In a speech over the weekend, former Vice President Mike Pence criticized former President Donald Trump for his actions preceding the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
“[Trump’s] reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable,” Pence said on Saturday at the annual Gridiron Dinner.
In the days after Trump lost the 2020 election to now-President Joe Biden, Trump had demanded that Pence — in his role as president of the Senate and the ceremonial head of the certification of the Electoral College — reject several states’ lists of electors so that fake electors, organized by Trump’s campaign, could be counted instead. After consulting with legal experts, Pence refused to do so, a move that was denounced by Trump in his “Stop the Steal” speech outside the White House on January 6.
Later that day, as the mob of Trump loyalists descended upon the Capitol building, dozens called for Mike Pence to be hanged — reportedly to the delight of the former president.
“Make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace,” Pence said on Saturday. “And it mocks decency to portray it any other way.”
The Gridiron Dinner, which is not televised, has been held annually for 138 years. The event features politicians and journalists from across the political spectrum, and guests usually include jokes in their speeches.
Pence, who is likely to announce a run for president in the 2024 election season (pitting him against Trump, who has already announced that he’s running in the Republican primaries), joked that Trump’s ego was so fragile that the former president had wanted him to sing the Bette Midler ballad “Wind Beneath My Wings” to placate him.
Pence’s speech also included homophobic jokes about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet member in U.S. history. Pence derided Buttigieg’s decision to spend time away from work with his husband and their recently adopted twins as “maternity leave.” He also suggested that the country had “postpartum depression” due to Buttigieg’s work in the Biden administration.
Observers have noted that Pence’s criticisms of Trump ring hollow given his reluctance to condemn the former president under oath in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) grand jury investigation into attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Though special counsel Jack Smith subpoenaed Pence to speak before the grand jury in early February, Pence has so far refused to testify, claiming that he has legislative immunity because he was president of the Senate on the day of the Capitol attack.
“I’m glad he said it,” Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson told MSNBC host Al Sharpton over the weekend, referring to Pence’s condemnation of Trump, “but it’s not sufficient that he refuses to say so on the record, and in front of the appropriate investigative bodies.”
In the same MSNBC segment, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) wondered why Pence’s comments were made at a private dinner and not “in front of the American public — or before the special counsel which has subpoenaed him to testify about the events leading up to January 6.”
Pence’s words could theoretically be used as evidence in Smith’s investigation. But his comments won’t carry as much weight as they would if they were made under oath to a grand jury.
Social media users criticized Pence for being willing to denounce Trump at a private dinner but not to investigators.
“Pence will not protect the American people and our democracy by testifying truthfully before the grand jury about Trump’s criminal pressure campaign to overturn the results of a presidential election,” former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner said.
Pence is “the key witness” in the DOJ’s investigation of Trump, author Keith Boykin said, “and he’s too afraid to testify against him. That’s not courage. That’s cowardice.”
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