Former vice-president Mike Pence has been in a real quandary over his once-servile relationship to Donald Trump, which suddenly went to hell on January 6, 2021, when he refused to use his presiding role over the 2020 electoral vote count to steal a second term for himself and his boss. As Pence prepared for a probable 2024 presidential bid of his own, he mostly dodged the whole subject, going so far as to resist a subpoena from the Department of Justice to tell his own tale about what happened that day.
But that changed last weekend when Pence finally went after Trump — albeit in the secluded, off-the-record venue of a Gridiron Club dinner in Washington. He said Trump’s “reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day,” and concluded that “history will hold Donald Trump accountable.” For Pence, who publicly uttered no discouraging words about Trump’s “stolen election” claims until he was called to act on them, this is pretty stern stuff.
Over the past two years Trump has publicly sympathized with the insurrectionists who chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” and he reportedly commented on January 6, “Mike Pence deserves it.” But in response to Pence’s latest rebuke, Trump offered a new twist on this argument, saying the violent events of January 6 are Pence’s fault.
“Had he sent the [Electoral College] votes back to the legislatures, they wouldn’t have had a problem with January 6, so in many ways you can blame him for January 6,” Trump said, according to the Washington Post. “Had he sent them back to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, the states, I believe, number one, you would have had a different outcome. But I also believe you wouldn’t have had ‘January 6’ as we call it.”
While this is the first time Trump has clearly blamed Pence for the Capitol Riot, he’s actually following the lead of his chief January 6 co-conspirator, John Eastman. The Trump campaign attorney, who cooked up a dubious legal justification for the attempted power grab, sent an email on January 6 blaming Pence for the riot. Eastman told Pence’s legal adviser: “The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened.”
Pence’s decision to resist Trump’s demands on January 6 was rooted in his reluctant conclusion that Eastman was wrong: as vice-president, he did not have the legal authority to block Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s win. So even if doing it anyway might have headed off the insurrection by achieving its goals without violence, it would have been an act as lawless as that of the rioters.
Congress later clarified the Electoral Count Act to make it completely clear that the vice-president’s role in the tabulation of electoral votes is purely administrative. But Eastman (and presumably Trump) still regard the entire Electoral Count Act as abrogating a veep’s inherent constitutional power to do whatever the hell he wants while presiding over the counting of state-certified electoral votes. Under this bizarre construction of the law, Pence indeed passed up an opportunity to bootstrap himself and his boss into a second term — or at least a second chance at a second term via state legislative reconsideration of earlier certifications — regardless of what voters wanted.
So in Trump’s view, Pence left the January 6 mob no other recourse but violent insurrection, and earned whatever abuse they might have dished out. If Trump is renominated for president in 2024, he will presumably choose a running mate who won’t make the same mistake.
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