Vice President Mike Pence certified Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory after violence erupted at the U.S. Capitol.
WASHINGTON When President-elect Joe Biden takes his oath of office in a locked-down ceremony at the Capitol on Wednesday, one guest who would normally rate only a passing glance is likely to get unusual attention from the cameras.
After breaking with Trump by refusing to do what he legally could not to overturn the presidential election results, Vice President Mike Pence will further give his imprimatur to Bidens victory by attending the swearing-in that President Donald Trump is boycotting after encouraging the rioters who mobbed the Capitol two weeks ago.
Pences facial expression and body language will be scrutinized as he stands on his own, after four years of softening Trumps rhetoric and trying to ignore what could not be massaged.
When Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris vow to protect and defend the Constitution, Pence will relinquish his role as Trumps No. 2 after a relationship marked by the vice presidents staunch loyalty and a falling out between the two in the final weeks of their tenure.
The new chapter gives Pence a chance to carve out a political identity of his own and possibly plan for a White House run in 2024. But he faces some choices: Will he try to paper over his split with Trump or will he go in the opposite direction and become more candid about what he saw at Trumps side? Where will he position himself within a Republican Party that is fracturing over the president’s role in inspiring the Capitol Hill riots?
Jim Atterholt, a Pence confidant who served as his top aide when Pence was Indianas governor, said the very strict message discipline that Pence has had to maintain under Trump often prevented him from showing the Mike Pence that I know kind, empathetic, funny and self deprecating.
If the public ever gets to see that side of Mike Pence, Atterholt told USA TODAY, I believe he will some day be president.”
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Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence wave to the crowd as they disembark Air Force II at the Indianapolis International Airport, Friday, July 24, 2020. The couple will meet at Marian University with higher education leaders about safely reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.
(Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)
Pence has long been vilified on the left for his steadfast loyalty to Trump. Many critics say he should have spoken out far sooner to counter the president’s false claims of a stolen election.
But some of Pence’s allies believe he is in a no-win situation when it comes to his own party.
Hes now the man without a home, said John Yoo, a conservative legal scholar at the University of California at Berkeley who was among the experts Pence consulted to determine whether he had the ability to prevent Congress from accepting the state-certified electoral college votes.
Yoo says Pence is one of the few heroes in all of this, for declaring that he did not have that power and for pushing for lawmakers to keep counting the votes after the assault on the Capitol that resulted in multiple deaths and extensive damage.
He must have realized that that meant he was foreclosing any future career in electoral politics, Yoo said.
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Vice President Mike Pence presides over a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.
(Photo: Pool, Getty Images)
Criticized by both sides
Many in Trumps base, which includes the rioters who called for Pence to be hanged, think hes a traitor. And the Republicans who have been pushing for the party to divorce itself from Trump are disappointed Pence didnt do more.
Olivia Troye, a former aide to Pence who left the White House in protest over Trumps handling of the coronavirus pandemic and endorsed Biden, epitomizes the latter group despite her enormous sympathy for the vice president.
Even after being attacked by Pences office for her public stance, Troye has continued to defend Pence as someone who at least behind the scenes, tried to do the right thing, when the right thing was very hard to do.
She said she saw Pence tactfully push Trump not to be vindictive against Democratic states like California in need of disaster assistance after historic wildfires. She credits Pence with extensive outreach to governors at the start of the pandemic. And she saw Pence frequently move in one direction only to get overturned by a tweet from Trump or by a decision made when he wasnt in the room even though he was the head of the Coronavirus Task Force.
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health Anthony Fauci speaks during a press conference on the COVID-19, coronavirus, outbreak as US President Donald Trump (L) and US Vice President Mike Pence look on at the White House in Washington, DC on February 29, 2020.
(Photo: Roberto Schmidt, AFP via Getty Images)
Troye said she had thought it unlikely Pence would break under Trumps intimidation and intervene in Congress acceptance of the electoral votes. But she had hoped he also would have used the 25th Amendment to take away Trumps presidential powers in the final days.
I just really wish that he would have taken a bigger stand, said Troye, who is part of the Republican Accountability Project that is defending the handful of GOP lawmakers who supported impeaching Trump. He could make the decision now to become a leader to move away from that (Trump) movement. But wheres the voting bloc on that? Thats what worries me.
Scholars will need to study the not-yet-available Trump administration records before rendering a fuller assessment of what Pence did behind the scenes and how much he was able to apply the brakes on the president, said Kathryn Cramer Brownell, who teaches political history at Purdue University.
