Pence will preside over next weekâ€™s joint session of Congress, where the electoral votes cast earlier this month will be read aloud. President-elect Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trumpâ€™s 232, reflecting Bidenâ€™s 81 million votes nationwide as he secured the White House.
Trump has been working to incite his supporters over the ceremonial milestone, falsely portraying it as a final showdown in his battle to alter the electionâ€™s outcome. â€œSee you in Washington, DC, on January 6th. Donâ€™t miss it,â€ Trump tweeted Sunday.
There were some initial signs Tuesday that Trumpâ€™s last-ditch appeal may be faltering, even among some of his most fervent supporters.
In an interview, Stanley Grot, a Trump elector in Michigan, a longtime Republican and the clerk of the Detroit suburb of Shelby Township, said he does not plan to come to Washington.
When the electoral college met Dec. 14 to certify Bidenâ€™s win in the state, Grot joined other Trump electors in Lansing to register their continued support for the president in a state where Trump has exerted especially strong pressure on supporters to overturn the vote. But Grot said Tuesday that there is nothing more he can do next week.
â€œIt is out of our hands now,â€ he said.
He said if Congress certifies Bidenâ€™s victory, he would â€œnot be in a position to challenge anything,â€ adding, â€œwe always must respect the office of the presidency.â€
Another Michigan elector for Trump, Timothy King of Ypsilanti, also said he has no plans to travel to D.C. â€” though he said he will not be persuaded of the legitimacy of Bidenâ€™s win regardless of what happens in Congress.
â€œI donâ€™t think Joe Biden would be the legal president if they go through with this,â€ the retired autoworker said. â€œPeople are not stepping up and doing their constitutional duty,â€ he said, to examine unverified claims of fraud that he and others allege took place.
King is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Michigan election results that has already been rejected by a federal judge; he and his fellow plaintiffs have asked the Supreme Court to review the matter.
Also Tuesday, the Georgia secretary of stateâ€™s office announced the results of a signature audit conducted of mail-in ballots from the November election cast in Cobb County. Working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the secretary of stateâ€™s office said it reviewed signatures on 15,118 ballot envelopes, finding none were fraudulent and that all but two included signatures that matched that of the voter on file â€” demonstrating that election officials who examined the signatures before the vote had a 99.99 percent accuracy rate. Of the two ballots, one was signed by a voter in the wrong place and the second was improperly signed by a voterâ€™s spouse. The voter indicated in an interview with state officials that he filled out the actual ballot.
Republicansâ€™ ability to challenge the congressional process is limited.
Any member of the House, joined by a member of the Senate, could contest the electoral votes, citing an 1880s election law. But the challenge will merely prompt a floor debate followed by a vote in each chamber. Trump will inevitably lose that vote, given that Democrats control the House and a number of Senate Republicans have publicly recognized Bidenâ€™s victory, including Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), who has called Trumpâ€™s refusal to accept the election dangerous.
Even in the unlikely event that Trump were to prevail in the Senate, where Pence would be in position to cast a tie-breaking vote if needed, the challenge still would fail given the House vote.
Still, a number of Republican members of the House, led by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and egged on by the president, have nevertheless said they plan to challenge votes in a series in swing states where they have made unfounded allegations that the vote was marred by fraud.
One incoming Republican senator, newly elected Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, has said he is considering signing on as well. He would do so over the opposition of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other leading Republican senators, who have said it would be politically harmful to force Republicans to decide whether back Trump out of loyalty in a vote bound to fail.
Even so, experts fear the vote could cast a cloud over Biden as he prepares to take office Jan. 20, creating the misimpression that his victory was in some way contested or that he was installed by congressional Democrats.
Next weekâ€™s ceremony will come at the end of a grueling period in Congress in which Trump angered members of his own party by vetoing a major defense bill and initially balking at a coronavirus relief measure that had been negotiated by his own aides. The legislative maneuvering may also dampen Republican enthusiasm to back Trumpâ€™s futile effort to overturn the election.
