By Lindsay Chervinsky
New revelations from the congressional committee investigating the events on and leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol show the crucial role then-Vice President Mike Pence played in thwarting the insurrection – and reveal the principles behind his actions.
The 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads “the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.” Under the Constitution, the vice president also serves as president of the Senate.
At the June 16 hearing, Judge J. Michael Luttig, a conservative political icon, and Greg Jacob, Pence’s counsel, asserted that the Constitution grants the vice president no authority to overturn or reject the electoral votes.
Pence himself has said “there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.” Every single vice president in U.S. history agreed. I am a historian of the U.S. presidency. No vice president has ever rejected officially certified electors, refused to count the votes or paused the official ceremony – not even when their own personal interests were at stake.
Indeed, in 2001, Vice President Al Gore proclaimed, “The choice between one’s own disappointment in your personal career and upholding the noble traditions of American democracy is an easy choice.” He then oversaw the process of counting electoral votes that delivered defeat to him in his campaign to win the presidency and victory to his opponent, George W. Bush.
Under pressure, and threat
And yet as the committee’s evidence has shown, Trump insisted Pence overturn the election. Trump fueled the rage of the mob marching toward the Capitol and he egged them on, even after he knew violence was possible. When the rioters chanted “hang Mike Pence,” Trump reportedly said Pence “deserves it.”
Pence barely escaped the mob’s wrath. New testimony shows that the rioters were just 40 feet from the vice president. But as rioters called for his execution and erected gallows outside the Capitol building, Pence refused to leave the Capitol complex. He didn’t want anyone to see the vice president fleeing the Capitol. That symbol would be too hard to forget.
We still don’t have all the evidence, but it appears Pence also coordinated city and federal responses to the riot from the secure underground location where he took refuge. And once the mob had been driven out of the Capitol, Pence insisted on completing the ceremony in the early morning hours of Jan. 7.
A loyal lieutenant
Until December 2020, Pence had been unfailingly loyal. He had never publicly disagreed with Trump, regardless of the embarrassment or implications for his own future career.
Why did Pence draw such a visible line over the certification of the election? There appear to be two reasons: a clear sense of legality and a deep conviction about his place in history.
The certification of the election appears to have been the first time Trump explicitly asked Pence to break the law. Pence previously defended controversial Trump administration policies like the border wall and the so-called “Muslim ban,” and excused Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but they were just words. Pence could make an argument that appealed to the Republican base, even if what he was talking about didn’t comport with U.S. law or tradition. He didn’t have to take action.
The certification of the electoral votes was different. Trump didn’t demand that Pence make a statement at a public event. Trump demanded that the vice president overturn a free and fair election – the very bedrock of American democracy. Notably, Pence didn’t speak out about the plans afoot in the White House to overturn the election, which the hearings on Jan. 6 have detailed. But actually participating in the effort appears to have been one step too far for Pence.
A sense of history
Additionally, Pence had a keen sense of his place in history. The former vice president’s chief counsel told Congress that Pence said he looked forward to meeting the framers of the U.S. Constitution in heaven. That is not the statement of someone with short-term vision.
Furthermore, all of Pence’s advisors, from Luttig to former Vice President Dan Quayle, confirmed that history offered resounding guidance. The rule of law is the foundation, the profound truth of the United States. The vice president had no legal authority to overturn the election and nothing in the historical record suggested otherwise.
In February 1801, Vice President Thomas Jefferson opened the electoral returns from the states and discovered that he and his vice-presidential candidate, Aaron Burr, had tied for first place – which was possible under the Constitution at the time. President John Adams had come in third. While the House of Representatives cast ballot after ballot, attempting to resolve the election, Jefferson and Adams met. They pledged to each other that they would not meddle in the election. On the 36th ballot, Jefferson was elected as the third president of the United States. Adams and Jefferson didn’t just refrain from taking action; they intentionally upheld the sanctity of the electoral process. That is the historical precedent Pence followed.
