No, Pence can't start a coup: Despite Trump's bullying, VP has no power to "reject" Joe Biden's win

As the vice president prepares to preside over Electoral College, Trump now claims that Pence can nullify the vote

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published January 6, 2021 6:00AM (EST)

 (Getty/Ethan Miller/Olivier Douliery/Salon)
(Getty/Ethan Miller/Olivier Douliery/Salon)

On the eve of the certification of the Electoral College vote in favor of Joe Biden for the 46th President of the United States, Donald Trump ramped up the pressure on his own vice president, reportedly warning Mike Pence that it would be politically "damaging" for him to refuse to block certification on Wednesday. While Trump angrily denied that he was rebuffed by Trump in a misdated statement, it is true that Pence cannot disqualify the votes of so-called fraudulent electors to overturn the president's election loss. Trump is now expected to "lash out pretty quickly" at Pence, CNN reported, likely during a "Stop the Steal" rally of supporters in Washington DC on Wednesday. 

We've finally reached the culmination of the Electoral College process, with states' Nov. 3 election results formally recorded during a joint session of Congress. Pence, who is technically president of the US Senate, will preside over the official count the Electoral College votes that qualify Biden to take the oath of office on January 20. While over a dozen GOP senators plan to challenge the results of the vote, along with several dozen Republican members of the House, the likelihood that either chamber will procure enough votes to overturn the election is slim to none. 

Trump's latest push comes shortly after his assistant Peter Navarro's claimed in a Fox News interview with Jeanine Pirro that "Vice President Pence, he has the authority to give that 10-day window to do what needs to get done." Navarro argued, "And I cannot imagine, when he goes through the facts, he won't vote the right way on that." 

While the Constitution makes clear that the President-elect must be inaugurated on January 20th, Navarro nevertheless claimed that he "would not be surprised to see a special counsel on this."

The vice president's Constitutionally-mandated role is strictly limited to opening each elector's slate, reading the results aloud, and "maintaining order." If the Vice President is to leave the session for any reason, Senate pro tempore Sen. Charles E. Grassley will preside over the proceedings. 

Pence has yet to comment on Trump's fallacious claim. According to his staff, Pence has been "studious" and "diligent about how he's going to approach tomorrow," studying the Election Count Act and reviewing various legal opinions to prepare. Still, it remains unclear how wide a berth Pence will give dissenting senators. 

"Vice President Pence shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election," said Pence's chief of staff Marc Short, "[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 on January 6th."

"[Pence] will follow the law and The Constitution," one insider told CNN:


The President is now angry with Pence following their meeting, a source close to the White House said. Trump may "lash out" at his vice president on Wednesday morning during a speech at a rally staged to support the President's attempts to overturn the election, which is taking place near the White House grounds.

"I think he will lash out pretty quickly" at Pence, the source said of Trump's speech. White House officials say Trump will speak at the Ellipse 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, just as Pence is set to preside over the counting of the electoral votes.

Sources told CNN that the vice president is expected to make statements supportive of Trump's efforts to contest the results while baselessly alleging the results are fraudulent.

A source close to Trump told NBC on Monday, "[Pence is] hoping he can get through it without incurring wrath from Trump and keeping intact whatever reputation he has."

Amid the election certification noise, a Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney in Georgia, Byung J. "BJay" Pak, quietly left his post on Monday following Trump's leaked phone call with Georgia's Secretary of State. It's unclear why Pak, a staunch "never-Trumper," resigned just fifteen days before his supposed exit date.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va.,called Pak's departure "completely unacceptable." Beyer noted that the Justice Department pulled a similar stunt in its ousting of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman in order to muffle Berman's past prosecutions of Trump associates. The President will replace Pak with Trump-appointed attorney Bobby Christine, who was formerly serving the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.


By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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Congress Constitution Donald Trump Elections 2020 Electoral College Gop Joe Biden Mike Pence Republicans Senate