‘System nearly failed’: US democracy was left hanging by the thread of Pence’s defiance | January 6 hearings

The Jan. 6 select committee showed on Thursday that Mike Pence resisted an intense pressure campaign by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump advisers have repeatedly tried to convince Pence to disrupt Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s Jan. 6 victory, even after they themselves acknowledged there was no constitutional basis for the vice -president do so.

Pence ultimately refused to interfere with the certification process, despite threats to his personal safety from Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol. But had Pence acquiesced to Trump’s demands, the United States could have faced an unprecedented constitutional crisis, the committee warned Thursday.

“We are lucky for the courage of Mr. Pence on January 6,” said Bennie Thompson, Democratic chairman of the committee. “Our democracy came dangerously close to disaster.”

Thompson’s warning was echoed by Michael Luttig, a retired federal judge who served as an adviser to Pence in the weeks following the 2020 election. Luttig argued that if Pence had tried to overturn the results of election, this effort would have threatened the very foundation of American democracy.

“This declaration by Donald Trump as the next president would have plunged America into what I believe would amount to a revolution in a constitutional crisis,” Luttig said.

The Trump team’s legal efforts to overturn the election results were led by conservative attorney John Eastman, the committee heard Thursday. Eastman tried to convince Pence and his advisers that the vice president had the power under the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to throw out the results. Luttig summarily dismissed that theory Thursday, joining a vociferous chorus of constitutional pundits who had previously dismissed Eastman’s idea.

“There was no basis in the Constitution or the laws of the United States, at all, for the theory adopted by Mr. Eastman. At all. None,” Luttig said. He added, “I would have laid my body across the road before letting the vice president cancel the 2020 presidential election based on this historic precedent.”

According to former Pence lawyer Greg Jacob, even Eastman himself acknowledged that such a strategy would not withstand legal scrutiny. Eastman told Jacob he believed the Supreme Court would reject the theory in a unanimous 9-0 vote.

A noose hanging from a makeshift gallows with the US Capitol building seen in the background.
Jan. 6 insurgents chanted “Hang Mike Pence” as he refused to stop vote certification. Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

And yet, Trump and his allies continued to pursue their unconstitutional strategy. The committee shared new footage on Thursday showing Jan. 6 insurgents threatening the vice president for refusing to block certification, as rioters chanted, “Hang on Mike Pence!”

Instead of offering support to his endangered vice president, Trump stepped up his pressure on Pence. At 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the guts to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution, give the states a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate which they have been asked to certify beforehand. The United States demands the truth!

Committee member Pete Aguilar, who played a leading role in questioning Jacob and Luttig during Thursday’s hearing, said that immediately after Trump sent his tweet, the crowd in and around the Capitol increased and Pence was evacuated.

“Make no mistake that the vice president’s life was in danger,” Aguilar said.

In light of the serious threats Pence faced on Jan. 6, many viewers of the hearing marveled that he finally followed through on election certification, securing the transfer of presidential power.

“If Pence hadn’t certified the election, there would likely be violent protests in the streets,” Alyssa Farah Griffin, Trump’s former communications director, said on Twitter. “The lame duck Trump would no doubt try to use the military to quell the unrest. You would have general officers refusing orders. The republic would be in crisis.

Instead, Congress remained in session until the early hours of Jan. 7 to oversee the counting of Electoral College votes and formalize Biden’s victory.

In the year and a half since the uprising, lawmakers have taken steps to ensure that a future vice president cannot ignore the will of the people. A bipartisan group of senators is working to reform the voter count law, and they announced last week that they had reached broad agreement on language clarifying the role of the vice president to be fully ministerial during the counting of the votes of the electoral college.

The alarming testimony from members of Pence’s inner circle underscored the immense importance of the work of these senators, while revealing how close the United States was to an even greater catastrophe on January 6.

Thompson chose to end Thursday’s hearing with a stern warning to the entire country: While the system of American democracy has held this time, that does not guarantee it will survive the next threat.

“Some think the danger has passed, that even though there was violence and a corrupt attempt to nullify the presidential election, the system worked,” Thompson said.

“I see it another way. Our system nearly failed and our democratic foundation was destroyed, but for people like you.

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