Donald Trump ratcheted up his desperate campaign to cling to power by pressuring vice-president Mike Pence to overturn the result of the presidential election when Congress meets to certify the vote on Wednesday.
The certification of the vote at a joint session of Congress is normally a ceremonial occasion presided over by the vice-president, and Mr Pence’s role requires him to declare that Joe Biden was the victor in November’s general election.
However, on Tuesday, Mr Trump falsely suggested that Mr Pence could use the occasion to nullify the result. “The vice-president has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
Mr Trump’s intervention echoed remarks made at a rally in Georgia on Monday night, on the eve of two US Senate elections that will decide which party controls the upper chamber.
“I hope that our great vice-president . . . comes through for us,” Mr Trump told the rally. “Because if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”
The pressure campaign on Mr Pence is the latest instalment in a so-far fruitless effort by Mr Trump to reverse the outcome of the election and follows a number of failed attempts to overturn the result in the courts.
The outgoing president has repeatedly sought to sow doubt over the result, falsely claiming that Mr Biden only won due to mass voter fraud. Several high-profile Republicans have supported his baseless claims, and 13 Republican senators have said they would object to the vote certification on Wednesday.
Mr Trump has also put pressure on several other Republican officials to assist his efforts to overturn the result, most recently at the weekend, when he phoned Georgia’s top election official and urged him to change the vote tally in the state, which Mr Biden won.
On Tuesday, Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who joined Mr Trump on the call to Georgia’s secretary of state, announced she would be resigning “effectively immediately” from Foley & Lardner, the US law firm that employs her. Her resignation came after the firm said it was “concerned” by her participation in the call.
Electoral law experts have rejected Mr Trump’s claim that Mr Pence can block the certification, noting that any objections would fail if they are blocked by one of Congress’s two chambers.
The House of Representatives is controlled by Democrats, while most Senate Republicans have not joined the effort to block the certification, which is being led by Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
On Tuesday afternoon, several Republican senators said they would certify Mr Biden as the election’s winner.
“Our Constitution is a magnificent document — and this is coming from a man who was not even fully counted as a man in the original version,” said Tim Scott, the Republican South Carolina senator, who is black.
“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,” he added.
Jim Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, said refusing to certify the results would be “a violation of my oath of office”, while Jerry Moran, Republican senator from Kansas, warned that not certifying the results would risk “undermining our democracy”.
The fracturing of the party over whether to support Mr Trump’s last-gasp effort to stay in the White House has put Mr Pence in an awkward position as he navigates his own political future, which could include a 2024 presidential run.
Mr Pence’s office has said he “welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people”.
However, last week, Mr Pence asked a federal court to reject a lawsuit filed against him by Louie Gohmert, a Republican member of the House of Representatives. If successful, the suit would have forced the vice-president to interfere with the electoral vote count by only counting the electoral votes he deemed valid, potentially allowing the vice-president to alter the election in favour of Mr Trump.
In a filing, Mr Pence called the lawsuit “a walking legal contradiction”. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals threw the suit out on Saturday.
The vice-president’s staff has given no indication that he would buck his ceremonial duty as presiding officer of the senate and refuse to certify the vote.
On Tuesday, Chuck Grassley, the eldest Senate Republican who is the chamber’s president pro-tempore, announced that he would preside over the session on Wednesday because “we don’t expect [Mr Pence] to be there”.
However, Mr Grassley’s office later walked back his comments, saying the senator had only been speaking in a hypothetical sense and that he had “no indication” the vice-president would not be present.
Mr Trump’s final effort to block the vote-certification comes at a crucial moment for the Republican party, which is fighting to hold on to the two Georgia Senate seats in the run-off elections on Tuesday.
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