Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday told President Donald Trump that he does not have the authority to block certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win when Congress meets to count electoral votes, sources told CNN.
Trump, who already had turned up the pressure on Pence to steal the election, warned him that it would be politically “damaging” for Pence to refuse to block certification, according to a source familiar with the conversation.
Pence gently informed Trump during the meeting that the power doesn’t exist for him to derail the process, the source added.
The vice president went on to tell Trump there are outliers saying that the authority exists, but Pence has been told by the White House Counsel’s Office he doesn’t have that authority, according to this source who was briefed on the conversation. The meeting at the White House came after Pence met with the Senate parliamentarian earlier this week to go over his role in the proceedings.
The New York Times was first to report on Pence’s message to the President.
In a statement released through his campaign, the President disputed the story.
“The New York Times report regarding comments Vice President Pence supposedly made to me today is fake news. He never said that. The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act,” Trump said.
The President is now angry with Pence following their meeting, a source close to the White House said. Trump may “lash out” at his vice president on Wednesday morning during a speech at a rally staged to support the President’s attempts to overturn the election, which is taking place near the White House grounds.
“I think he will lash out pretty quickly” at Pence, the source said of Trump’s speech. White House officials say Trump will speak at the Ellipse 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, just as Pence is set to preside over the counting of the electoral votes.
Sources told CNN that the vice president is expected to make statements supportive of Trump’s efforts to contest the results while baselessly alleging the results are fraudulent.
A senior Trump adviser added Pence could take on a more aggressive posture than what’s been anticipated and said the vice president is likely to avoid an overly robotic performance that would anger Trump and his political base.
“He’s not going to be a wallflower,” the adviser said.
Pence left the White House at about 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, signaling he won’t watch the returns from the Georgia US Senate runoff races with Trump.
The absence of a viewing party may be more in line with the current state of their relationship, given Trump’s building frustration with Pence over his role — or lack of — in Wednesday’s proceedings. Pence and Trump dined together earlier Tuesday as officials are bracing themselves for Trump’s reaction to the congressional certification.
The adviser still said it’s unlikely Pence will veer from his constitutional role during the proceedings and attempt to tilt the election toward Trump, something the vice president cannot do even if he tried.
“He might say he doesn’t have the power to do certain things,” the adviser said, anticipating that Pence is expected to explain the constitution allows him to only go so far in channeling Trump’s feelings about the election.
In the meantime, a source close to Senate GOP leadership and familiar with the thinking inside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s orbit said the prevailing view is that Pence’s role is “ceremonial” and nothing more.
Trump has repeatedly raised with his faithful vice president the notion he could delay or obstruct the Electoral College certification, people familiar with the conversations say, setting up a test of Pence’s loyalty at the culmination of his four years of service.
Trump, based on arguments from a fringe set of lawyers and certain White House officials, has argued that instead of simply acting in his constitutionally prescribed pro forma role, Pence could delay the certification beyond Wednesday and ultimately force the question of who won the election to either the House of Representatives or the Supreme Court.
“Let them sue,” has been the message from the group to Trump, leading him to believe he could again end up at the Supreme Court.
Trump has appeared undeterred, and on Tuesday made his desires known explicitly on Twitter.
“The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Trump declared falsely, lending credence to an erroneous theory that Pence can overturn the results of the election during Wednesday’s tally of Electoral College votes and again pressuring his top lieutenant to act outside constitutional bounds.
Trump’s Twitter message came the morning after he riled up a crowd of supporters in Georgia using Pence’s upcoming engagement on the Senate floor.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” Trump said Monday night during a political rally in Georgia, where his public arm-twisting was met with cheers. “Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him as much.”
This story has been updated with additional background information.