Pressure on Pence, other takeaways from Jan. 6 hearing

The third House of Representatives Jan. 6 committee hearing on Thursday focused on the role of former Vice President Mike Pence, who became a key player in stopping former President Trump’s plan to overturn the 2020 election.

Pence was among the most loyal soldiers of the Trump presidency, defending him against several ethics charges and praising him so lavishly that many derided him as a sycophant. But on Jan. 6, he said no to Trump’s request that he exceed the authority of his ceremonial duty as vice president in counting Electoral College votes, an action that would have constituted an illegal attempt to help Trump stay in power .

How is Pence judged?

Committee members and witnesses said in the strongest possible terms that Pence was a hero, at least as far as January 6 was concerned.

Trump tried everything, including 62 failed lawsuits and a pressure campaign against local officials, before embarking on a last-ditch effort to convince Pence to recognize a fake list of key state voters that Trump had lost. Trump believed that would give him enough votes to stay in power even though he didn’t deserve them.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) commended “the sincere efforts of Mike Pence, who was determined to honor his oath of office.”

Retired Justice Michael Luttig, a Conservative hero and former mentor to Trump attorney John Eastman, said that “Donald Trump’s proclamation as the next president would have plunged America into what I believe would have amounted to a revolution within a constitutional crisis.” Eastman had joined Trump in the pressure campaign against Pence.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee chair, said Pence “resisted the pressure. He knew it was illegal. He knew it was wrong. Lucky for Mr Pence – his courage – on January 6th. Our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe. That courage put him in great danger.”

Photos from January 6th will be shown during the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th hearing.

Photos from January 6th will be shown during the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th hearing.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

What danger was Pence facing?

The committee played video of rioters threatening to drag Pence through the streets using vulgar language, calling him “a traitor,” chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” and holding a gallows to emphasize their point. Meanwhile, Trump wrongly told the Jan. 6 rally-goers that Pence has the authority to overturn the election and just needs the courage to do so.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands), who chaired Thursday’s hearing, said the committee learned Pence was not mentioned in early drafts of Trump’s Jan. 6 speech. Trump, he said, lobbed criticism of the vice president at will and then sent out threatening tweets to provoke the mob.

Trump was overheard by his daughter Ivanka calling Pence “the P-word” in a phone call, and the president never called Pence back to check on his safety, according to witnesses.

But even as the crowd grew violent, Pence spent 4½ hours in the Capitol, just 40 feet from the mob, refusing Secret Service orders to leave in a motorcade.

“The Vice President didn’t want to take any chance that the world would see the Vice President of the United States fleeing the United States Capitol,” said Greg Jacob, Pence’s chief White House counsel.

Pence obeys the Constitution

Pence has long positioned himself as a constitutional conservative, a supporter of the Tea Party movement’s endorsement of limited government.

But many Tea Party supporters have since supported Trump’s overly broad views of presidential power and, significantly, his unfounded view that the Constitution somehow gave him the right to remain in power. On Thursday, the committee played these remarks from Pence:

“I had no right to overturn the election. The Presidency belongs to the American people and only to the American people. And frankly, there is no more un-American idea than the idea that a person could vote for America’s president.”

Pence followed Gore in ‘fairly easy choice’

Several people who advised Pence before Jan. 6 cited former Vice President Al Gore as pointing out that if Trump’s theory were true, he could have made himself president in 2001. Gore hadn’t even considered it, despite a much closer election.

In fact, multiple witnesses testified that many of Trump’s advisers, including Eastman, knew their theory that Pence could declare Trump the winner was wrong.

The committee played a statement by Gore reflecting on the 2000 election and describing “the importance of the United States of America throughout human history” as what Lincoln called “mankind’s last best hope.” .

“Choosing between disappointment in one’s personal career and upholding the noble traditions of American democracy: it’s a pretty easy choice when it comes down to it,” he said.

Greg Jacobs and retired judge J. Michael Luttig during Thursday's hearing.

Greg Jacobs and retired judge J. Michael Luttig during Thursday’s hearing.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Democracy remains threatened

America may have withstood January 6, but Luttig argued that “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters pose a clear and present threat to American democracy.”

He said the former president is working to elect officials who share his view that their actions are justified after the 2020 election and to “execute this blueprint for 2024 in the open and clear view of the American public.”

Will Pence’s act to uphold democracy help him politically?

Unlikely. Pence has positioned himself as a potential presidential candidate for 2024. Early on, he made an effort not to criticize Trump, hoping to keep his standing in the MAGA world for the loyalty he had shown throughout the rest of the Trump years.

But Trump continued to criticize him. And any hope Pence might have had of leading a post-Trump Republican party has likely been dashed.

Other Republicans were afraid to distance themselves from Trump’s bogus election claims. Many win elections on their basis. And Trump continues to make his critics pay a heavy political price.

Cheney, the committee’s co-chair, is trying to hold off a Trump-backed candidate, Harriet Hageman, in a Republican primary.

Democrats may uphold Pence as an important historical figure for his role on Jan. 6, but that likely won’t get him votes. Pressure on Pence, other takeaways from Jan. 6 hearing

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