A leftover from Saturday that’s being read differently by different camps. Some people think this is a signal that Pence is throwing in with the coup caucus.
I think it’s close to the opposite. Pence is warning righties that they should pin their hopes on the coup caucus, not on him as the presiding officer, to deliver a last-gasp victory for Trump.
I wouldn’t rule out the first possibility, though. As hard as it is to imagine a buttoned-down traditional Republican like Mike Pence doing something outlandish to try to disrupt the election, he’s in the same position Ted Cruz is in. He made a devil’s bargain with Trump years ago in order to boost his chances of becoming president some day. Since then, and at great cost to his self-respect, he’s passed every loyalty test Trump has administered in order to preserve those chances.
Suddenly, in the final mile of this marathon, with his dignity a faint memory, he’s going to throw it all away by failing the ultimate test?
Cruz’s position may be contemptible but it *is* logical. We’ll see about the VP on Wednesday. Until then:
“The Vice President welcomes the efforts of members of the House and Senate to use the authority they have under the law to raise objections and bring forward evidence before the Congress and the American people on January 6th.” 2/2
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) January 2, 2021
Lotta weasel words there about “concerns” and “irregularities,” which Cruz and Josh Hawley have also used. None of them are doing the thing Trump most wants them to do, endorsing his belief that the election was stolen. The most they’ll do is wink at the possibility, suggesting that they’re keeping an open mind and pointing to what *other* people believe — many Americans have concerns! — as justification for their actions on Wednesday. The phrase that jumps out at me in Pence’s statement is “use the authority they have under the law,” the key word being “they.” What he’s trying to do here, I think, is refocus MAGA fans on the fact that only Congress itself can choose to accept or reject the electoral college results. The vice president is there in a purely ceremonial role, to count the votes approved by Congress.
Don’t look to me for action on Wednesday, he’s telling them. Look to Cruz and Hawley. And if it turns out that they don’t have the support they need to reject any swing state’s electoral votes, which they don’t, then oh well.
He sounded a bit more flirty with the “stop the steal” crowd during an appearance in Georgia this morning, but only a little:
VP Pence in Georgia: "I know we all got our doubts about the last election … I promise you, come this Wednesday we'll have our day in Congress. We'll hear the objections. We'll hear the evidence." pic.twitter.com/OQsGZ0N2qx
— The Recount (@therecount) January 4, 2021
VP Pence nods approvingly to "Stop the Steal" chants in Georgia. pic.twitter.com/e06dGwta0P
— The Recount (@therecount) January 4, 2021
He’s throwing them a bone in saying he has “doubts” about the election, but again, he pointedly refuses to commit to anything on Wednesday. We’ll hear the evidence, he says, and that’s all he says. He won’t flatly declare that the election was stolen, as Trump has 6,000 times. Essentially he’s asking MAGA fans to be satisfied with the process knowing that they won’t be satisfied with the results. The objections will be heard. Your concerns will be considered.
…and then Joe Biden will be certified the new president in a bipartisan vote duly recorded by Mike Pence.
I’m thinking Trumpers aren’t going to let him off so easy:
Charlie Kirk calls on Mike Pence to unilaterally reject state electors, adding "try it. Make them sue and get the Supreme Court into action" pic.twitter.com/jY3mcSFV0R
— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) January 4, 2021
By Kirk’s logic, the party that controls the White House could overturn an election any time it also controls the House by simply having the VP throw out enough electoral votes for the winning candidate to force the House to decide the outcome. It’s not a serious proposal but it’s not meant to be. It’s vice-signaling by a guy who makes a living vice-signaling. At least Charlie hasn’t been placed in a position of public trust, unlike Hawley and Cruz.
Speaking of which, I’m surprised by how much of a backlash there’s been among the Senate Republican caucus to the populist effort to upend the election on Wednesday. Normally when Trump’s voters are riled up about something, the Senate GOP keeps its head down. Impeachment is the supreme example. Right now, something like two-thirds of the House caucus is poised to reject the electoral college results when they vote on Wednesday but in the Senate the coup caucus is still stuck at just a dozen or so members. I bet Cruz and Hawley didn’t expect that; certainly, I didn’t expect Tom Cotton and Mike Lee to refuse to join. Nor did they probably expect the harshness of some of the rebukes they’ve gotten. Both Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey have made a point of singling them out by name for criticism, a mild breach of Senate politesse that gave Hawley the sadz:
New: Hawley just emailed the Senate GOP, responding to Toomey and "shameless personal attacks"
— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) January 3, 2021
“You’re taking my coup attempt too personally” is a nice window into Hawley’s thinking. This is just business for him, after all. He wants to be president, he’s doing what he needs to do in order to be president, or so he thinks, and a pro like Toomey should understand that.
Toomey does not understand that, alas:
TOOMEY (R-PA) statement on Trump/GA call, @alanhe reports:
"President Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger represents a new low in this whole futile and sorry episode." pic.twitter.com/iGesnWfOxR
— Kathryn Watson (@kathrynw5) January 4, 2021
The reason so many Senate Republicans have revolted against what Cruz and Hawley are doing is complicated, I think. Some may resent the two for forcing them to take a tough floor vote that would have been avoided if no one had objected. Some may believe that they have more to fear electorally from throwing in with the coup caucus than by opposing it. Some may simply have had their fill of Trumpist loyalty tests over the years, particularly after impeachment, and decided that they don’t care anymore. Some may be genuinely disgusted by such a cynical, self-serving ploy to delegitimize an election. And some may think, after two months of watching Sidney Powell and Lin Wood become right-wing folk heroes, that it’s well past time to start pulling the party back in the other direction.
The most interesting figure in the mix is Mitch McConnell, who’s been asserting his authority lately at Trump’s expense and who seems sincerely appalled by the attempt to obstruct an election. McConnell just won a new six-year term and his hold on the Senate majority is in jeopardy in Georgia thanks to Trump’s weeks of electoral shenanigans. If he ends up still in control of the chamber after this week, he’ll have zero incentives to do Cruz and Hawley any favors going forward. Which may be fine by them: “The leadership hates me” is a good brand for a populist presidential aspirant. (Cruz has run for president on that theme once before, in fact.) But McConnell can make their lives as senators miserable. And he should, just as they’ve made his life miserable by insisting on pulling this stunt.