Mike Pence Defies Donald Trump and Says He Can't Claim 'Unilateral Authority' to Reject Electoral College Votes

Vice President Mike Pence issued an open letter to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, essentially stating that he would not comply with the president's request for him to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump has been publicly pressuring Pence to call the results into question on Wednesday, when Congress certifies the votes from the Electoral College. Pence explained that he cannot and will not do so.

"It is my considered judgement 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 in the letter, which circulated on social media on Wednesday. This seemed to be the closest Pence would get to directly refuting the president, who has used social media, rallies and every other public forum at his disposal recently to publicly pressure Pence to challenge the election results. While some allies have joined Trump in his conspiracy theories about the election, Pence seemed to decide that it was not worth the political points it might gain him.

Pence's lengthy letter made a relatively simple point: that he has no "unilateral authority to decide presidential contests." This is objectively true — the law dictates that Pence's job is simply to count the votes in his capacity as the president of the United States Senate, not to question their legitimacy and certainly not to determine it.

For this reason, Pence is unlikely to get accolades from Trump critics for simply failing to capitulate with the president's conspiracy theories. However, Trump continues to insist that Pence does have the power to change the election results, whipping up his supporters in the process. He spoke at an election protest event in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, telling the crowd of angry supporters that Pence was accountable. "I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election," he said, incorrectly. "If he doesn't, that will be a sad day for our country."

White House insiders say that Pence has tried to explain the legal technicalities of this situation to Trump over the last few days, according to a report by CNN. Those meetings have lasted hours, but Trump has refused to accept the reality of his position.

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Many are concerned about the impact of this disinformation from Trump — in both the long and short term. D.C.-area businesses have been bracing for potential riots on Wednesday, with angry Trump supporters coming in from out of town. Meanwhile, pundits question if the public faith in the U.S. electoral system will ever be the same. President-elect Joe Biden will take office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.