- President Donald Trump and his team are hoping Vice President Mike Pence will launch a last-ditch maneuver to suspend counting the electoral votes that will formalize Joe Biden's victory, two Republicans close to the White House told Insider.
- Like all of Trump's legal gambits to stage what some Republicans have deemed a "low-grade coup", it appears destined to fail, if Pence tries it.
- Pence presiding over the final nail in the coffin for Trump's 2020 bid has enraged Trump supporters, even spurring one of Trump's lawyers to call for the VP's execution by firing squad.
- But Pence could have one more shot to win back Trump's favor (and his political base) if Trump steps down before January 20 so the outgoing VP can pardon him, a second Republican close to the White House said.
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Vice President Mike Pence has long reveled in the pomp and circumstance of elected office, the celebratory speeches and official declarations that most journalists roll their eyes at.
But now the pomp and circumstance of standing by President Donald Trump's side for more than four years has put the VP in the worst jeopardy of his career. On Wednesday afternoon, Pence will take on the role of Senate president and read off the Electoral College vote counts and eventually declare Joe Biden the president.
It's a ceremonial task that Pence is obligated to undertake thanks to the Constitution. The problem is that when the vice president does his job he'll also be ensuring in another two weeks that the president he's served alongside for the last four years doesn't have one anymore.
But Pence may still have a way out, said two Republicans close to the White House. Trump and his legal team are hoping Pence will take the unprecedented step of suspending the counting of electoral votes in the Senate and sending them back to the states for recertification, one of the Republicans said.
Trump hinted at the historic delay tactic in a statement issued Tuesday night, "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."
Just hours before Pence was set to start reading off the votes, Trump reiterated the point in a tweet, "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 does not have the authority to reject the Electoral College votes. Still, a senior House Democratic aide told Insider on Wednesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team "are prepared for everything."
Like Trump's many other legal gambits as part of what some Republicans have deemed a "low-grade coup," it appears destined to fail even if Pence attempts it. That's because the vice president's move would need affirmative votes from the House and Senate, where bipartisan majorities have already publicly opposed Trump's efforts to reject the election results.
Still, Pence by making the motion on the House floor could help deflect at least some of the blame for being the final person to foist reality on Trump: he lost.
"I would absolutely have a contingency plan," said one of the Republicans familiar with the last-ditch effort. "The last thing Pence wants is to have Trump start tweeting about him."
Pence under fire
Few Republicans have drawn as much recent ire and contempt from Trump's most ardent supporters as Pence. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, sued Pence in a long-shot attempt to force him to overturn the election results. A federal judge dismissed the case. One of Trump's lawyers, Lin Wood, called for Pence's execution by firing squad.
And that was all before Trump started pressuring his VP publicly.
The vice president has attempted to split the proverbial baby, telling Trump and others that he will observe his oath to the Constitution. On Tuesday, he told Trump he had no power to overturn the election results, the New York Times reported. Trump later denied Pence said that to him.
Behind the scenes, Pence and his team have been studying the procedure and rules for Wednesday's vote count for more than a month. He spent Sunday meeting with Senate parliamentarians to go over what normally is a very scripted affair. One Pence adviser had previously speculated to Insider that the VP may even try to skip the electoral vote since he had an overseas trip lined up for after the count, but it was canceled at the last minute.
"He's been counting down the hours to minimize mistakes," said a third Republican close to the White House. "They just want this over with."
Spokespeople for Trump and Pence did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Pence's big gamble with Trump
The electoral count by Pence is just the latest awkward position stemming from his historic gamble linking up with Trump — an irony not lost on Penceworld considering the longtime conservative politician from Indiana throughout his career opposed gambling both literally and figuratively.
In the 1990s, when Pence was a radio show host, he fought with other Christian Right activists against efforts to expand casinos in Indiana. On the other side of that fight was New York developer and failed casino magnate Donald Trump.
In his career, like his life, Pence did not gamble. He charted a careful course from Indiana to Congress, back to Indiana, with his eyes set on the Oval Office. He picked safe races and relied on Republican powerbrokers to clear out potential challengers.
When Trump came knocking in July 2016, Mike and Karen Pence said "yes." It looked like as safe of a bet you could make in politics: Trump would likely lose the 2016 election and Pence would catapult to the front of the pack for the 2020 Republican nomination. And at the very worst, if Trump won, he would become vice president and position himself for the Republican nomination in 2024.
But nobody in Pence's orbit seemed to bet on Trump trying to overturn the 2020 election results while also floating his own run for president again in 2024.
"For five years this guy has done nothing but bend over backward and this is how it ends?" said the first Republican close to the White House. "Trump's tweets could be the last thing to define Pence."
Pence "will be fine"
Pence survived numerous loyalty tests from Trump during their time together. The most danger Pence faced was in the summer of 2019, when Trump's son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump debated trying to replace him as Trump's running mate with a woman. The power couple has denied ever making such plans.
Even if he presides over yet another formal declaration of Biden's victory — and Trump's loss — Pence may get one more chance to prove his fealty to Trump as the president's term winds down.
Once Trump is out of office he's vulnerable to criminal prosecutions in a way he isn't while president, and a legal tsunami of potential cases are possible at the federal, state and local levels.
"What would work is him pardoning Trump," said the third Republican close to the White House. Pence would be president for a few hours, just long enough to pardon Trump, the Republican said.
Other Trump advisors have long tamped down discussion of Trump stepping down to receive a pardon from Pence. That's because a federal pardon would not exempt Trump from the legal jeopardy he faces in New York state and now in Georgia in the wake of a Saturday call that has since been released to the public where the president begged Peach State officials to "find" additional votes so he could win their state's presidential race.
Trump has also discussed whether he should be pardoned with White House aides before and decided he probably doesn't need a federal pardon, said the second Republican close to the White House.
For now, Pence and his team are trying to keep their heads down and survive the day. He will lean heavily on Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth McDonough, the expert on Senate rules and constitutional limits who a year ago guided Chief Justice John Roberts through the Trump impeachment trial and now is set to sherpa Pence through the electoral count. He will hear the objections from some of his likely opponents for the 2024 nomination, including Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas.
The whole world will be watching to see what Pence does, including his current boss at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
"Pence will be fine," said a second Republican close to the vice president. "None of this will matter soon."
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