In a speech to a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society in Florida on Friday, Pence addressed Trump’s intensifying efforts this week to advance the false narrative that, as vice president, he had the unilateral power to prevent President Joe Biden from taking office.
“President Trump is wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election.”
Pence’s declaration marked his most forceful response yet to Trump, who has spent his post-presidency stoking the lie that the 2020 campaign was stolen from him. And it comes as Pence begins laying the groundwork for a potential run for president in 2024, which could put him in direct competition with his former boss, who is also teasing a comeback run.
The relationship between the two men took on a new dynamic this week as Trump escalated his attacks on Pence.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump said the committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol should instead probe “why Mike Pence did not send back the votes for recertification or approval”. And on Sunday, he blasted Pence, falsely declaring that “he could have overturned the Election!”
Vice presidents play only a ceremonial role in the counting of Electoral College votes, and any attempt to interfere in the count would have represented an extraordinary violation of the law and an assault on the democratic process.
‘Dark day in history’
Pence, in his remarks on Friday to the group of lawyers in Lake Buena Vista, described January 6, 2021, as “a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol” and 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 on Friday.
He noted that, under Article II Section One of the Constitution, “elections are conducted at the state level, not by the 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.”
He went on to call out those who have insisted that is not the case.
“Frankly there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” he added. “Under the Constitution, I had no right to change the outcome of our election. And Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.”
The audience applauded Pence’s line about beating the Democrats in the upcoming presidential election, but remained silent when Pence said earlier that “Trump is wrong”.
Pence was inside the Capitol on January 6, 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 legislators.
Pence, who released a letter moments before the session got underway that made clear he had no authority to overturn the will of the voters, was rushed to safety as some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”
The former vice president, in his remarks Friday, acknowledged the lingering anger among many in Trump’s base, even as he said it was time “to focus on the future”.
“The truth is, there’s more at stake than our party or political fortunes,” he said. “Men and women, if we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections — we’ll lose our country.”