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'I will keep the oath I made.' Pence defies Trump, says he won't block Congress from affirming Biden's win

WASHINGTON – Defying his boss, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that only lawmakers can decide whether to accept or reject the Electoral College votes won by President-elect Joe Biden.

Pence's decision to abide by the rules as he presides over Congress' formal acceptance of the votes was a rare deviance from the staunch loyalty he's shown President Donald Trump over the past four years.

And it earned him a quick rebuke.

"Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution," Trump tweeted.

Trump has falsely asserted that Pence, in his constitutional role as president of the Senate, can change the votes.

Pence had to be rushed out of the Senate chamber by security during congressional debate over a GOP challenge to the results when dozens of Trump supporters breached security perimeters and stormed the Capitol. His wife and daughter, who had been watching the proceedings, were also removed from danger. 

Senate aides grabbed the boxes containing the electoral college certificates as lawmakers evacuated the chamber.

"Trump won that election!" a protestor yelled from the Senate dais after lawmakers had left.

In a tweet, Pence urged protesters to "immediately leave the building," saying those involved in the violence and destruction will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

In a lengthy statement issued before Congress began counting the votes, Pence said that he shares "the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of this election." But, he continued, the oath he swore to uphold the Constitution prevents him from claiming unilateral authority to settle objections.

"Today I want to assure the American people that I will keep the oath I made to them and I will keep the oath I made to Almighty God," Pence wrote.

He arrived in the Senate shortly before 1 p.m. to lead lawmakers over to the House for a joint session of Congress to formally receive the state-certified results.

Pence fist-bumped Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had tried to prevent senators from raising objections to the results.

After some Republicans contested Arizona’s electoral votes when Pence presented them to lawmakers, McConnell said democracy would enter a "death spiral" unless lawmakers rejected the challenge.

Pence voiced support for the objections. But he said he concluded, after a "careful study of the Constitution," that he has no say in whether they should be accepted.

“When disputes concerning a presidential election arise, under Federal law, it is the people’s representatives who review the evidence and resolve disputes through a democratic process,” he wrote. “As a student of history who loves the Constitution and reveres its Framers, I do not believe that the Founders of our country intended to invest the Vice President with unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted during the Joint Session of Congress, and no Vice President in American history has ever asserted such authority.”

Shortly before Pence made his intentions public, Trump continued to exhort his vice president to “come through for us” by sending the electoral votes “back to the states.”

Speaking to supporters at a midday rally, Trump said he had just personally delivered that message to Pence.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., later told USA TODAY that he talked to Pence about Trump's rebuke.

"He was very upset with him," Inhofe said of Pence.

More than one senator publicly praised Pence from the Senate floor.

"Mr. Vice President, you have fulfilled your duties as president of the Senate tonight with distinction," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "And we all appreciate it."

Contributing; Christal Hayes, USA TODAY.