By BEN GITTLESON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump’s extraordinary call this weekend in which he asked Georgia’s top election official to “find” enough votes for him to overturn the state’s election results has threatened to exacerbate a schism among top Republicans — and has put a renewed focus on Vice President Mike Pence.
While the vice president has over the past couple months voiced support for the president’s baseless allegations of electoral fraud — avoiding Trump and his allies’ more incendiary charges — all that may end Wednesday.
Pence will be tasked with overseeing a congressional session where the Electoral College vote will be certified, officially and finally determining former Vice President Joe Biden to be the president-elect.
Trump has pressured GOP senators and representatives to formally object to the results from key swing states, although doing so will only prolong the session — rather than change the ultimate result.
Back from a reported vacation on the ski slopes of Colorado, and a day after swearing in members of Congress, Pence headed to Georgia on Monday to campaign for two Republicans competing in runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate for the next two years.
The vice president will likely be the most senior Republican official to react publicly to Trump’s attempt to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” one more than the number Biden won the state by in November.
Raffensperger pushed back, but the hour-long call put in stark contrast to the announcements by a dozen senators and 140 members of the House of Representatives — all Republican — that they would voice objections during Wednesday’s congressional session.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., last week became the first senator to back the effort, and on Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced he and 10 others would join in, too.
The U.S. Constitution calls on the vice president, who also serves as president of the Senate, to oversee the session, which Trump and his allies have increasingly put their focus on.
Several Republican senators have forcefully criticized their colleagues for taking part in what will amount to a futile effort.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called it “an egregious ploy” that “dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic,” and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said the challenge amounted to an attempt “to disenfranchise millions of voters.”
On Twitter, Trump attacked a couple of those who have expressed reservations, including GOP Sens. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, and John Thune, of South Dakota.
Pence himself has given no indication whether he will actually fulfill his role and preside over the session; he could skip it and pass the duty to the most senior member of the Senate’s majority.
His chief of staff, Marc Short, on Sunday said in a statement that “Vice President Pence shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election” and that he “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.”
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud or irregularities that would affect the election’s outcome.
The president said Sunday he would attend a Wednesday rally in Washington protesting the election. His supporters and far-right groups plan to gather to back the president, who is set to leave office just two weeks later.
Trump and his allies have thus far failed to overturn the election in his favor — they lost around 50 court cases challenging the vote — and the president has grown increasingly desperate in recent weeks. There has been no evidence of widespread voting fraud in the November election.
After audio of Trump’s call with Raffensperger, which was first obtained by The Washington Post but also independently obtained by ABC News, Democrats raised questions about whether the president may have committed any crimes.
Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu, of California, and Kathleen Rice, of New York, said Monday they had sent a criminal referral to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“The evidence of election fraud by Mr. Trump,” they said in a statement, is now in broad daylight.”
The White House declined to comment on reports about the call, which took place three days before the end of two Senate runoff races in Georgia that, if Democrats win, will flip control of the Senate.
Trump planned to headline a campaign rally for the two candidates, Sen. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Monday night.
Pence planned to deliver remarks at a church in Milner, Georgia. Monday’s trip marked his fifth visit to the Peach State since Election Day and his sixth rally on behalf of Perdue and Loeffler.
The vice president was recently the target of a lawsuit brought by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Republicans from Arizona that sought to force Pence — in his role at Wednesday’s session — to recognize a group of Republicans as Arizona’s electors even though Biden won the state. A judge threw out that suit on Friday.
Pence had previously rallied behind long-shot Republican efforts to overturn the election results, most recently supporting a Texas-led lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“So far, just in the last few days, 18 states have joined the Lone Star State to defend the integrity of our elections before the highest court in the land,” Pence said at the time, at a rally in Augusta, Georgia, on Dec. 10. “President Donald Trump deserves his day in court, the Supreme Court. And all I can say is, God bless Texas.”
Pence spent the Christmas and New Year’s holidays vacationing in Vail, Colorado, the ski resort town, according to local media.
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