Pence welcomes Republican senators push to delay certification of Biden victory

Vice President Mike Pence has welcomed a bid by 11 GOP senators and senators-elect to delay the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump in the Electoral College during a formal joint session of Congress this week.

The senators, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, cited allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election for which they provided no evidence and which have been rejected repeatedly by courts around the country.

Pence, as the president of the senate, will preside over the joint session of Congress on Wednesday, where he is supposed to announce the candidates who won the majority of Electoral College votes — President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.  

However, Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short said the vice president “shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election.”

“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,” Short wrote in a statement Saturday.

The Department of Justice has said it did not find evidence of widespread fraud in the election.

If at least one senator and one member of the House of Representatives casts an objection to a state’s results, the joint session is suspended and the House and Senate meet separately for at most two hours to consider the objection. It requires a majority of both chambers of Congress to agree to the objection and reject the Electoral College votes.

In their statement, the senators said they will object to the certification of electors from “disputed states” unless Congress establishes a commission to examine those states’ elections. The commission would conduct an “emergency 10-day audit,” they wrote.

“Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed,” the senators said in the statement.

The effort, the latest among dozens of Republican attempts to overturn Trump’s loss, is unlikely to alter the Electoral College tally, which Biden won 306-232. Biden is expected to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

While Republicans control the 100-member Senate, Democrats hold a majority of the House of Representatives, making it all-but-impossible for an objection to have a realistic chance of succeeding.

In a further setback to the GOP, on Saturday night, a federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit brought by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, that sought to give Pence more discretion to not count votes awarded to Biden in his role as presiding officer on Wednesday.

Mike Gwin, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said in a statement: “This stunt won’t change the fact that President-elect Biden will be sworn in on January 20th, and these baseless claims have already been examined and dismissed by Trump’s own Attorney General, dozens of courts, and election officials from both parties.”

Marc Elias, a Democratic election lawyer who has overseen the Biden campaign’s response to many of the lawsuits challenging the 2020 election, wrote in a post on Twitter that there is “no way” that the GOP effort “changes the outcome of the election.”

The senators who signed onto the statement are Cruz, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., James Lankford, R-Okla., Steve Daines, R-Mont., John Kennedy, R-La., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. and Mike Braun, R-Ind.

The senators-elect who signed it are Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. The senators-elect will officially take office on Sunday.

In their statement, the senators acknowledge that their plan has little chance of working, and that they “expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans” will vote against them.

In a post on Twitter, the Trump campaign wrote “THANK YOU!” and listed the names of each of the eleven current and incoming senators, as well as Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who had earlier said he would object to the Electoral College certification.

“It’s encouraging to see so many patriots step up and demand an investigation into the rampant voter fraud and irregularities we saw on November 3rd,” Jenna Ellis, senior legal advisor to the campaign, said in a statement.

The efforts to reverse Biden’s win have drawn fire from Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans. In December, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged his party not to object to the Electoral College results.

“The Electoral College has spoken. So today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” McConnell said on Dec. 15, after the Electoral College formally certified Biden’s win and weeks after NBC News and other major media outlets had called the result of the race.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., has repeatedly said that Trump’s efforts to overturn the results are likely to go down like a “shot dog.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, criticized Cruz’s effort in a scathing statement released on Saturday night.

“My fellow Senator Ted Cruz and the co-signers of his statement argue that rejection of electors or an election audit directed by Congress would restore trust in the election. Nonsense,” Romney said.

“This argument ignores the widely perceived reality that Congress is an overwhelmingly partisan body; the American people wisely place greater trust in the federal courts where judges serve for life,” he added. “Members of Congress who would substitute their own partisan judgement for that of the courts do not enhance public trust, they imperil it.”

“I could never have imagined seeing these things in the greatest democracy in the world. Has ambition so eclipsed principle?” Romney said.

Other Republicans also criticized the move.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., said that Hawley and Cruz were undermining “the right of the people to elect their own leaders.”

“The senators justify their intent by observing that there have been many allegations of fraud. But allegations of fraud by a losing campaign cannot justify overturning an election,” Toomey said. “They fail to acknowledge that these allegations have been adjudicated in courtrooms across America and were found to be unsupported by evidence.”

Toomey added that he voted for Trump and endorsed him for reelection. “But, on Wednesday, I intend to vigorously defend our form of government by opposing this effort to disenfranchise millions of voters in my state and others,” he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a statement earlier in the day that she would vote to count the Electoral College votes.

“I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and that is what I will do January 6 — just as I strive to do every day as I serve the people of Alaska,” Murkowski said.

“The courts and state legislatures have all honored their duty to hear legal allegations and have found nothing to warrant overturning the results,” she added. “I urge my colleagues from both parties to recognize this and to join me in maintaining confidence in the Electoral College and our elections so that we ensure we have the continued trust of the American people.”

Subscribe to CNBC Pro for the TV livestream, deep insights and analysis  on how to invest during the next presidential term.