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Why Pence has found himself in the spotlight during Trump's trial

This week brought into focus the degree to which Trump may have knowingly put his own vice president in danger.
Image: Vice President Mike Pence reads the final certification of Electoral College votes cast in November's presidential election at the Capitol,
Vice President Mike Pence reads the final certification of Electoral College votes cast in November's presidential election at the Capitol, Jan. 7, 2021.J. Scott Applewhite / Reuters

There have been a variety of unexpected developments during the Senate's impeachment trial this week, but what I've found most surprising is the spotlight on former Vice President Mike Pence. Democrats may not agree with the Republican Hoosier on much of anything, but they've nevertheless been eager to reference Pence, and it's worth appreciating why.

First, despite his many flaws, Pence cleared a low bar and did the right thing on Jan. 6. Donald Trump pushed him to act outside the law and reject the results of the electoral college vote, but the then-vice president instead sided with the Constitution over Trump.

The subtext during this week's trial was hardly subtle: House impeachment managers wanted Republican senators to know that if Pence had the wherewithal to put the law over the former president's wishes, they can do the same thing and vote to convict Trump.

Second, this week brought into focus the degree to which Trump may have knowingly put Pence in danger. As the Washington Post reported:

Trump's decision to tweet that Pence lacked "courage" — a missive sent shortly after the vice president had been rushed off the Senate floor — underscores how he delayed taking action to stop his supporters as they ransacked the Capitol. Many of them were intent on doing harm to Pence, whom Trump had singled out at a rally earlier in the day, falsely claiming the vice president had the power to stop Congress from formalizing Joe Biden's electoral college victory. Trump's tweet came at 2:24 p.m. that day — only 11 minutes after live television coverage showed Pence being hustled from the Senate floor because rioters were streaming into the building one floor below.

The context is extraordinary: Trump targeted Pence, publicly and repeatedly, ahead of Jan. 6, then lashed out at the then-vice president again during a pre-riot event. During the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, as rioters who believed Trump lies hunted Pence with the likely intention of doing him harm -- they literally chanted, "Hang Mike Pence" -- the then-president published another tweet, condemning Pence for lacking the "courage" to ignore the law.

It was around this same time that a Republican senator directly informed Trump that Pence was in danger. Politico reported:

Sen. Tommy Tuberville revealed late Wednesday that he spoke to Donald Trump on Jan. 6, just as a violent mob closed in on the the Senate, and informed the then-president directly that Vice President Mike Pence had just been evacuated from the chamber. "I said 'Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I've got to go,'" Tuberville (R-Ala.) told POLITICO on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night, saying he cut the phone call short amid the chaos.

Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) reminded senators yesterday that Trump sat idly by as rioters pursued his own vice president. "What did President Trump do?" the House impeachment manager asked. "He attacked [Pence] more. He singled [Pence] out by name. It's honestly hard to fathom."

A Washington Post analysis this week added that Trump "picked the rioters over his vice president." Even after the Capitol was cleared, the then-president didn't reach out to Pence to check on his wellbeing.

Neguse added during yesterday's trial that such behavior "more than requires conviction and disqualification." Decency and common sense suggest he's right.