Still, she said, Pences final actions dont make up for the ways in which he enabled the president to test the limits of our democracy by excusing and even justifying his incendiary rhetoric and dangerous behavior over the past four years.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
(Photo: Chris Carlson/AP)
Some of those who experienced Trumps wrath, however, say critics have an unrealistic view of what Pence was able to do.
If Pence had publicly criticized Trump, he never would have gotten in the West Wing again, said former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who wrote a scathing book about his 17 months in Trumps White House. In private, however, Pence had difficult conversations with the president, according to Bolton.
Its easy for people to criticize and very hard to imagine how hard Pences role was, Bolton said. I thought Pence did the best job a normal human being could do dealing with Donald Trump.
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Dan Coats, who stepped down as Trumps director of national intelligence after clashing with the president over Russia, North Korea, and other national security issues, said everyone who tried to support Trump in ways that we thought were constructive, failed the loyalty test at one point or another whenever Donald Trump didnt want to hear what you had to say.
Everybody thought Mike would make it to the end, Coats said. But even then, he wasnt loyal enough.
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Coats, who is close to Pence and calls his final actions courageous, argues his friend is best positioned to unite the fractured GOP so it can take back the White House.
Mike has the ability to straddle that divide and bring us together, he said. It will not be easy.’
Joe Biden greets Vice President Mike Pence at the 19th anniversary ceremony in observance of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York on Sept. 11, 2020.
(Photo: Amr Alfiky/The New York Times via AP)
An eye on 2024?
Alex Conant, a GOP strategist and former aide to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, agreed on the difficulty of that task, especially for somebody with as much baggage as Pence has at the moment.
I think its more likely that well see fresh faces emerging in the next couple of years as voters try to move on from the Trump era, he said.
Conant said Pence may have more market value than political capital, because he now has an interesting story to tell if he writes a book or joins the speaking circuit as many expect him to do.
But will Pence, who was known for his message discipline even before he aligned with Trump, now be candid? Or will he craft his words with an eye on 2024?
The book will be better if hes not running, said GOP strategist Michael Steel.
Ralph Reed, a longtime friend of Pence and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, expects Pence to express pride in the administrations accomplishments and be open about where there were disagreements but not with any rancor or hint of disloyalty.
Its just not his style, said Reed, who doesnt think Pence has decided what he will do next.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, and Vice President Mike Pence arrive at the Capitol where Barrett will meet with senators Sept. 29 in Washington.
(Photo: Erin Schaff/Associated Press)
Another loyalty test?
Pence could soon face another loyalty test when the Senate holds a trial on whether to convict the impeached Trump of inciting violence against the government.
Democrats might want Pence to testify about why it was the vice president, and not Trump, who played a key role in mobilizing National Guard troops after the Capitol Hill Police were overwhelmed.
Such testimony could offer yet another test of Pence’s loyalty to Trump.
If the Senate were to convict Trump and then vote to bar him from holding office in the future, that would remove a major impediment to Pences 2024 chances.
I think its a prerequisite for a successful (Pence) candidacy that President Trump is not running, Steel said.
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Leaving options open?
Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, said Pence is taking the same wait and see approach as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has left open the possibility of voting to convict Trump.
Pence is not wanting to antagonize the base, but at the same time, he wants to leave open his options for repudiating this president, she said.
Brown noted that Pence hasnt faulted Trump for any of his actions, even though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the president bears responsibility for the attack on Congress.
Instead, Pence spent his final days in office filling the role that a president normally would.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to National Guard troops outside the U.S. Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Washington.
(Photo: Alex Brandon, AP)
As Trump remained out of sight and forcibly muted on social media, Pence touted the administration’s foreign policy accomplishments during weekend visits to military bases, called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to offer his congratulations and assistance, delivered challenge coins and framed appreciation letters to White House phone operators, visited the National Guard troops guarding the Capitol and met with Homeland Security officials preparing for the inauguration.
As the president made clear yesterday, we are committed to an orderly transition and to a safe inauguration, Pence said of Trump at the briefing.
He ignored shouted questions from reporters about the Jan. 6 attacks.
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After four years of steadfast loyalty to Trump, Pence is said to be open to a 2024 run, but his rift with the president may close off that option.
Vice President Mike Pence certified Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory after violence erupted at the U.S. Capitol.