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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

As 2024 election looms, Pence implies Trump is a bad Christian

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

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The big idea

Eyeing 2024 evangelical voters, Pence uses humor to imply Trump is a bad Christian

If you follow politics at all, you’ve heard former vice president Mike Pence recently condemned Donald Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection. This column focuses on Pence’s comments about Trump you probably didn’t hear about, even though he made them at the same event. 

If Pence runs for president in 2024, as he has hinted he will do, he and his former boss — actually, the entire GOP field — will compete for the support of hard-right Christian voters. So when the former vice president seems to disparage Trump’s faith, even in jest, it bears noting.

  • The scene: The annual Spring dinner of the Gridiron Club, an exclusive group of inside-the-Beltway journalists, in a cavernous Washington, D.C., hotel ballroom.
  • The players: The aforementioned journalists. Local, state and federal elected officials. Administration officials. Members of President Biden’s administration. Pence, in the role of Republican speaker. (There was a Democratic speaker, too, but this is not his story.)
  • The attire: White-tie and tails for men, equivalent formal wear for women.

Pence’s scathing assessment of Trump’s role in Jan. 6 — “his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable” — has received a lot of press.

The Good Book? Or not a good look?

But Pence also poked fun at Trump’s relationship with religion. The jokes hint at a dynamic between the two men should they clash in a Republican presidential primary that will turn less on Jan. 6 and more on who can seduce White evangelicals.

“I once invited President Trump to Bible study,” Pence said in his speech. “He really liked the passages about the smiting and perishing of thine enemies. As he put it, ‘Ya know, Mike, there’s some really good stuff in here.’”

The former vice president continued in that vein as he turned to the scandal over Trump’s refusal to return classified documents he wasn’t legally allowed to keep: “I read that some of those classified documents they found at Mar-a-Lago were actually stuck in the president’s Bible … which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there.”

Get it? Because Trump doesn’t read the Bible?

(Some in the Gridiron audience wondered whether Pence picked the venue because it attracts so many prominent journalists, ensuring attention and coverage, while the event’s ban on video recordings means it’s less likely there’ll be footage for presidential rivals’ attack ads.) 

An attack line’s second coming

It might be tempting to write off Pence’s comments as a one-off attempt at politically barbed comedy. But he’s drawn this kind of contrast before.

In a November 2022 Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “My Last Days With Donald Trump,” drawn from his memoir “So Help Me God,” Pence laid out a timeline of events leading to the Jan. 6 riot that violently disrupted the peaceful handover of power for the first time in American history.

His language about Trump and the insurrection is far meeker than his Gridiron comments.

But here’s the relevant bit. Pence relates stopping by the Oval Office on the eve of Trump’s second impeachment, and praised some remarks he’d made. 

  • “I knew you’d like it,” he said. He seemed discouraged, so I reminded him that I was praying for him.
  • “Don’t bother,” he said.

Sharing the jokes and this exchange — which, to religious Americans, probably don’t paint Trump in a particularly great light — are a conscious choice.

But “these aren’t criticisms,” a Pence spokesman said in an email to The Daily 202. The spokesman provided one excerpt from “So Help Me God” in which Trump professes to be a believer and was “touched” that the Pences prayed for him, and another in which he “readily” embraced the Pences and joined them in prayer.

Both are from the 2016 campaign, long before Trump wrongly insisted Pence had the power to overturn Biden’s election victory and fired up a mob of his supporters to march on the Capitol, some of them shouting “hang Mike Pence!”

If Pence runs, his candidacy seems likely to hinge on Republican minorities. The minority that still condemns Jan. 6, or the minority that thinks America should keep sending weapons and aid to Ukraine, and some TBD proportion of conservative Christians tired of Trump-related drama.

But Trump won over conservative White Christians in 2016, with Pence’s help but largely on promises to turn the Supreme Court their way. He did it again in 2020 on a “promises kept” theme. In this cycle, the former president is sure to highlight the high court’s rulings on issues like abortion.

It remains to be seen whether Pence, if he runs, can make inroads in 2024, or whether this is the equivalent of an athlete highlighting his opponent’s poor form, while that opponent is shouting “scoreboard!” and pointing to an insurmountable lead.


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What’s happening now

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  • “The bipartisan legislation, championed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), would repeal the 1991 Persian Gulf War authorization and the 2002 Iraq War authorization.” 

Yellen says system is ‘sound’; markets calm on Credit Suisse rescue

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen testified before U.S. lawmakers Thursday morning as the global financial system struggles for stability in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse and questions about Credit Suisse over its financial reporting,” our colleagues report.

Poland says it will be first NATO country to give fighter jets to Ukraine

Poland will deliver an initial batch of four Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda said Thursday, ramping up pressure on other NATO allies to make similar commitments," Annabelle Chapman and Loveday Morris report.

As Asian threats rise, Japan and South Korea hold first summit in 12 years

“The trip was aimed at demonstrating that the two countries want to work more closely with each other and the United States to counter looming geopolitical threats of China’s economic and military rise and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

The Ukraine war is Antony Blinken’s defining moment

“Blinken’s deep partnerships extend to Western allies of the United States, a diverse constellation of governments that has held together in support of Ukraine even as the conflict has dragged on and sent food and energy prices soaring. That cohesion is owed to Blinken’s intense focus on alliance management, his European colleagues say,” John Hudson reports.

