“Where is Mike Pence?”
That was one of the slogans that was chanted last Wednesday among the crowd of Donald Trump followers who stormed the United States Capitol to show their rejection of the certification of the election of Joe Biden as the next president of that country.
The current Republican Vice President, who has been one of Trump’s most loyal officialsHe had suddenly become a traitor in the eyes of the mob.
“I heard at least three of the mutineers on Capitol Hill say they hoped to find Vice President Mike Pence and execute him by hanging him from a Capitol tree as a traitor. It was a common phrase that they were repeating. Many more only spoke about how the vice president should be executed, “said photographer Jim Bourg, from Reuters agency, who was present at the scene, on his Twitter account.
And it is that a short time before, that same day, Pence seemed to have crossed a red line when not agree to Trump’s proposal of using his position as president of the Senate (a position that corresponds to all those who hold the vice presidency in the United States) to try to reverse the results of the presidential elections of November 3, which Trump has labeled as fraudulent without providing evidence.
Pence has spent the past four years juggling to interpret the current president’s heterodox proposals in such a way that they fit within the legal and institutional channels of traditional politics, while avoiding casting any question of Trump or his ideas. .
However, the request to try to reverse the results of the presidential elections was something that was beyond any balancing act and, apparently, has ended up opening a gap between the president and his vice president.
Paradoxically, however, what happened on Capitol Hill on Wednesday has placed Pence in a difficult situation and, at the same time, has made him a central figure in resolving the current political crisis in the United States.
The game of succession
Some US media have pointed out that Pence’s original bet was to become the political heir to Trump and succeed him in 2024, after having accompanied him for eight years in the White House.
Those plans would have obviously been disrupted by the victory of Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the presidential elections on November 3, but also by Trump’s decision not to admit defeat.
On that election night, Trump delivered his speech declaring himself the winner of the election based on partial counts and, at the same time, accusing the Democrats of wanting to cheat.
So when it was Pence’s turn to speak, he said he believed they were headed for victory and that they had to be vigilant to protect the integrity of the vote (in an obvious nod to Trump), but made no express mention of the alleged fraud. An impeccable act of balancing.
From that moment, while Trump insisted and failed in his political and legal attempts to reverse the election results, Pence knew how to stay on the sidelines.
However, in recent days the president decided that the way to remain in the White House was for Pence – as president of the Senate – to refuse to certify the results of the voting.
Trump publicly placed Pence in a compromised position when on January 5 he said in a tweet that “the vice president has the power to reject the votes (of the Electoral College) chosen fraudulently.”
And, even more, when he said at the rally with his followers in Washington on January 6 that he would be disappointed if Pence did not try to reject some of these Electoral College votes. “Mike Pence will have to help us,” Trump told the crowd.
That same day, shortly before the session, the vice president released a letter to Congress in which he made it clear that could not agree to the request of the agent.
“My reasoned judgment is that my oath to support and defend the Constitution prevents me from claiming a unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” wrote Pence, echoing a criterion widely shared by jurists, according to which the The role of the president of the Senate in certifying the votes of the Electoral College is merely ceremonial.
Shortly after, Trump would line the batteries against him in one of the last messages he was able to publish before Twitter suspended his account:
“Mike Pence did not have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution, giving states an opportunity to certify a series of corrected data and not the inaccurate and fraudulent data that they were previously asked to certify. America demands the truth, ”he wrote.
Pence, faithful to the balance
After the assault of the Capitol by Trump’s followers, many have held the president responsible for what happened and the voices calling for it to be removed from power without being allowed to complete the barely 11 days left in the White House.
This circumstance, paradoxically, makes Pence the key political figure of the moment. This is due not only to the fact that he would be responsible for assuming the reins of the government if Trump is removed from office, but also because one of the mechanisms to that removal goes directly through the hands of the vice president: Amendment 25 to the United States Constitution.
This provision was established in the 1960s, after the death of John F. Kennedy, to regulate the presidential succession in the event that the president is incapacitated for office.
This rule contemplates a scenario in which the president is not qualified to fulfill his duty but does not want to resign. Then, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet can declare that the president cannot exercise his position and, thus, remove him.
However, Trump could object to his removal. In that case, the vice president and the cabinet could leave him in power or insist on his removal, forcing the case to go to Congress, where approval requires the affirmative vote of two-thirds of both houses.
The leader of the Senate Democratic Party, Chuck Schumer, has said that Pence should invoke thisto amendment to oust Trump from power.
This possibility, however, carries the risk for Pence of ending up definitively alienating the faithful and mobilized Trump bases that he aspired to inherit.
According to Schumer, if the vice president does not act, Congress could initiate proceedings for an impeachment against the president.
“What happened on Capitol Hill was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president. This president should not remain in office for another day, “said the Democratic leader.
Between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, Trump was already subjected to a political trial of this type, from which he was acquitted thanks to the votes of the Republicans in the Senate and, despite everything, it is not clear that a new attempt will result successful.
But if that happened, then the man tasked with handing over power to Joe Biden on January 20 would be none other than a very short-term president named Mike Pence.
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