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Trump suggests Pence should have ‘overturned’ the election on Jan. 6

Vice President Mike Pence heads to the Senate chamber for the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)
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Former president Donald Trump suggested in a statement Sunday night that then-Vice President Mike Pence should have “overturned” the election on Jan. 6, 2021, as he presided over the counting of electoral college votes by Congress.

Trump has expressed frustration before that Pence did not use his role to try to reject the electoral votes of several states that Joe Biden won. But the language in Sunday’s statement was among Trump’s most explicit in publicly stating his desire.

The statement came in response to ongoing efforts by Congress to make changes to the Electoral Count Act, a law that governs what Congress should do in the case of any disputes about which candidate won in a state. Among the changes under consideration is making it more explicit that the role of the vice president is merely ceremonial.

What is the Electoral Count Act, and why are people calling for it to be revised?

“If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had ‘absolutely no right’ to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election?” Trump said in his statement. “Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!”

There has been no evidence of widespread fraud in any states in which Biden prevailed, despite repeated claims by Trump to the contrary.

The statement also comes days after Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. News of Short’s testimony was first reported by CNN.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is among the lawmakers involved in bipartisan talks about changes to the Electoral Count Act, an effort that has gained momentum in the wake of Democrats’ failure to pass sweeping voting rights legislation.

Raising the total number of senators and House members required to challenge a state’s count is also among the other changes under consideration.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that Trump’s statement was “just a reminder of how unfit he is for office.”

“He even attacked his own vice president for not, in his words, having ‘overturned the election,’” Psaki said.

Psaki added that President Biden is open to changes in the Electoral Count Act but does not view that as a substitute for passing voting rights legislation.

Pence is expected to address and defend his decision to certify the election during a speech Friday in Florida to the Federalist Society.

Short appeared before the Jan. 6 committee last week, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly. Pence does not plan to appear before the committee, but besides Short, Pence’s top lawyer, Greg Jacob, is expected to appear.

Trump and Pence are both expected to appear at a Republican donor retreat in New Orleans in early March. Pence allies have said he will consider a presidential bid, even if Trump runs for the White House again.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), an outspoken Trump critic who voted to impeach him on a charge of inciting an insurrection, said in a tweet Monday that the former president would try to do it again.

“Trump uses language he knows caused the Jan 6 violence; suggests he’d pardon the Jan 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy; threatens prosecutors; and admits he was attempting to overturn the election. He’d do it all again if given the chance,” wrote Cheney, who is vice chairwoman of the House select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.

Trump’s latest salvo at Pence came a day after he dangled the prospect of pardons for rioters charged in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection if he is elected president in 2024.

“If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6th fairly,” Trump said Saturday near the end of a lengthy campaign rally in Conroe, Tex. “We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”

The mother of Ashli Babbitt, the pro-Trump rioter who was fatally shot when she stormed the Capitol last year, has joined Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and others in urging Trump to defend individuals who were charged in the insurrection and are being held in the D.C. jail.

In his role as president of the Senate, Pence was at the Capitol to preside over the counting of the electoral votes on Jan. 6 when the pro-Trump mob breached the building in an effort to prevent him from officially affirming Biden’s win. Pence repeatedly told Trump in the lead-up to Jan. 6 that he did not have the power to overturn the 2020 election, and Trump would regularly ask him to listen to other advisers or read other arguments that said he did.

Members of the mob that day shouted “Hang Mike Pence!” and erected a gallows on the west side of the Capitol. As the building was under siege, Pence and his family were whisked into a hideaway, narrowly escaping the attackers, before being taken to a more secure location elsewhere in the complex.

Trump did not call Pence on Jan. 6 or in the days after to check in on his vice president’s well-being, prompting anger among many in Pence’s orbit. The two men have spoken occasionally since Jan. 20, 2021, but have not seen each other.

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