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Pence defends his Jan. 6 actions in speech that also likened Trump to Reagan

Vice President Mike Pence, with President Donald Trump and members of the coronavirus task force, speaks at the White House in March 2020. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Former vice president Mike Pence on Thursday defended his actions on Jan. 6, telling a Republican crowd that it would have been unconstitutional to reject electoral votes already certified by the states, as former president Donald Trump had falsely suggested Pence had the power to do.

In a speech Thursday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Pence said he was proud that Congress reconvened the night of Jan. 6 to certify Joe Biden’s win even after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead. Many in the pro-Trump mob that overran the Capitol that day had chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” on the misguided belief that Pence could have stopped Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.

“Now, there are those in our party who believe that in my position as presiding officer over the joint session that I possess the authority to reject or return electoral votes certified by the states,” Pence said, without specifying that Trump had been the most high-powered driver of that belief. “The Constitution provides the vice president with no such authority before the joint session of Congress.”

Pence added, to applause: “And the truth is, 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 remarks were Pence’s most extensive comments yet justifying his decision not to interfere with the election certification, as the former vice president continues to walk the line between staying in the good graces of Trump — and Trump loyalists — and decrying the violence that occurred on Jan. 6 in Trump’s name. Earlier this month, Pence acknowledged that he and Trump may never “see eye-to-eye” about what happened on Jan. 6, in another speech that nevertheless was largely pro-Trump.

At the Ronald Reagan Library gathering, which was focused on the future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, Pence stressed that remaining faithful to the Constitution should be paramount for the GOP.

“In the years ahead, the American people must know that our Republican Party will always keep our oath to the Constitution, even when it would be politically expedient to do otherwise,” Pence said. “ … Now, I understand the disappointment many feel about the last election. I can relate. I was on the ballot. But, you know, there’s more at stake than our party and our political fortunes in this moment. If we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections. We’ll lose our country.”

Still, the speech was anything but a rejection of Trump and Trumpism. Pence spent the majority of his speaking time Thursday railing against Democrats and the “radical left,” touting the achievements under the “Trump-Pence administration” and praising Trump’s “promises made, promises kept.” At one point, he likened Trump to President Ronald Reagan, in a line that suggested Pence would not be likely to turn his back on Trump anytime soon.

“He, too, disrupted the status quo,” Pence said of Trump. “He challenged the establishment, invigorated our movement, and he set a bold new course for America in the 21st century. And now, as then, there is no going back.”

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