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Why Pence, even now, is facing fire from Trump over Jan. 6 vote

Why does it matter that the former president is still lashing out at his vice president? Because of an important and ongoing legislative reform effort.


The House voted this week to approve the bipartisan Presidential Election Reform Act, which didn’t generate a lot of attention but is an important effort. The point is to improve the Electoral Count Act of 1887, bring clarity to potential ambiguities, and remove any doubt that the vice president’s role in counting Electoral College votes is simply ceremonial.

Donald Trump responded to the vote with this missive by way of his social media platform:

“The House just passed a Bill which prohibits the Vice President from doing what all the ‘great’ Democrat & RINO legal scholars said he couldn’t do, ‘under any circumstances,’ regarding sending election results back to State Legislatures. If the V.P. couldn’t do it, then why are they passing legislation saying he can’t do it. BECAUSE HE COULD HAVE DONE IT, and should have, based on large scale fraudulent election results. Would have been a different result. REPUBLICAN SENATORS SHOULD VOTE NO!”

Part of this is notable because the Senate will still need to take up the issue of reforming the Electoral Count Act before the current Congress ends in January, and the more the former president lobbies against it, the more challenging the legislative circumstances will become.

But the Republican’s written rant is also notable because it helps capture a deeply twisted and potentially dangerous perspective.

To hear Trump tell it, experts said ahead of Jan. 6, 2021, that then-Vice President Mike Pence didn’t have the legal authority to help overturn election results. But, as the former president sees it, if lawmakers now feel the need to reform the process, that must prove that the experts were wrong, and Pence could’ve handed him illegitimate power.

Or put another way, nearly 700 days after he lost, Trump is still lashing out at Pence for following the law instead of following his illegal demands.

But does the former president have a point? Does the reform effort itself suggest a problem with the law? No and no.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, when Trump and his confederates launched a campaign against the 2020 results, they sought to overturn the election by exploiting alleged ambiguities in the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act — a law passed in the aftermath of a brutally messy election controversy, one that was was designed to establish a congressional process for certifying electoral votes.

Leaders in both parties now agree that the law is due for an overhaul, in part to clarify the vice president’s ceremonial role in the certification process.

As for the former president’s contention that these efforts necessarily raise doubts about the integrity of the status quo, George Conway recently explained on Twitter, “The Twelfth Amendment and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 already make it entirely clear that the Vice President merely opens the envelopes. But sometimes we want to make laws even clearer so that even semiliterate psychopaths have a chance at understanding them.”

As for Trump’s lobbying against reform efforts, his online tirade served as a timely reminder that he hopes to leave potential ambiguities intact, in order to protect the possibility of future electoral chaos.

Update: As I was writing this, the former president published another message on the same subject, insisting anew that the pending legislation is proof that Pence “could, and should, have” gone along with the coup scheme.

Trump added, “Also—bill may be unConstitutional!”