On Tuesday morning, Roll Call reported that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the president pro tempore of the Senate, said he would replace Vice President Mike Pence as presiding officer when Congress certifies the 2020 election results beginning on Wednesday.
“We don’t expect him to be there,” Grassley said of Pence, according to Roll Call.
But just ten minutes later, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported that the vice president had no plans to dip out of the joint session and would be overseeing it as expected:
Pence is still expected to preside over the certification of the election results tomorrow, per his office.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) January 5, 2021
NBC News reporter Peter Alexander confirmed that Pence would still be presiding over the proceedings:
VP Pence is still expected to preside tomorrow, according to his office. https://t.co/Apigu7VAN4
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) January 5, 2021
George Hartmann, Grassley’s deputy communications director, clarified the senator’s comment in an emailed statement amid the confusion, asserting that Roll Call’s report was a “misrepresentation.”
“Sen. Grassley did not say he would preside over the joint session, but instead indicated that he would preside over the debate in the Senate—as president pro tempore of the Senate—if the Vice President is not present for any portion of that debate,” Hartmann said.
Grassley “has every expectation that the Vice President will be present on the hill Wednesday,” the spokesperson added.
The senator’s full remark was “If the Vice President isn’t there and we don’t expect him to be there, I will be presiding over the Senate,” according to a transcript of the exchange that Hartmann provided in his email.
The whiplash-inducing episode highlighted the unenviable position in which Pence finds himself stuck as President Donald Trump attempts to twist his arm into weaponizing his role as presiding officer to undo the election (presiding officers do not have the power to do so) based on bogus election fraud claims.
In fact, Trump posted a tweet falsely claiming that “the Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors” shortly after the confusion unfolded on Tuesday morning.
And during a rally for Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA) on Monday night, Trump issued a veiled threat while jabbing at Pence.
“If he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much,” the President said.
Pence reportedly had tentative plans to leave the Hill on Wednesday immediately after the joint session and take a trip to Bahrain, Israel and Poland instead. The trip was ultimately canceled.