  • At the same time, he has faced questions about his reluctance to more forcefully prod the Kremlin to end its devastating war. After more than a year of bloodshed on the battlefield, Blinken’s only face-to-face encounter with his Russian counterpart during the conflict came this month at a conference in India; the conversation with Sergei Lavrov lasted less than 10 minutes.”

Texans sued Exxon over pollution 13 years ago. A big decision now looms.

“For over a decade, Baytown residents and environmental groups have been trying to force Exxon to curb its air pollution and pay a fine for the thousands of days it reported violating its Clean Air Act permits. Exxon has fought them at every turn, dragging out a legal battle that began in 2010 and that shows no signs of ending. The company recently won another round in court — a hearing that, activists say, could weaken ordinary Americans’ ability to sue industrial polluters across the country,” Anna Phillips reports.

… and beyond

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Ultimately, Biden’s unflinching loyalty to Garcetti probably saved the former mayor’s confirmation. By refusing to abandon his ally — even nominating him a second time when the new Congress began this year — and by allowing an important ambassadorship to sit vacant for a record amount of time, Biden created an unlikely standoff with Senate Democrats,” Jennifer Haberkorn reports for the Los Angeles Times

DOJ told court to expect a deluge of new Jan. 6 prosecutions

More than 1,000 additional people could still face charges in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, according to a letter to the DC federal court from the US attorney in Washington,” Bloomberg News’s Zoe Tillman reports.

Lawmakers from both parties skeptical of legislation over SVB

“President Joe Biden’s call on Monday for Congress to toughen rules on banks after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank doesn’t appear to be gaining enough traction to enact a new law, with even members of his own party suggesting regulators were asleep at the wheel,” Roll Call’s Caitlin Reilly reports.

First drugs facing Medicare price penalty are named

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Wednesday named 27 drugs that had the large price increases, including rheumatoid-arthritis treatment Humira from AbbVie Inc. and Yescarta lymphoma therapy from Gilead Sciences Inc., and will face the price-increase penalty in the form of a rebate,” the WSJ’s Stephanie Armour and Jared S. Hopkins report.

The Biden agenda

Biden, in preview of budget fight, hits GOP on health care

President Biden on Wednesday touted his administration’s policies on lowering the cost of prescription drugs and helping recipients of Medicare and Medicaid, programs that have become a major topic of debate as Republicans look for significant budget cuts to trim growing federal deficits,” Matt Viser reports.

  • “Biden also ramped up his defense of the Affordable Care Act, pointing to the dozens of times Republicans have tried to repeal the signature law signed by President Barack Obama. His remarks put health care front-and-center at a time when Biden is widely expected to run for re-election with a message centered on pocketbook issues like health care.”

Biden administration wants TikTok’s Chinese owners to divest

The Biden administration is pushing a plan that would require TikTok’s Chinese owners to divest from the popular video app, in an escalation of its efforts to address national security concerns about the company’s Beijing-headquartered owner ByteDance,” Jeff Stein, Cat Zakrzewski, Drew Harwell and Ellen Nakashima report.

Biden takes heat for border measures, but illegal crossings are down

Border restrictions set by the Biden administration in early January have led to a large drop in the number of Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan migrants crossing into the United States illegally this year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data released Wednesday,” Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report.

  • The numbers: “Unlawful crossings by migrants from the four nations fell from 84,190 in December to 2,050 during February, CBP data shows.” 

The companies that had billions of dollars at risk in SVB, visualized

Technology firms made up the bulk of the companies with SVB deposits, consistent with the bank’s reputation for serving Big Tech giants and industry start-ups. BILL Holdings, which sells automated financial services programs, had the most SVB holdings of any company, worth $670 million, about 7 percent of its total assets, according to securities filings — at least $300 million of that was uninsured,” Caitlin Gilbert, Alyssa Fowers, Jacob Bogage and Daniel Wolfe report.

Hot on the left

Marianne Williamson’s ‘abusive’ treatment of 2020 campaign staff, revealed

“Interviews with 12 people who worked for Williamson during her 2020 presidential campaign paint a picture of a boss who can be verbally and emotionally abusive,” Politico’s Lauren Egan reports.

  • “Those interviewed say the best-selling author and spiritual adviser subjected her employees to unpredictable, explosive episodes of anger. They said Williamson could be cruel and demeaning to her staff and that her behavior went far beyond the typical stress of a grueling presidential cycle.”

Hot on the right

Much of the 2024 GOP field focuses on dark, apocalyptic themes

“Much of the rhetoric from the declared and potential Republican candidates so far is remarkable for its dystopian tone. In many high-profile moments, these Republicans portray the nation as locked in an existential battle, where the stark combat lines denote not just policy disagreements but warring camps of saviors versus villains, and where political opponents are regularly demonized,Ashley Parker reports.

Today in Washington

There is nothing on Biden’s public schedule this afternoon.

In closing

Is your city an ‘allergy capital’? Here’s where pollen was the worst last year.

“If you live in the U.S. Midwest, buckle up for an intense allergy season … for the rest of your life,” Kasha Patel writes.

“Allergy season is becoming more intense across the country, lasting longer and with more pollen in the air … And just like brands of tissues, not all pollen-induced sneeze-fests are equal. Some places have it especially bad.”

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.