Vice President Pence, in a letter to members of Congress on Wednesday, said he does not believe he has the “unilateral authority” to reject electoral votes, dealing a final blow to President Trump’s push for Pence to overturn the election result.
The letter comes just before Pence is set to preside over a joint session of Congress, where lawmakers will affirm Joe Biden as the next president. Pence has been facing increasing pressure from Trump and his supporters to somehow intervene and reject electors for Biden.
But Pence, who harbors political ambitions of his own beyond the vice presidency, said giving the vice president unilateral authority to decide presidential contests would be "entirely antithetical" to the design of the constitution.
"It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not," Pence wrote.
Congress will convene on Wednesday afternoon, and Republican lawmakers in both chambers are expected to object to the certification of results in at least three states. The objections will trigger a round of debate on each state, but they will not change the result.
Majorities of both chambers would have to vote to reject the electors from a given state, and Democrats control the House and several GOP senators have said they will not object.
As a result, Trump and his allies have turned their focus to Pence, inaccurately insisting that the vice president has unilateral authority under the Electoral Count Act to reject electors or somehow declare Trump the winner.
"Given the controversy surrounding this year’s election, some approach this year’s quadrennial tradition with great expectation, others with dismissive disdain," Pence wrote. "Some believe that as Vice President, I should be able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally. Others believe that electoral votes should never be challenges in a Joint Session of Congress.
"After a careful study of our Constitution, our laws, and our history, I believe neither view is correct."
Pence cited the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and the proceedings following the 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes when explaining how he came to determine that he did not have the power to intercede.
The vice president's decision was largely expected, with those close to him saying he would not act outside the bounds of the Constitution. He reportedly informed Trump of his view during lunch on Tuesday.
Still, Trump was unrelenting in framing Pence as a potential hero. During remarks to thousands of supporters on the White House Ellipse, the president repeatedly described Pence as a potential savior who could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
"And Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country," Trump said. "And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I’ll going to tell you right now. I’m not hearing good stories."