The lawsuits are designed to get a judge to expand Republican options in Congress next week â€” or to create the impression that the law might allow additional options.
Trump and his allies have already sought judicial intervention in dozens of suits filed since the election and have met no success. More than 90 state and federal judges, appointed by members of both parties, have rejected challenges to the election by the president, his campaign and his allies.
In some cases, judges have found that the party objecting to the election did not have standing to sue, or inappropriately challenged the voting procedures only after the election.
But in many of the suits, judges evaluated Trumpâ€™s claims of fraud and found there was no evidence to support them.
Gohmertâ€™s suit, which was joined by a group of Republicans in Arizona including the chairwoman of the state GOP, argued that the law that governs next weekâ€™s congressional action is unconstitutional because it impinges on Penceâ€™s sole authority to recognize electors. The suit argues that a federal judge should order that Pence can choose to recognize alternate electors who support Trump should he wish to do so.
Legal experts said the lawsuit was meritless and would probably be dismissed by a federal judge for multiple reasons.
Among other things, the suit envisions competing slates of electors from which Pence could choose. However, despite intense pressure from Trump, no state legislature actually agreed to set aside the November vote and appoint alternate electors. Instead, informal groups of Trump supporters met in some state capitols earlier month and appointed themselves electors, in ceremonies that had no force of law.
In a statement, Gohmert nevertheless asserted that seven states had sent â€œdueling slates of electorsâ€ to Washington.
â€œWe continue to hold out hope that there is a federal judge who understands that the fraud that stole this election will mean the end of our republic, and this suit would insure that the Vice-President will only accept electors legitimately and legally elected,â€ he said.
The case, which was filed in Texas, has been randomly assigned to District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee who took the bench in 2018.
Gohmert and his fellow plaintiffs have requested a hearing no later than Thursday and a ruling by the judge by Monday. In a filing Tuesday, their lawyers revealed that they had contact with attorneys for the vice president and the Justice Department and were unable to come to an agreement with them about the suit, including about when Pence must file a response. They asked the judge to order Pence to respond by the close of business Wednesday.
In a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward, also a plaintiff in the suit, called it a â€œfriendly lawsuit.â€
â€œItâ€™s all on the shoulders of Vice President Mike Pence, and we have this lawsuit to assist him in being able to do his job and to do it well,â€ she said.
The suit highlights the awkward role Pence will play next week, when, by law, the task of presiding over the last step before Biden takes the oath falls to the vice president. A Pence spokesman did not respond to questions about the suit. A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment.
â€œThis Gohmert suit has had me scratching my head, and I donâ€™t think the courts will take it seriously,â€ said Trevor Potter, a Republican election law expert who has been reviewing such cases as a member of the nonpartisan National Task Force on Election Crises.
Among other problems, Potter said the remedy Gohmert is seeking â€œwould stand the Constitution on its head. It would effectively deliver to the vice president the right to determine who won the presidential election. If the vice president has authority to pick his favorite electors, then you wouldnâ€™t need a Congress or a Constitution.â€
Norm Eisen, a Democrat who is counsel to the nonpartisan Voter Protection Program, called the Gohmert lawsuit even more â€œabsurd and extremeâ€ than those that came before.
â€œThis attempt to throw out the entire legal structure which has guided American presidential elections for almost 150 years is utterly unfounded,â€ Eisen said. â€œIt is destined to end up where sixty-plus other cases have: the legal ash heap.â€
Eisenâ€™s group has been monitoring the efforts closely in the courts and in key states and has worked out an expected timeline of events on Jan. 6, when the two chambers will meet at 1 p.m.
They confidently predict that the day will end with Biden officially being declared the president-elect.
â€œIf they choose to waste the time of Congress and the nation in the middle of a health and economic crisis, it will be for no purpose at all, except to stroke the presidentâ€™s ego,â€ Eisen said.