On January 6, 2021, in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as presiding officer of a joint session, counted the electoral college votes for President, just as his predecessors had done for every presidential election since the founding of the republic. Sounds routine enough, doesn’t it?
For that act, Mike Pence became the most hated man in America among Trump supporters. Millions of Americans were left fuming at Pence for squandering the golden opportunity to flip what they were certain was a Democrat-rigged election.
Trump supporters with a grain of sense realized Pence couldn’t simply refuse to count electoral votes they didn’t like. Instead, the plan was for Pence to separate out the electoral votes of the states where there was known to be a competing set of votes in play and sending all the electoral votes back to those states of origin for “reconsideration.” Surely enough of these states would then return “reconsidered” votes to flip the election for Trump. President Trump himself was solidly behind this strategy.
The problem was, Pence was opposed to it and acted accordingly.
Some of the subsequent responses to Pence’s action, particularly in the media, have proceeded to degenerate into sheer Democrat behavior. (I can’t think of a more apt way to describe them.)
A major part of my preparatory research for this piece was to try to find a substantial defense of Pence’s January 6 actions that was authored by a bona fide Trump supporter, not a conservative establishment anti-Trump turncoat — of which there were, shamefully, many. The only result I found that came anywhere close — this one actually declared that Pence was a “hero” — was more than likely from a red-pill libertarian (he acknowledged being a Justin Amash supporter).
As for a credibly conservative Pence ally who was a Trump supporter? Crickets. Not a single one out there that I could find.
Not that there weren’t plenty of Pence defenders to be found in the media world, some were anti-Trump Republicans, but most were leftists. Almost all of them were cheering Pence for the wrong reasons: to use Pence’s actions to bash the hated Trump-demon and, occasionally, by the way, to let the reader know that there was “no basis” for any allegations of election rigging. Some Trump supporters, on the other hand, have been systematically venting their wrath on Pence with strong language, referring to him with derisive terms like ”Non-Candidate” (for the 2024 presidential race), or “always a weak leader,” or “John Dean, the Watergate traitor,” or even “Judas.”
Here’s where I intend to start… and end: the U.S. Constitution (the internal link in this search result lead to Amendment 12 and 25, which take the place of the linked text). I plan to pay passing attention to the 1887 Electoral Count Act as it confers new powers on Congress but does not change the basic powers of the Vice President. The 1887 Act is somewhat challenging reading but is only referred to in passing in this essay.
Not a single direct quotation from the Constitution in any of the articles pertain to Pence and January 6, either for or against. There were plenty of variations on, “Pence had the constitutional power” to move ahead with the “reconsideration” scheme. Pence instead simply chose envelopes that contained Certificates of Ascertainment and -Vote signed by the state’s governor and secretary of state respectively and counted the votes contained therein, in accordance with the 1887 Electoral Count Act.
What exactly was it that Pence was supposed to do that created such a firestorm? He was expected to pursue the “reconsideration” scheme. So why didn’t he do that?
It helps to consider the nature of the power delegated by the Constitution to the vice president in this situation. Surely nothing less than full executive power would be sufficient to warrant as monumentally consequential a course of action as the “reconsideration” promoters were urging. It’s easy to rule out that level of power just by a quick browse of the constitutional text. It’s immediately clear that we can rule out such a power expressly delegated to the vice president. But is there even an implied power to put forward for consideration? If so, it’s invisible to me.
Notice the repeated use of the auxiliary verb “shall,” a word mostly unfamiliar to modern English speakers. “Shall” points to a note of command attached to the acts delegated to the vice president, but also suggests a strict limitation on his powers.
No wonder nobody quotes the Constitution to support the “reconsideration” strategy. There’s nothing to quote that will help to justify that scheme or, for that matter, any other proposal to overturn the Electoral College result.
Some have referred to the vice president’s power as merely “ministerial”; others have further diminished his power by referring to it as “ceremonial.” Either way, the vice president’s power is strictly limited. Mike Pence followed the Constitution faithfully.
Was Pence responsible for ending the joint congressional session abruptly, before all the electoral vote objections had been considered? The answer is no. Once again, he was present to preside, not to propose. The session ended abruptly for a variety of reasons. To some of the participants in the pro-Trump ingressions were a useful nuisance and provided a good excuse for ending the event they considered useless from the outset. Others, on the other hand, were genuinely afraid that the pro-Trump mob, if further riled up, could produce a real danger to the Republic. The few brave stalwarts like Josh Hawley of Missouri who were fighting to hear out the remaining objections were no match for the quitters.
Was Mike Pence a coward on January 6? In no way. He was, on the contrary, a perfect profile in courage. He surely knew his actions would precipitate a tempest of vicious personal smear and slander from the very people he considered himself politically aligned with.
Despite that threat, he called on his strong moral compass and abiding Christian faith and did what was right.