Mike Pence made it clear Friday: there was no way he could have – or would have – overturned the 2020 president election in favor of Donald Trump.
In his most forceful remarks to date, Trump’s former vice president told a conservative group he had “no right” to change the outcome of the election on Jan. 6, when he oversaw the ceremonial certification of the 2020 election results.
Trump is simply “wrong,” Pence said, in a direct rebuke to his former boss. “I had no right to overturn the election.”
What’s more, he said, the idea that he should have tried to reverse Joe Biden’s victory is anathema to him as someone who abides by the U.S. Constitution.
“Frankly there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” he said in a speech to the conservative Federalist Society in Florida. “Under the Constitution, I had no right to change the outcome of our election. And (vice president) Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.”
Pence’s remarks came the same day that Republicans censured two GOP lawmakers probing the Jan. 6 insurrection as part of a select House committee, underscoring how Trump has maintained his grip on the party despite his election loss and raising questions about the party’s appetite for anything other than lockstep loyalty to Trump.
Trump has been intensifying efforts to advance the false narrative that Pence could have prevented Biden from taking office. Trump and his allies continue to falsely claim the election was fraudulent.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump said the committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol should instead probe “why Mike Pence did not send back the votes for recertification or approval.” On Sunday, he blasted Pence, falsely declaring that “he could have overturned the Election!”
During a rally in Texas on Saturday, Trump raised the prospect of pardoning his supporters who participated in Jan. 6 assault, if he returns to the White House.
“If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6th fairly,” Trump said at the rally. “And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”
In the past, Pence has defended his actions on Jan. 6 and said that he and Trump will likely never see “eye to eye” on what happened that day. Pence has been laying the groundwork for a potential run for president in 2024, which could put him in direct competition with his former boss, who has also been teasing a comeback bid.
Jan. 6 committee:USA TODAY takes you inside the investigation into the insurrection
Vice presidents play only a ceremonial role in the the counting of Electoral College votes, and any attempt to interfere in the count would have represented a profound break from precedent and democratic norms.
Pence, in his remarks Friday, described Jan. 6, 2021, as “a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol.”
Pence was inside the building, presiding over the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election, when a mob of Trump’s supporters violently smashed inside, assaulting police officers and hunting down lawmakers. Pence, who had released a statement earlier that day to make clear he had no authority to overturn the will of the voters, was rushed to safety as some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”
Pence framed his actions that day as in line with his duty as a constitutional conservative.
“The American people must know that we will always keep our oath to the Constitution, even when it would be politically expedient to do otherwise,” he told the group Friday. He noted that, under Article II Section One of the Constitution, “elections are conducted at the state level, not by Congress” and that “the only role of Congress with respect to the Electoral College is to open and count votes submitted and certified by the states. No more, no less.”
Pence also acknowledged the lingering anger among many in Trump’s base. But, he said: “The truth is, there’s more at stake than our party or political fortunes. Men and women, if we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections — we’ll lose our country.”
Contributing: Associated Press and Rebecca Morin