‘Almost no idea more un-American’: Pence breaks with Trump on Jan. 6

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Former Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday offered his most forceful rejection yet of former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election on Jan. 6, but declined to directly criticize Trump by name or assign him any blame for inciting the deadly Capitol attack.

Instead, Pence — speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. — insisted he was not constitutionally empowered to reverse the election results when he presided over the counting of electoral votes in Congress in January. Trump had urged him to do so in the hours before the former president’s supporters stormed the Capitol.

In his remarks, Pence described Jan. 6 as “a dark day in the history of the United States of America” and credited “the swift action of the Capitol Police and law enforcement” for quelling the violence, allowing him and lawmakers to resume the formal certification of the election results later that day.

“Now, there are those in our party who believe that in my position as presiding officer over the joint session, that I possessed the authority to reject or return electoral votes certified by states,” Pence said. “But the Constitution provides the vice president with no such authority before the joint session of Congress. And the truth is, there’s almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”

Pence went on to say he would “always be proud that we did our part on that tragic day to reconvene the Congress,” while also sympathizing with “the disappointment many feel” about the election’s outcome.

“I can relate. I was on the ballot,” he said. “But, you know, there’s more at stake than our party and our political fortunes in this moment. If we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections. We’ll lose our country.”

Pence, who has slowly returned to political speaking engagements in recent weeks, previously broached the subject of Jan. 6 during a speech in New Hampshire earlier this month, where he similarly declined to attack Trump and asserted he was proud of the former administration’s accomplishments.

“President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day,” Pence said in New Hampshire. Shortly before the insurrection on Jan. 6, Trump told supporters at a fiery rally outside the White House that he hoped Pence would “do the right thing” when presiding over the joint session of Congress.

“I just spoke to Mike. I said: ‘Mike, that doesn’t take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing. That takes courage,’” Trump said at the rally. “And then we’re stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot, and we have to live with that for four more years. We’re just not going to let that happen.”

As the assault on the Capitol was actively unfolding, Trump tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

Security footage of the Capitol riot released in February showed the then-vice president being whisked out of the Senate chamber, revealing just how close he came to the mob of Trump supporters — some of whom chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”

Pence, widely viewed as a potential 2024 Republican candidate for president, was careful to show no animosity toward Trump on Thursday, even eliciting applause as he compared the former president favorably to Ronald Reagan.

“President Donald Trump is also one of a kind. He, too, disrupted the status quo. He challenged the establishment. He invigorated our movement. And he set a bold new course for America in the 21st century,” Pence said at the Reagan Library. “And now, as then, there is no going back.”

Since leaving office, Trump has remained fixated on spreading his baseless claims that the election was stolen, while House Republicans last month purged their third-ranking leader — Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — for rebuking the former president’s rampant falsehoods.

Trump has repeatedly downplayed the lethal nature of the Capitol siege, saying in March that the supporters rioting in his name posed “zero threat” on Jan. 6. In fact, five people died in the wake of the violence, including a Capitol Police officer. And the head of the Capitol Police officers’ union has indicated that roughly 140 officers were injured in the insurrection.

Trump has also reportedly promoted the conspiracy theory that he will be reinstated in the White House by August, and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn appeared earlier this month to endorse the idea of a possible coup.

The Department of Homeland Security’s top counterterrorism official told lawmakers on Wednesday the agency was following discussion of the reinstatement theory online among extremist communities, POLITICO reported and relayed that department officials are highly concerned about its potential to trigger a violent response.

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced she would create a new committee to probe the events leading up to the insurrection at the Capitol, after Senate Republicans last month blocked a bipartisan effort to establish an independent investigatory commission.

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