‘Ultimate betrayal’: US President Donald Trump fumes over VP Mike Pence’s role in dying days of administration

ANALYSIS:

US President Donald Trump is reportedly fuming in private over the role his Vice President, Mike Pence, will play in finalising his defeat to Joe Biden two weeks from now.

The election result has been beyond doubt for some time. The President’s legal challenges have gone nowhere and the electoral college officially cast its votes for Biden a week ago. Trump’s refusal to concede will not prevent the transfer of power.

However, there are still a couple of steps left in the process. First, on January 6, Congress will hold a joint session to count the electoral votes. Then, on January 20, Biden will be sworn in at his inauguration.

It’s the first of those events that concerns us here.

In America’s political system, one of the Vice President’s few real responsibilities is to serve as President of the Senate. It’s mostly a ceremonial role, though in the event of a 50-50 tie on the floor of the chamber, they do get to cast the deciding vote.

It also means that on January 6, Pence will be the person presiding over that joint session of Congress, where Biden will be formally recognised as the incoming president.

Trump is still hoping, against all odds, to derail proceedings on January 6 and change the result of the election.

It’s a hopeless cause. While congressional Republicans are allowed to raise objections during the process, they lack the numbers to actually throw out and replace the results from key states Trump lost.

So the day will inevitably end in yet another defeat for the President. And he reportedly sees Pence’s role in it as the “ultimate betrayal”.

That quote comes from an article published by Axios today, which cites “several top officials” within the Trump administration. It does not identify them.

“President Trump, in his final days, is turning bitterly on virtually every person around him, griping about anyone who refuses to indulge conspiracy theories or hopeless bids to overturn the election,” writes Australian reporter Jonathan Swan, who you’ll remember from one of the wildest interviews of Trump’s tenure.

“Targets of his outrage include Vice President Pence, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Trump thinks everyone around him is weak, stupid or disloyal, and increasingly seeks comfort only in people who egg him on to overturn the election results.

“We cannot stress enough how unnerved Trump officials are by the conversations unfolding inside the White House.”

What exactly have all these men done to provoke the President’s ire? We have a fair idea.

Meadows and Cipollone have both pushed back against Trump behind the scenes in recent days. Specifically, they’ve shot down the idea of appointing conspiracy theorist lawyer Sidney Powell as a special counsel investigating voter fraud.

McConnell, the most senior Republican in Congress, acknowledged Biden as President-elect for the first time last week.

“Our country has, officially, a president-elect,” he said. “The electoral college has spoken. So today I want to congratulate president-elect Joe Biden.”

Pompeo’s sin is less obvious, though he has recently contradicted Trump on Russia’s role in a large cybersecurity breach. The President says China, not Russia, could have been behind the hack. Pompeo has no such doubts.

One of Swan’s sources, who claimed to have spoken with the President, said he complained specifically about Pence.

They said an ad from the anti-Trump group The Lincoln Project, which characterises Pence as “backing away” from his boss, had “got inside Trump’s head”.

“The end is coming, Donald. Even Mike Pence knows. He’s backing away from your trainwreck. From your desperate lies and clown lawyers,” the narrator says.

“When Mike Pence is running away from you, you know it’s over. Trying to save his reputation. Protect his future.

“There’s one last thing Donald. On January 6, Mike Pence will put the nail in your political coffin when he presides over the Senate vote to prove Joe Biden won. It’s over, and Mike Pence knows it.”

This is pretty typical stuff from The Lincoln Project, whose ads often seem to exist for no other reason than to troll the President.

Pence has certainly been quiet since the election, and he has refrained from taking part in Trump’s attempts to overturn the result. That said, he hasn’t contradicted Trump’s claims about voter fraud either.

Back to Axios’ report. According to Swan’s sources, Trump believes Pence is “not fighting hard enough for him”, and the Vice President’s role on January 6 has started to “loom large” in his mind.

“Trump would view Pence performing his constitutional duty and validating the election result as the ultimate betrayal.”

Trump met with a group of his most supportive congressional Republicans at the White House last night, including Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan and Louie Gohmert.

Meadows, the White House Chief of Staff, confirmed on Twitter that the meeting had occurred.

They discussed plans to raise objections during the joint session, in an effort to throw out the slates of electors from some key states and replace them with alternative, pro-Trump electors.

“We think we’re going to actually be able to contest this, as you say, with at least one objection from the House. We’ll have dozens of objectors in the House. And then at least one in the Senate, and we think we’ll have more than that,” Congressman Andy Biggs, who was also at the meeting, told Fox Business.

Any objection has to be made in writing by at least one person from each chamber of Congress. Then the joint session is put into recess, giving the House and the Senate a chance to debate the objection separately.

After that, the two chambers hold separate votes on whether to accept the objection. To get a state’s results chucked out, both chambers must vote yes.

Hence the hopelessness of the situation for Trump. The Democrats control a majority in the House, and are never going to vote to invalidate Biden’s victory.

On top of that, the Republican Senate majority is 52-48, and it is already clear that enough Republicans would vote against an objection to deny it.

“It’s just not going anywhere,” Majority Whip John Thune told reporters yesterday.

“In the Senate, it would go down like a shot dog. And I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense to put everybody through this when you know what the ultimate outcome is going to be.”

It’s unclear what Trump expects his Vice President to do in this situation.

Pence does not have the power to unilaterally rule that the electoral college vote is invalid. He is bound by the process – and the process is going to end with Trump’s objections being defeated.

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