Former Vice President Mike Pence offered his strongest rebuke to Donald Trump on Friday, saying Mr Trump was “wrong” that Mr Pence had the legal power to change the results of the 2020 election and that the Republican Party had to accept the result. and look to the future.
Addressing a rally of conservatives near Orlando, Florida, the former vice president said he understood “the disappointment so many feel about the last election” but repudiated Mr. Trump that Mr Pence could reject the Electoral College results and change the result last year.
“President Trump is wrong,” Mr. Pence said, in his address to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization. “I had no right to cancel the election.”
The comments marked the strongest rejection of Mr Trump’s efforts to annul the 2020 election by his former vice president. Mr. Pence refused to give in to Mr. Trump’s Jan. 6 pressure campaign to change the results. Since then, he has remained relatively quiet about the move, largely refusing to directly attack Mr. Trump or assign him any blame for inciting the murderous Capitol siege. In public appearances last year, Mr. Pence defended his role in resisting Mr. Trump, but went no further than to say the two men will “never see a deal on this day- the”.
But tensions have been rising in recent days between the two men. As Mr. Pence positions himself for a possible presidential bid in 2024, Mr. Trump has pushed more intensely a false narrative aimed at blaming his former vice president for failing to prevent President Biden from taking office.
Mr. Pence on Friday called his opposition greater than the immediate political moment, implying that the false claims pushed by Mr. Trump and his supporters threatened to undermine American democracy.
“The truth is there is more at stake than our party or our political fortunes,” he said. “If we lose faith in the Constitution, we will not only lose the election, we will lose our country.”
In a speech largely focused on attacking the Biden administration’s policies and record, Pence described Jan. 6 as a “dark day” in Washington. Such a description goes against an attempt by some for the right to rewrite history by describing the siege as a peaceful gathering and labeling the rioters as “political prisoners”. And he urged Mr. Trump and his party to accept the results of the last election.
“Whatever the future holds, I know we did our duty that day,” Mr Pence said. “I believe now is the time to focus on the future.”
But Mr. Pence has not broken completely with the right-wing base which remains deeply influenced by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Pence did not explicitly say that Mr. Trump had lost the election and refused to address the false claims of voter fraud still being pushed by the former president and his supporters. The carefully constructed wording of his reprimand shows an effort by Mr. Pence to defend his own actions on Jan. 6, without completely alienating a Republican base that remains driven by conspiracy theories of a stolen election. Their support could be crucial in any 2024 primary contest.
His comments came just hours after the Republican Party voted to censure two Republican lawmakers for participating in the House investigation into the Jan. 6 attack. The lawmakers, Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, were censured for participating in what the party resolution describes as the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political speech.”
Lawyers and officials from both parties say the vice president does not have the power to nullify the election. Mr. Pence agrees with this interpretation of the law: In a letter to Congress sent the morning of the Capitol attack, Mr. Pence rejected the president’s claims, writing that the Constitution “prevents me from claiming the unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.
On Sunday, Mr. Trump falsely claimed that Mr. Pence could have ‘overturned the election’ in a statement slamming a bipartisan push to rewrite the Voter Count Act of 1887. The former president and his allies misinterpreted that law centenary in their failure. attempt to persuade Mr. Pence to reject the legitimate election results. And on Tuesday, Trump said the congressional committee investigating his administration’s role in the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol should instead examine “why Mike Pence didn’t return votes for recertification or endorsement.” “.
Mr. Trump’s attempts to influence his vice president have become the focus of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, with some members considering the involvement of Mr. Pence’s team as essential to deciding whether she has enough evidence to make a criminal referral of Mr. Trump to the Justice Department. Two of Mr. Pence’s aides testified privately before the committee this week and Mr. Pence’s attorney and the panel informally discussed whether the former vice president would be willing to speak to investigators.
The Justice Department also looked at how Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mr. Pence influenced the crowd on Jan. 6. During recent plea negotiations in some Jan. 6 cases, prosecutors asked defense attorneys if their clients would admit under oath statements that they stormed the Capitol believing Mr. Trump wanted them prevent Mr. Pence from certifying the election.
As the attackers raided the Capitol that day, some chanted “Hang up Mike Pence.” Mr. Trump first brushed off calls for aides and allies to quash them. Since then, Mr. Trump has defended the chants as understandable because, as he said in an interview with ABC News‘ Jonathan Karl, “people were very angry” about the election.