Truth to power: Donald Trump demanded publicly Monday night at his rally in Georgia and then on Twitter that the vice president aid his campaign to overturn the election. Pence told him Tuesday he could not
Desperation move: Trump's extraordinary plan to overturn the election through Mike Pence is a final attempt to stop Joe Biden's victory being confirmed
If a member of the House and Senate both object to one of the state's slates of electors, the two chambers split to debate the objection for two hours - with Pence presiding over the Senate.
That is when he could offer some 'acknowledgment' of Trump's claims about fraud to ameliorate both the blow to his boss, and the potential for the president to turn on his ultra-loyal deputy in the dying days of the administration, and beyond.
Pence is said to be particularly concerned that his certification of Biden's victory could be weaponized against him on social media.
His delivery of bad news to Trump came after a lawsuit brought by Louis Gohmert, an ultra-loyalist congressman, which demanded that federal courts say Pence could disqualify electoral college votes was dismissed rapidly by a judge and an appeals court.
That legal move would have offered Pence some cover that he could point to judges as having ruled out the possibility that he could disqualify voters - which no vice president had ever done and which constitutional experts had said was simply legally impossible.
But an 'acknowledgment' of Trump's claims represents a Pyrrhic victory for the president - with Republican senators dealing his campaign to have them vote against approving swing states' votes a series of blows Tuesday, as more and more said they would not get behind it.
Senators Tim Scott and Jim Inhofe became the latest GOP lawmakers to risk the wrath of Trump with their decision to back Biden - at least 23 Republican senators will vote to certify Biden's election win
Senators Tim Scott and Jim Inhofe became the latest GOP lawmakers to risk the wrath of Trump with their decision to back Biden.
'As I read the Constitution, there is no constitutionally viable means for the Congress to overturn an election wherein the states have certified and sent their Electors. Some of my colleagues believe they have found a path, and while our opinions differ, I do not doubt their good intentions to take steps towards stamping out voter fraud,' Scott said in a statement.
Inhofe also cited the Constitution as his reason.
'My job on Wednesday is clear, and there are only two things I am permitted to do under the Constitution: ensure the electors are properly certified and count the electoral votes, even when I disagree with the outcome,' he said in a statement.
More and more Republican senators joined in as the clock ticked toward Wednesday, including Senators Jerry Moran and John Boozman.
Moran said the plan to object would 'risk undermining our democracy–which is built upon the rule of law and separation of powers.'
And Boozman made a similar argument.
'Under the Constitution, Congress does not have the legal authority to change the outcome,' he said. 'These principles are enshrined in the Constitution to ensure the American people, not the party in control of Congress, have the power to choose their president.'
At least 24 Republican senators will vote to certify Biden's election win, according to a count by Politico while 13 are supporting Trump. And 14 are undecided. The Senate is short one senator as David Perdue's term ended January 3rd. The winner of Tuesday's special election in Georgia will take the seat.
It takes a simple majority of 51 senators to sustain the objection to a state's electoral college result, upending it.
But with all 48 Democrats unlikely to do so and the 24 Republicans joining them, that's 72 votes for Biden, leaving Trump's hopes in the dust.
Senator Ted Cruz, who is leading the objection effort, will challenge the results of Arizona on Wednesday while Senator Kelly Loeffler will likely lead the objection when it comes to the results in her home state of Georgia. Senator Josh Hawley, another GOP leader in the movement, will challenge Pennsylvania's.
The focus of the objections would be on those three states - down from the original six lawmakers originally discussed.
Even without the outcome highly unlikely to go Trump's way there is bound to be plenty of fiery floor debate and political theater.
But Trump may not get a mass gathering of Republican lawmakers protesting on the floor.
The House Sergeant at Arms and Capitol physician sent a memo to lawmakers Tuesday evening about the joint session, requesting that 'access to the Floor of the House will be limited to those Members who are scheduled to speak during the joint session.'
And for Pence, who has walked the tight rope of Trump's presidency for four years without faltering, what he does Wednesday will be the ultimate loyalty test, at least in the eyes of the president, who is publicly putting on the pressure.
Trump has made it clear he expects his second-in-command to keep him in the White House even if Pence does not legally or constitutionally have the power to do so.
'I hope Mike Pence comes through for us. He's a great guy,' Trump told a campaign rally Monday night in Dalton, Georgia. 'Of course if he doesn't come through I won't like him quite as much.'
The 12th Amendment is the fundamental law behind Congress certifying the election