President Trump angrily denounced as “fake news” a growing number of reports that Vice President Mike Pence told him he lacked the authority to overturn Electoral College votes when a joint session of Congress convenes to certify the election on Wednesday.
His reaction demonstrates how his repeated, unfounded claims that November’s election was stolen from him have heaped pressure on his most loyal deputy.
For its part, Pence’s office declined to comment on news that he used his weekly lunch with the president to deliver his message, according to the New York Times.
But Trump issued a statement late in the evening, insisting once again that Pence had multiple ways to overturn the result and that he had never said he lacked the power.
“He never said that,” said Trump. “The vice president and I are in total agreement that the vice president has the power to act.”
The outburst marked the third time in 24 hours that Trump had ratcheted up power on his vice president.
“The vice president has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Trump tweeted earlier, even though an array of constitutional scholars said Pence did not have any such ability.
The result puts Trump’s most dependable ally under intense pressure, facing the biggest political test of his career and a choice between defending the Constitution or sticking with a president refusing to accept defeat. For weeks, the vice president has tried to walk a tightrope of backing an angry president while trying to steer clear of conspiracy theories and Trump’s most outrageous claims about rigging.
Pence, in his role of president of the Senate, will preside over a roll call of the states on Wednesday. Objections from at least one senator and one House member will trigger a debate over the results and a vote on whether to certify them — a vote certain to fail.
Pence will then be called on to formalize the Electoral College result, a moment some Trump loyalists believe could be used to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” Trump said during a rally Monday in Georgia for candidates in two Senate runoff elections.
But the answer came during lunch a day later, as Trump’s loyal lieutenant told the president he did not believe he had any such power, according to people briefed on their conversation.
However, a spokesman for Pence said he would not comment on private discussions with the president.