Pence walks a tightrope between owning the January 6 paper and courting Trump voters

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Two high-profile events on Thursday could affect Mike Pence’s White House aspirations, and the former vice president will not appear at either.

In Washington, a House committee hearing investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill will feature top Pence aides discussing how they resisted Donald Trump’s demands that his vice president throw out the college results. electoral. Pence has publicly said that Trump’s lawsuit was wrong, but he did not speak to the committee.

In Nashville, meanwhile, Conservative Christians will gather for the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference, which is a traditional stop for emerging presidential hopefuls, especially movement-embedded candidates like Pence. When Pence appeared at the group’s event last year, he was booed and booed with “traitor” calls.

Pence’s decision to skip both highlights his challenge as is positioned to take on Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024. Aides say the former vice president stands by his actions on Jan. 6 but doesn’t want to be known for attacking Trump. like Rep. Tom Rice (RS.C.), who lost his primary Tuesday after voting to impeach Trump, or Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who is leading the most aggressive broadsides of the Jan. 6 caucus against the former president.

“The way he sees it is that he did his duty, he doesn’t need to talk about it anymore,” Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “He doesn’t want to re-litigate the past. He believes voters want to look forward, not back.”

Short said he doesn’t think Pence’s actions before and during Jan. 6 are a long-term political liability for Pence, though he said there were people who questioned Pence about the decision.

“In certain circles, there’s a lot of admiration, and in certain circles, there’s a, ‘Let’s not talk about it, we love you for everything you did, but it’s awkward for all of us,’” Short said. “History has a way of resolving the truth, and I think more and more people will come to appreciate what he did that day. I can’t tell you exactly when that happens, but I think over time, it’s to your benefit.”

But Thursday’s hearing could complicate that position, whether Pence likes it or not.

A committee aide said Wednesday that the hearing will be divided into four main parts: Emerging the theory that Pence could unilaterally turn away President Biden’s constituents; how the theory was rejected by Pence and his advisers; the pressure campaign exerted on Pence promoted by the former president; and how that campaign directly contributed to the insurrection and put Pence’s life in danger.

Hearings have already highlighted tensions between Trump and Pence, such as at the prime-time opening last week when Cheney cited unspecified testimony that said Trump expressed support for rioters chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” saying that “had the right idea” and that Pence “deserved it.” (Trump has denied saying, “Hang Mike Pence.”)

Pence resisted appearing before the committee, believing it would not be helpful and that it was not a good forum for him to appear, aides said. But he agreed that his assistants, including Short, would talk and blessed your cooperation.

In a January statement, Short described Pence’s behavior on January 6 and his interactions with Trump. The committee is likely to use video clips of Short’s testimony. Thursday’s hearing will also feature live testimony from Pence’s attorney, Greg Jacob, who spoke in his deposition about an Oval Office meeting between Pence, Trump and others on January 4, 2021, in which attorney John Eastman outlined scenarios to deny Biden the presidency.

Pence has not looked for opportunities to attack Trump directly, but has defended himself in the face of criticism from Trump and his allies. Several people who have spoken with him privately say he has no plans to attack Trump for some of his most incendiary actions in office and sees no political avenue in being explicitly critical of Trump.

“President Trump is wrong,” Pence said in February at a Federalist Society meeting in Florida. “He had no right to annul the election.”

Pence has not spoken to Trump in more than a year and declined initial invitations to visit him at Mar-a-Lago, aides said. A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Pence has told others he could run against Trump, and his allies have pushed for an announcement early next year. He has taken an aggressive travel schedule to the early 2024 states, particularly South Carolina and Iowa.

Early polls from the 2024 Republican field consistently show Pence trailing Trump and other potential candidates, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Such polls are not reliable predictors so far away from an election, but they could indicate that Pence may struggle to find a solid base of support.

His case to voters is that he supported Trump but didn’t have the power to do what Trump wanted. He gave this explanation when asked by donors and activists, as recently as on his trip to a crisis pregnancy center in South Carolina last month, according to a person who heard his comments. Pence is not negative about Trump in these private conversations, this person said.

“He’s been asked in a few places here and there what his opinion is on that, and he’s usually just said, ‘The vice president has a ceremonial role there. He had no constitutional authority to do that,’” said Josh Kimbrell, a state senator from South Carolina who has organized trips for Pence there and accompanies him around the state. “We’ve been to eight events together, and of the eight events we’ve been to, it’s maybe come up four times. It hasn’t been a dominant theme.”

Some of his advisers point out that Trump, since leaving office, has not attacked Pence as viciously as he has with other former advisers, such as former Attorney General William P. Barr or former Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, and that Trump’s harshest words for Pence have come from a spokesman rather than the former president himself. Pence often praises the “Trump-Pence agenda.”

“Mike Pence clearly defines between being proud of the policies he helped implement during those four years and seeing it as something separate from what he was asked and pressured to do after the election,” said Tim Phillips, an operative Republican and Pence ally. “He is proud of the policies that he helped implement and he is proud of what he did in that post-election period. He separates those things.”

Pence also joined other Republicans in criticizing Democrats and the media for focusing too much on January 6. The adviser said the Pence team believes that Republican voters are less interested in the 2020 election and that residual anger towards Pence from that day has subsided. . He found that by visiting the states in early 2024, he’s not asked about it as often.

Pence only briefly mentioned the 2020 election, for example at a campaign rally last month for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. That appearance was another way of establishing his independence from Trump without directly attacking him, as Trump was backing an unsuccessful challenge by former Sen. David Perdue in the Republican primary.

Pence’s emphasis on campaigning with the 2022 candidates and highlighting Republican priorities (he just returned from a visit to the border) rather than fighting for the 2020 election is in contrast to Trump, a person in frequent contact with the former vice president said. spoke anonymously with discussing private conversations. Pence will spend Thursday in Ohio, fundraising with Gov. Mike DeWine and Rep. Steve Chabot, and will join DeWine for a roundtable discussion with an oil and gas industry group.

The Ohio compromise is the reason Pence will not appear at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference, the person said, adding that the boos he faced the last time was not a factor in the decision.

A person familiar with the conference said Pence remains close to coalition founder and chairman Ralph Reed and will be invited back. Pence and Reed appeared together last month at an event in North Carolina.

Although Pence was invited to speak on Reed’s show in Nashville, according to multiple people involved, he was not announced as a guest speaker on the conference website. The lineup includes other possible 2024 Republican contenders, including Sen. Tim Scott (SC), Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Top-billed speaker: Trump.

Annie Linskey contributed to this report.

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