A bipartisan group of senators is working on a bill clarifying that the vice president cannot just set aside slates of presidential electors and effectively overturn a presidential election, in response to an evident push by former President Donald Trump and his allies to exploit what they viewed as an ambiguity in the Electoral Count Act of 1887.
On Sunday evening, Trump issued a statement claiming that this legislative push shows that "Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn't exercise that power, he could have overturned the election!" One thing the House Jan. 6 committee is examining is whether Trump was involved in an effort to overturn President Biden's election, and committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called this new Trump statement "an admission" as well as "a massively un-American statement."
Another prominent Trump critic, lawyer George Conway, summarized the legal problem with Trump's claim. "The Twelfth Amendment and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 already make it entirely clear that the vice president merely opens the envelopes," he tweeted. "But sometimes we want to make laws even clearer so that even semiliterate psychopaths have a chance at understanding them."
Even in terms of raw-power pragmatism, Trump's argument has flaws. Trump has so far only hinted he will run for a second term in 2024 — he suggested Saturday night that if given another term, he would pardon the Jan. 6 rioters and insurrectionists, for example — but his claim that Pence could have overturned the election on Jan. 6 means Vice President Kamala Harris would enjoy that same power in January 2025.
Commentator Josh Barro quipped that Trump calling the main GOP proponent of reforming the Electoral Count Act "Wacky Susan Collins" shows he's "phoning in the nicknames," a "pretty good sign Trump's not actually going to run again." Trump, of course, has proved impervious to such witty repartee.