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President Donald Trump sought to tighten the screws on his most loyal soldier, trying to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to use powers he does not have to overturn the will of voters in a desperate and futile bid to undo President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the November election.
Speaking to a crowd of thousands of supporters who rallied Wednesday on the Ellipse, just south of the White House, Trump declared, "If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election."
Beginning at 1 p.m., Pence's role is to open the certificates of the electoral votes from each state and present them to the appointed "tellers" from the House and Senate in alphabetical order. At the end of the count, Pence, seated on the House of Representatives' rostrum, has the task of announcing who has won the majority of votes for both president and vice president.
Despite his largely ceremonial assignment, Pence is under intense pressure from the president and legions of supporters who want the vice president to use the moment to overturn the will of the voters in a handful of battleground states.
"All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people," Trump said, repeating a falsehood he has been promoting leading up to the congressional session.
Pence told Trump during their weekly lunch in the West Wing on Tuesday that he did not believe he had the power to unilaterally overturn electoral votes, according to a person briefed on the one-on-one conversation. This person was not authorized to publicly discuss the private discussion, which was first reported by The New York Times, and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump said he spoke with Pence on Wednesday morning to urge him to act once again. "I said Mike, that doesn't take courage," he said. "What takes courage is to do nothing."
Pence has no such unilateral power under the Constitution and congressional rules that govern the count. It is up to the House and Senate to voice objections, and states' electors were chosen in accordance with state law, not fraudulently.