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Mike Pence breaks with Donald Trump’s allies over election challenge

Mike Pence has asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought against him by Republican lawmakers who want the US vice-president to overturn the results of the November 3 election, in a blow to Donald Trump and his allies who continue to falsely insist that the poll was rigged.

In a 14-page filing made on behalf of the vice-president, justice department lawyers on Thursday called the lawsuit a “walking legal contradiction” and argued Mr Pence was not the proper person to sue in the matter. The federal judge overseeing the case has yet to set a date for a hearing.

The suit brought by Louie Gohmert, a Republican US representative from Texas, and several Republicans from Arizona seeks to scrap the rules on how Congress certifies presidential elections, in an effort to give Mr Pence the ability to throw out the results next week.

Electors gathered in state capitals and the District of Columbia in December to formally select Joe Biden as the US president-elect, and their ballots are set to be counted and certified by both houses of Congress on Wednesday.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives filed an amicus brief on Thursday also calling for the lawsuit to be thrown out. “The Gohmert lawsuit has zero legal merit and is yet another sabotage of our democracy,” said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House.

Lawyers for Mr Gohmert and the 11 Arizona Republicans submitted a further reply on Friday, rejecting such arguments in a bid to press the court to heed their case.

They claimed Congress was “set for a showdown” on Wednesday, saying
more than 140 House members were pledging to object to Mr Biden’s victory.

The lawyers further argued Mr Pence could conduct Wednesday’s joint session of Congress “as he sees fit”, rejecting what they said was a legal interpretation that cast the vice-president in a purely ceremonial role as a “glorified envelope-opener in chief”.

The office of the vice-president did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Friday, but Mr Pence’s earlier legal response had claimed he was the “wrong defendant” in the case.

On Friday Mr Trump retweeted a message from pro-Trump group “Stop the Steal”, which is planning a rally in Washington on Wednesday to protest the election results. “The calvary [sic] is coming, Mr President!” tweeted Kylie Jane Kremmer, the group’s founder, promising a “big protest”.

Mr Trump later tweeted: “The big protest rally in Washington, DC,
will take place at 11am on January 6. Locational details to
follow. StopTheSteal!”

Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, has already said he would object to Wednesday’s Electoral College certification process. Mr Hawley’s objection will lead to a vote in both chambers of Congress on whether to the accept the results.

Mr Hawley said in a statement he was acting to raise “the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws” and to underscore the “unprecedented effort of mega corporations, including Facebook and Twitter, to interfere in this election”.

US media reported that Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican who has discouraged senators from objecting to the Electoral College certification process, asked Mr Hawley to explain his rationale on a conference call with GOP senators on Thursday, but the Missourian was not on the call.

Many in Washington view Mr Hawley’s support for Mr Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud as an effort to curry favour with the president’s rightwing base of supporters for a potential 2024 presidential bid.

Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska, slammed such efforts to overturn the election result, saying late on Wednesday: “The president and his allies are playing with fire.”

While Mr Sasse did not name Mr Hawley, he referenced “arsonist members of Congress who will object to the Electoral College vote”. He added: “Let’s be clear what is happening here: we have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage.

Additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Washington

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