Vice President Mike Pence has told Donald Trump that he lacked the power to challenge President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the November 3 election despite the US president's insistence that he did not, according to a media report.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Pence delivered the message to Trump during his weekly lunch with the president.
Pence is set to preside over the US Senate on Wednesday as it receives the results of the state-by-state electoral college that determines the winner of the presidential election.
Biden, a Democrat, beat Trump 306-232 in the Electoral College and in the popular vote by more than seven million ballots. Trump, a Republican, has not conceded the election, reiterating unverified claims that the presidential polls were rigged.
Dozens of lawsuits by his campaign challenging election results have failed in US courts.
‘Vice President Mike Pence told President Trump on Tuesday that he did not believe he had the power to block congressional certification of Joseph R Biden Jr's victory in the presidential election despite Mr Trump's baseless insistence that he did,’ the daily reported, citing unnamed people briefed on the conversation.
Trump, however, has decried the report as “fake news”, asserting that Pence never told him what the report said.
“The New York Times report regarding comments Vice President Pence supposedly made to me today is fake news. He never said that. The vice president and I are in total agreement that the vice president has the power to act,” Trump said in a statement issued by his campaign.
The November 3 election was corrupt in contested states, and in particular it was not in accordance with the constitution in that they made large scale changes to election rules and regulations as dictated by local judges and politicians, not by state legislators. This means that it was illegal, Trump said.
“Our vice president has several options under the US constitution. He can decertify the results or send them back to the states for change and certification. He can also decertify the illegal and corrupt results and send them to the House of Representatives for the one vote for one state tabulation,” Trump said.
“The vice president has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday.
"If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the presidency. Many states want to decertify the mistake they made in certifying incorrect & even fraudulent numbers in a process NOT approved by their state legislatures (which it must be). Mike can send it back!" he said in another tweet.
Trump, who already had turned up the pressure on Pence to steal the election, warned him that it would be politically "damaging" for Pence to refuse to block certification, CNN reported, quoting a source familiar with the conversation between the two leaders.
Pence has not made any statement in public so far. However, his staffers noted that the vice president supports the right of lawmakers to raise objections and debate.
"Vice President Pence shares the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities in the last election," Pence chief of staff Marc Short said in a statement.
"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 said.
According to The New York Times, Pence has spent the past several days in a delicate dance, seeking at once to convey to Trump that he does not have the authority to overturn the results of the election, while also placating the president to avoid a rift that could torpedo any hopes the vice president has of running in 2024 as Trump's loyal heir.
“Even as he sought to make clear that he does not have the power Mr Trump seems to think he has, Mr Pence also indicated to the president that he would keep studying the issue up until the final hours before the joint session of Congress begins at 1 pm Wednesday, according to the people briefed on their conversation,” the report said.
“One option being considered, according to a person close to Mr Trump, was having Mr Pence acknowledge the president's claims about election fraud in some form during one or more of the Senate debates about the results from particular states before the certification. Mr Pence will preside over those debates,” it said.
Meanwhile, a source close to Senate Republican leadership and familiar with the thinking inside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's camp said the prevailing view is that Pence's role is "ceremonial" and nothing more.