In land of Reagan, Mike Pence defends his Jan. 6 actions while lauding Trump’s years in office

With the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol still fresh in the minds of many, former Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday, June 24, told a sold-out crowd of 820 guests at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday, June 24, that there was more at stake on that day than just his own party’s fortunes: It was the democratic foundation of the nation itself.

Pence, contemplating a run for the presidency in 2024, stoically defended his four years of buoying the policies of President Donald Trump — as well as the history-making moment when he broke from the chief executive’s wishes — while seeking to carve out his own vision of the future of the Republican Party.

It’s a path that has met with heckling in some stops on Pence’s recent speaking tour, facing catcalls from Republicans still simmering from his official actions on Jan. 6. Despite calls from Trump and his supporters to do “the right thing” and reject the Nov. 3 general election results that would place President Joe Biden in the White House, Pence said he had no choice but to embrace the directives of the Constitution. He followed through to oversee Congress’s certification of the nation’s vote.

Pence faced a much more reverential audience at the resting place of Reagan on Thursday night. The crowd greeted Pence with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, outside the entrance of the library and museum, about three dozen protesters — some anti-GOP and some Trump supporters — gathered in the late afternoon to demonstrate.

“I understand the disappointment many feel,” Pence said. “I can relate. I was on the ballot. 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,” he said.

The uprising continues to dominate Washington politics. Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid out plans to launch an investigation into the seizing of the Capitol by Trump supporters by a select committee in the weeks ahead.

Many in the audience Thursday wanted to hear Pence talk about his actions on that day — and he obliged, aiming to dispel Trump’s notion that he had the authority to reject what the former president declared a stolen election, despite a series of legal decisions to the contrary.

“The Constitution provides the vice president no such authority,” he said, adding that “no one person can choose the American president. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone.”

He wasn’t going to be the person who changed that, Pence said, even if the president demanded it.

Pence, meanwhile, lauded Trump’s years at the nation’s helm while slamming Democrats as radicals trying to defund police and dismantle conservative policies on immigration, national defense and abortion.

“We made America great again in just four years,” said Pence, who also launched salvos at President Joe Biden’s first 155 days in office.

Paying homage to Reagan, he painted Republicans as a last line of defense in defending the Constitution, aligned with traditional conservatism,  a strong defense, a strong free market, traditional family values  and repudiation of abortion.

But, he said, in the post-Trump era, Republicans must push forward on a new set of priorities — what he called a New American Agenda. “Border security is national security,” he said, while boosting “patriotic:” education, keeping a wary watch on China and branding the GOP, “the last line of defense to our Constitution and American heritage of freedom.”

Pence’s visit was part of the Library Foundation’s Time for Choosing Speaker Series, which taps high-profile conservative thinkers on a range of topics. A list of presidential hopefuls are set to appear at the Reagan to speak in the coming months.

Pence’s speech Thursday came on the heels of Paul Ryan’s in May, when the former speaker of the House urged fellow conservatives to reject the politics of Trump, whose tenure, he said, came to “a dishonorable and disgraceful end” on Jan. 6.

Pence has his work cut out for himself as he competes for visibility and donor money, amid a slate of potential Republican hopefuls, including former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pence, the former governor of Indiana and member of the House of Representatives, reportedly did not make the top tier of presidential contenders in a Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll published in March. The top contender? Trump himself.

But that did not deter a crowd eager to hear him.

“I’m interested in what he has to say about Jan. 6,” said David Gates, as he awaited the speech.

“He was a loyal vice president, not just a vice president in name only… I don’t think he ever wavered,” Gates said.

But would he support him in a presidential run? Likely not, Gates said, preferring Haley over Pence in 2024.

Others in the crowd, including Trump supporters, said they wanted “to hear Pence’s vision” for the future, as they lamented what they said was Biden’s dismantling of Trump policies.

Robin Ahn said it was a rare “opportunity” to hear Pence speak in person, lauding his role in leading the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

“I’ve seen him, and I liked him,” Ahn said.

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