When former Vice President Mike Pence spoke in South Carolina in April, he made no reference to the attack on the U.S. Capitol that had occurred three months earlier. In early June, the Indiana Republican went a little further at a Republican event, acknowledging Jan. 6 as "a dark day" in which law enforcement ultimately secured the Capitol and "we reconvened the Congress and did our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States."
Yesterday, as the Associated Press reported, the former vice president took yet another step toward trying to defend his actions.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has defended his role in certifying the results of the 2020 election, saying he's "proud" of what he did on Jan. 6 and declaring there's "almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president."
"[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. "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."
To the extent that reality matters, Pence's comments were correct. As we've discussed more than once, Donald Trump concocted an utterly bonkers scheme as 2020 came to an end: When Congress convened on Jan. 6 to finish certifying the results of the presidential race, the then-president was convinced that the then-vice president had the authority to help overturn the election by rejecting the results Trump didn't like.
By any sensible measure, that was insane. Pence, by constitutional mandate, oversaw the certification process in the Senate, though his role was largely a ceremonial formality. The Constitution's language on this is straightforward: "The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted."
There was no legal mechanism through which Pence could decide to ignore votes on a whim.
Trump nevertheless decided that the Indiana Republican was a villain for honoring the rule of law, and when the pro-Trump mob launched a violent insurrectionist attack, the rioters, after listening to Trump's nonsense, hunted the former vice president, clearly intending to do him harm.
As recently as this week, Trump's offensive against Pence continued, insisting that the then-vice president should've "sent back" to states the election results that Trump disapproved of -- and in the process, kept Trump in power despite the will of American voters. "I think you may have found that you would have had a different president right now had [Pence] sent them back," the former president told a conservative media outlet.
It was against the backdrop that the former vice president defended himself yesterday, reminding his audience that he honored American Civics 101. This is hardly the stuff of celebration: Pence cleared the lowest of low bars by saying no to those who expected him to effectively take part in sedition.
But as Pence lays the groundwork for his own national candidacy, it's notable that he's implicitly conceding that the step Trump wanted him to take was "un-American."
To be sure, Pence wants to be tied to Trump's term, but not Trump's subversion of democracy. As the New York Times noted, it's a tough tightrope to walk.
Whether Mr. Pence will succeed in having it both ways — being viewed as an ally and a critic of Mr. Trump — remains to be seen. Polls show that a majority of Republican voters believe that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and buy into his baseless claims about voter fraud. Mr. Pence is also testing the patience of a man who still looms over the political landscape and the Republican Party.
A week ago today, Pence appeared at a religious right gathering in Florida and faced hecklers who shouted calls of "traitor" as he began his remarks. The more he defends his Jan. 6 actions and pushes back against smears from Trump -- the one who put Pence in danger by hatching a scheme to seize power he didn't earn -- the more radical elements of the Republican base will disapprove of the former vice president's efforts.