ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday gave his strongest defense to date of his sabotage of his ex-boss’s scheme to overturn the 2020 election and remain in power despite losing.
“And I heard this week that President Trump said I had the right to ‘overturn the election.’ President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone,” he told an audience of several hundred members of the Federalist Society. “Under the Constitution, I had no right to change the outcome of our election. And Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.”
His remarks were his harshest criticisms to date of Donald Trump’s latest round of lies that Pence had the authority, on his own, to disregard Democrat Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win and, instead, install Trump for a second term.
In a statement on Sunday, Trump claimed that congressional efforts to reform the 1887 Electoral Count Act to clarify the role of the vice president proved that Pence “could have overturned the election,” had he wanted to.
Two days later, as part of Trump’s continued attacks on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol that he incited, the former president said the group should instead investigate Pence for not doing what he wanted.
Pence prefaced his direct criticisms of Trump by citing both the Bible — we will “keep our oath even when it hurts” — and the writers of the Constitution. “Our founders were deeply suspicious of consolidated power in the nation’s capital and were rightly concerned with foreign interference in our presidential elections if they were decided in the capital.”
He repeated his previously stated defenses and explanations of his role on Jan. 6, but then directly confronted Trump by name, which he had not done before.
“Look, I understand the disappointment many feel about the last election. I was on the ballot,” Pence said. “Whatever the future holds, I know we did our duty that day. As John Quincy Adams reminds us: Duty is ours. Results are God’s.”
“The truth is there’s more at stake than our party or our political fortunes,” he added. “Men and women, if we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections, we’ll lose our country.”
The Federalist Society, whom Pence was speaking to, is a conservative group that has, for decades, served as an informal clearinghouse to vet Republican judicial nominees. The bulk of his remarks were standard Republican attacks on the policies of Biden and Democrats: vaccine mandates, unauthorized immigration at the Mexican border, inflation and “cancel culture.”
His discussion of Trump came 19 minutes into his 25 minute speech, which he mostly read from a teleprompter.
Pence became the key player in Trump’s scheme to nullify the results of the presidential election after the Electoral College formally voted on Dec. 14, 2020, sealing Biden’s victory. Trump’s White House and campaign aides had pressured Republicans in several states Biden won to send up slates of Trump “electors” anyway.
Pence would then, theoretically, have been able to cite these “competing” slates of electors and ignore the electoral votes from those states entirely — and then, with Trump holding a lead in the remaining states, rule him the winner.
But Pence made sure to sabotage that plan by crafting language that allowed him to ignore Trump’s fake slates of electors from the outset.
Pence’s top aides have now become some of the Jan. 6 committee’s most important witnesses, with both his former chief of staff, Marc Short, and his chief counsel, Greg Jacob, having testified. Both had direct knowledge of Trump’s plan, concocted by some of Trump’s outside lawyers, while it was being drawn up. Short was with Pence in the Capitol as the Secret Service evacuated him, his family and his advisers when a mob of Trump supporters entered the building.
A year ago, Trump became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five, including one police officer, injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.
He is now under investigation by federal and state officials in multiple jurisdictions.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has been conducting a civil probe of Trump’s family business, while the district attorney in Manhattan has been running a criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, has impaneled a special grand jury just to focus on Trump’s attempt to coerce state officials to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss of that state to Biden in 2020.
And the House Jan. 6 committee has been subpoenaing more and more former and current Trump aides to determine his precise role in that day’s events, while the Department of Justice has confirmed that it is investigating at least one element of Trump’s scheme to remain in power: the submission of fake Trump “electors” in states that Biden won.
At a Jan. 29 rally, Trump asked his followers to stage “the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere” if prosecutors came after him, “because our country and our elections are corrupt.”
Despite this, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.