COLUMBIA, S.C. – Former Vice President Mike Pence returned to public life Thursday by praising Donald Trump’s administration, bashing President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office – and saying nothing about the Jan. 6 insurrection that put his life in danger and wrecked his relationship with Trump.
“We have the winning agenda,” Pence told a friendly crowd at a dinner meeting of the Palmetto Family Council, an organization of religious conservatives in South Carolina, a state that will hold a pivotal Republican presidential primary in 2024.
Pence did not discuss his own presidential ambitions during a 30-minute speech, spending more time talking about Republican efforts to re-take Congress in the 2022 congressional elections.
The ex-vice president’s White House prospects are shadowed by his falling-out with Trump over the latter’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential race.
In his first public speech since leaving office, former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a dinner hosted by Palmetto Family on Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard) (Photo: Meg Kinnard, AP)
Trump and his allies turned on Pence in January after he refused, in his capacity as president of the Senate, to reject the electoral votes of certain states that voted for Biden. Trump, who has said he is considering another run for the presidency in 2024, has repeatedly criticized Pence in three months since they left office.
Some of the pro-Trump demonstrators who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 shouted that they specifically were looking for the vice president.
At the time, Pence said he lacked the legal authority to carry out Trump’s demands. He did not discuss the insurrection nor Trump’s baseless protests of the election Thursday.
Instead, Pence told the crowd they should focus on how Republicans can win back Congress if they follow the Trump agenda. He cited the administration’s record on jobs, trade, immigration, vaccine development, and military policy.
Pence did not speak at length about Trump, but did refer to him positively.
As for Biden, the former vice president hit the new administration for “an avalanche of liberal policies” that includes “a war on traditional American values.”
“Had enough?” Pence said at one point. “I have.”
Pence also spoke about his religious faith, a frequent theme in his past campaigns for Congress, the governorship of Indiana, and the vice presidency.
Vice President Mike Pence said "today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol" as the Senate restarted the Electoral College count. (Photo: USA TODAY)
A few hours before his speech, Pence met with a group of local pastors at the First Baptist Church of Columbia. Organizers said they wanted to talk with the former vice president about the impact of local, state, and federal policy on their ministries.
Chad Connelly, a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman who attended the speech, said there was “no need” for Pence to bring up Jan. 6 before such a supportive and conservative crowd. They wanted to hear about the Republican future, he said.
“I think he hit all the high notes, Connelly said. “People love him here.”
Regarding Trump, Connelly said Pence told the pastors in the earlier meeting that he has spoken with the former president seven or eight times in recent months. “It sounds like their relationship is solid,” Connelly said.
Pence has stayed busy behind the scenes since leaving office Jan. 20.
The former veep set up a new political advocacy group called Advancing American Freedom. He signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster, the first one an autobiography that includes a recounting of his term as vice president. It is tentatively scheduled for publication in 2023.
Pence also took care of a medical problem this month, having a pacemaker installed to deal with a slow heart rate. After mentioning the operation, Pence told South Carolina supporters: “I’m back and I feel great.”
Some Republicans said they don’t understand why Pence would continue to honor a man who put his life in danger.
Olivia Troye, a former Pence aide who resigned from the Trump administration in protest of its COVID-19 response, said she had hoped the former vice president would withdraw his support of Trump.
It doesn’t look like that will happen.
“He still hasn’t spoken out against the former president,” Troye said. “I think that’s telling.”
Pence always seemed to have aspirations of running for president, Troye said, but the Republican political landscape changed so much after Jan. 6.
“There’s a whole group of people out there who still believe he was a traitor, and that he could have overturned the election,” Troye said.
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