It was Sunday night when Donald Trump broke new ground, issuing a written statement in which the former president admitted what he actually wanted to see happen on Jan. 6: Then-Vice President Mike Pence, Trump wrote, "could have overturned the Election!" The former president added that it was "unfortunate" that Pence didn't "change the results of the election."
Two days later, Trump went so far as to suggest Congress investigate his own vice president for failing to go along with his anti-election efforts.
Today, as NBC News reported, the Indiana Republican responded in public.
Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday rejected former President Donald Trump's claim that he could have "overturned" the results of the 2020 election, saying, "The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone." While Pence had previously resisted calling out his former boss by name, he did not hold back in a speech to the Federalist Society in Orlando.
"I heard this week that President Trump said I had the right to overturn the election. President Trump is wrong," Pence said.
If this sounds at all familiar, it's because the former vice president has used similar rhetoric before.
"[T]here 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 the states," Pence said in remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in June 2021. "But the Constitution provides the vice president with no such authority before the joint session of Congress.
"And the truth is," he continued, "there's almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone."
The difference between these remarks and today's speech is the specificity. In June, Pence referenced generic Republicans who've pushed a misguided idea. Today, he said, "President Trump is wrong" — and I didn't even realize Republicans were still allowed to utter those four words together.
To the extent that reality plays any role in this dispute, the facts are obviously on Pence's side. Trump's repeated insistence that a vice president has the authority to "overturn" election results is utterly bonkers, even for him, and his former vice president was right to acknowledge the truth today.
But before anyone nominates Pence for a Profile in Courage Award, it's worth emphasizing that the Hoosier has cleared the lowest of bars. He's now conceded on multiple occasions that a vice president can't unilaterally reject election results his/her party doesn't like.
And while I'm glad to hear him say it, let's also acknowledge what Pence hasn't said: The 2020 presidential election was entirely fair; allegations of widespread fraud are demonstrably ridiculous; and those who question the legitimacy of Joe Biden's presidency are peddling a delusional fantasy.
Instead of stating these plain truths, Pence spent last year raising unfounded and unfair questions about the integrity of the 2020 results. Even today at the Federalist Society event, the former vice president was willing to say Trump was wrong, but only about the electoral process, not about the election results.
In other words, Pence is still trying to walk a fine line: He won't fully reject his party's election lies, but he will reject overturning elections on the basis of lies.
That makes him more responsible than Trump, but only marginally.