WASHINGTON – Speaking to supporters of President Trump on Monday at Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga., Vice President Mike Pence pleaded with the crowd to vote on Tuesday in the two elections that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate .
“I am here for one reason and one reason only, and that is that Georgia and America need David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the Republican majority,” Pence said.
But the crowd also had a message for him.
“We need you to do the right thing on January 6th!” a supporter shouted. “Stop the flight!” cried the others. The crowd applauded.
While Mr Pence has attempted to sidestep Mr Trump’s efforts to cling to power, his reception in Georgia on Monday was the latest reminder of the delicate role he will play on Wednesday, when Congress fulfills what is usually a duty. opening ceremony and counting of electoral votes certificates.
As President of the Senate, Mr. Pence is expected to preside over the pro forma certification of the Electoral College’s vote count before a joint session of Congress. It’s a constitutionally mandated televised moment in which Mr. Pence will name the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
It’s also a time when some of Mr Pence’s advisers are bracing for ever since the president lost the election and escalated his baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud. There is no way Mr Pence is not here, people close to him have said. Pence’s aides told people they viewed the vice president’s role as largely ceremonial.
“I know we all have our doubts about the last election,” Pence said in Georgia on Monday, trying to appease Trump supporters. “I want to assure you that I share the concerns of millions of Americans about voting irregularities. I promise you, come this Wednesday, we’ll have our day in Congress.
It wasn’t clear what he meant, perhaps by design. Mr Pence does not have the unilateral power to affect the outcome of Wednesday’s deliberations. But he has carefully tried to appear as though he is faithfully following the President’s lead even as he goes through a process that should end with a reading of a statement that Mr Biden is the winner.
After nearly a dozen Republican senators announced their intention to oppose certification of the vote on Wednesday, the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short, released a carefully crafted statement intended not to anger anyone .
“Vice President applauds the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and present evidence to Congress and the American people on January 6,” did he declare.
The statement, which has frustrated senators who say Mr. Trump is trying to thwart democracy, helped appease the president, according to a person close to him.
But that wasn’t enough to crush the belief of many Trump supporters – and the president himself – that the vice president could still somehow help reverse the results.
Two people briefed on the talks said Mr Trump had directly urged Mr Pence to find an alternative to certifying Mr Biden’s victory, such as preventing him from having 270 electoral votes and letting the election be postponed in the House to decide.
In Georgia on Monday night at a rally for Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Mr. Trump openly lobbied the Vice President, saying, “I hope Mike Pence will come for us, I owe you. to say it. He added, “Of course if he doesn’t pass I won’t love him that much,” before saying he really loves Mr. Pence.
On Monday, after Mr. Pence returned from Georgia, the Vice President and Mr. Trump were due to hear a last-minute White House speech from John Eastman, another attorney for Trump. Mr Pence also met with Senate parliamentarians for hours on Sunday to prepare, as well as the president, for what he would say in the Senate.
The fact that Mr Pence’s role is almost entirely scripted by these parliamentarians should not ease a rare moment of tension between him and the President, who has come to believe that Mr Pence’s role will be akin to that of the chief judge, an arbitrator. which plays a role in the outcome. In reality, it will be more like the presenter opening the Oscars envelope and reading the name of the film that won the Best Picture award, without having a say in determining the winner.
“President Trump’s actual understanding of this process is minimal,” said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist.
Some of Mr. Trump’s other advisers helped fuel the idea that Mr. Pence could affect the outcome of the election. In an interview with Jeanine Pirro on Fox News on Saturday night, Peter Navarro, a White House trade adviser, mistakenly claimed that Mr. Pence could unilaterally grant a request from Texas Senator Ted Cruz and 11 other Republican senators for a “Emergency 10-day audit” of election results in states that Trump’s allies are fighting over.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Trump called Mr. Pence and expressed his “surprise” that the Justice Department weighed in against a lawsuit brought by Trump supporters, including members of the House, seeking to expand the powers of Mr. Pence in the process. The lawsuit was dismissed on Friday by a Texas federal judge Mr. Trump had appointed.
A person close to Mr Pence described Wednesday’s duties as heartbreaking, saying he would need to balance the president’s mistaken beliefs about government with his own years of preaching deference to the Constitution.
Members of the vice-presidents circle expect Mr Pence to follow the rules while in the Senate and performing his ceremonial role as scheduled, assistants said. But after that, he will have to compensate by showing his loyalty to Mr. Trump.
A final overseas trip by Mr. Pence to Israel, Bahrain and Belgium has been canceled, while more events to talk about Mr. Trump’s legacy at home are being considered, according to a report. person close to the plans. Aides did not say whether Mr. Pence would attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
Pence aides said they expected the vice president to explain what should happen on Capitol Hill with Mr Trump before Wednesday, in part to get vaccinated against criticism from the public in real time.
But even with his practice of managing the president, Republican strategists have described Mr. Pence as being in the worst political position of any potential major Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election. The vice president will not be able to avoid a televised moment in there. nationwide where he will declare Mr. Biden the winner, which could disappoint those who believe Mr. Trump was the winner and anger those who think he has the power to change the outcome.
“His best bet is to push and dodge and get away with it without exasperating both sides,” said William Kristol, the conservative columnist and prominent Republican “Never Trump” who was Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. .
“He has to hope that the people of Trump are furious with Tom Cotton and whoever doesn’t want him,” Mr. Kristol said, referring to Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an ally of the president who said he did not would not join the effort. contest the results of the electoral college. “He has to hope that establishment Republicans are furious with Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. And then it was he who offended no one.
Four years ago, Mr. Pence faced a tough re-election as governor of Indiana when Mr. Trump’s advisers at the time saw the opportunity to choose the smooth-mannered, silver-haired conservative who was popular among evangelical voters who needed Mr. Trump’s support.
Since then, Mr Pence has played the role of the president’s relentless advocate and – with rare exceptions – has kept the light of day from coming between them.
In an administration that has reviewed four chiefs of staff, four national security advisers and four press secretaries, the vice president’s political calculation has long been that being number 2 flawless would give the best chance of inheriting the Trump mantle.
But with only 16 days left in administration, Mr Pence risks the fate he managed to avoid for four years: being publicly attacked by the president.
Since the election, his political advisers have wanted Mr. Pence to focus only on the two rounds of the Senate in Georgia and on the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.
Neither has been of significant interest to the president.
“Pence’s only game is to be loyal, submissive and supportive until the last minute when he’s vice president,” said Michael Feldman, a former traveler. Chief of Staff to Vice President Al Gore, who recalled that his former boss played the constitutionally prescribed awkward role of announcing his own defeat after Mr Gore lost the 2000 presidential election. “Pence will do anything. what he thinks will please the president and his supporters. ”
Michael S. Schmidt contribution to reports.