Now that the Electoral College has cast its votes for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be president and vice-president respectively, the next step in the process is for the votes to be sent to Congress. A joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives will meet on January 6th to count the votes and this is where things get awkward for Pence.
Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes. The Vice President, as President of the Senate, presides over the count and announces the results of the Electoral College vote. The President of the Senate then declares which persons, if any, have been elected President and Vice President of the United States.
If any objections to the electoral votes are made, they must be submitted in writing and be signed by at least one member of the House and one Senator. If objections are presented, the House and Senate withdraw to their respective chambers to consider the merits of the objection(s) under procedures set out in Federal law.
So Mike Pence would have the task of announcing that Joe Biden has been elected as the president, just as Joe Biden announced in 2017 that Donald Trump had been elected president.
But on that day if Trump is, as is likely, still refusing to concede and holding on to the fiction that the election was stolen from him, then Pence announcing that Biden has won would be to defy the one person he has been toadying to for the past four years, incurring not only his wrath but the wrath of the Trump cult whose support he needs for his own presidential ambitions. Even as late as yesterday in Georgia, even though the Electoral College has voted, Pence was not conceding that Joe Biden is going to be the president.
So will Pence do his job or will he hightail it out of Dodge to avoid the wrath of his boss? Apparently he has made plans to leave for a week-long trip overseas immediately after the session, presumably to avoid the fallout, but there is nothing to stop him leaving a little sooner.
While Pence allies said there is no reason to doubt he will perform his duties as prescribed, some congressional Republicans have already vowed to push their colleagues to reject enough electoral votes to block Biden from becoming president. If Pence were to decline, the president pro tempore of the Senate would step in for the first time since 1969, when incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey — also the defeated Democratic nominee for president at the time — skipped the proceedings to attend a funeral.
As vice president, Pence has the awkward but unavoidable duty of presiding over the session of Congress that will formalize Biden’s Electoral College victory — a development that is likely to expose him and other Republicans to the wrath of GOP voters who believe President Donald Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen from him.
The effort, led by GOP Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, is unlikely to yield Trump’s desired result but could easily leave Pence in an excruciating situation. One White House official compared the task at hand for Pence — which will include opening and counting electoral votes sent from each state — to someone delivering a death notice.
“By no means is this going to be an easy moment for the vice president or president to stomach,” the official said.
Him avoiding presiding creates other problems. Trump cultists are planning to object to the congressional certification by various means and that will require many point-of-order rulings from the chair. As anyone who has been involved in these kinds of parliamentary procedures knows, the chair has some leeway in how the proceedings go, such as who is allowed to speak and what they can say. If he occupies the chair, he can try to use whatever flexibility he has to move the discussion Trump’s way, though that will be at best a delaying tactic since the final outcome is inevitable.
If he skips out, then the president pro tempore of the Senate will take his place in the chair and that position is currently held by senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa who is one of the few Republicans who acknowledged fairly early on that Joe Biden won the election.
Pence is must be having sleepless nights, wondering what he should do or, more likely, wondering what Trump will tell him to do.
Isn’t US politics fun?