Since then, no vice president has seriously considered overturning the results of the election. It should be a non-issue. It should be a relatively boring day for the vice president. It should not require courage.
But on January 6, 2021, it required all of Mike Pence’s fortitude. Reflecting on Pence’s actions that day, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, said in the beginning of the third hearing, “Mike Pence and I agree on very little,” but we agreed that “there is no idea more un-American that the notion that one person can choose the president.”
At 3:50 a.m. on Jan. 7, after the congressional session had concluded, the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short, texted Pence a Bible verse, 2 Timothy 4:7-8, which reads, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Under the terms of the U.S. Constitution, Pence should not have had to fight, nor do very much to finish the race. But when confronted with the unimaginable, he kept the faith. He kept his oath.
Lindsay Chervinsky is Senior Fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.
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🤣🤣 someone had to, because Nancy Pelosi and the Mayor of D.C. sure as heck didn’t do anything
The dude says
What should they have done? I guess turtle gets a pass here from you?
Well, Pence finally gets some cool points from me! Can you imagine working with someone four years, putting up with everything they dish out, then having your career ruined and a mob of people trying to hang you for doing your job?
Apparently many conservatives are more concerned about their career (or at least trying to avoid death threats) by agreeing with things that they know are wrong, wrong, wrong.
I believe most of them would claim to be Christian, maybe they should ask themselves what Jesus would do?
The dude says
What Jesus would probably NOT do is to give consideration to disenfranchising 80 million voter’s votes with absolutely no evidence or proof, like pence did.
It’s great he landed on the right side of history here, but he actually considered whether or not to do the orange stain’s bidding. So he gets no kudos for eventually doing the right thing.
by pence not following through with the process, look where we are at today.worst president and cabinet in my lifetime.
Pierre Tristam says
Another citizen of the United States of Amnesia.
Gary R says
‘Democrats Are in Some Serious Trouble’ – New NBC Poll: 75% of Americans Say Country is on Wrong Track Under Joe Biden
Biden’s approval falls in third straight week, nears record low 39% .
Only one with amnesia is Joe Biden.
Not true, Vice President Pence did follow through with the vote certification. However, it did result in the “worst president and cabinet in my (our) lifetime.”
eddie: By Pence not following through with breaking the law, and by putting his own life in danger, he finally won the respect of those who were unhappy with Trump’s authoritarian, selfish, ignorant behavior. It just blows me away that some people are so blind to Trump’s narcissism, and his total disregard for this country of ours, that they would support his treasonous behavior. Believe me, the only loyalty that is important to Trump is loyalty to himself only. He even disparaged his own daughter when she agreed with Barr. All freedom would be lost had Trump overthrown our decision. Thank goodness Pence followed the Constitution of the United States of America!
I’m glad that V.P. Pence ended up following through on his constitutional obligation by certifying the election results. Yay, brownie points for doing his job. He helped avert a constitutional crisis, and probably a nationwide riot. But lets not have amnesia about his four long years of being the nation’s V.P. in the Trump dumpsterfire administration, just standing there with his mouth closed, the obedient lap dog NOT standing up to the many, many despicable and corrupt actions that he surely witnessed, closed his eyes and mouth to, and let happen without so much as a word against any of it. When he had the perfect opportunity to do something patriotic, did he call out his dear leader’s horrible insults directed at a disabled reporter? NO! The horrible insuts directed at John McCain, a national hero and POW? NO! The horrible comments directed at the Gold Star parents of a fallen U.S. soldier? Again, NO, not one solitary word in support of any of them or against what the orange guy was spouting from his mouth that so outraged millions of Americans, but apparently not Pence. When the orange guy’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn was fired for lying to Pence and the FBI, and then later granted a full pardon by the same corrupt prez, did Pence speak up and condemn that? NO! When the corrupt guy in the WH tried to bribe the Ukranian president, and evidence was displayed for the entire world to see and hear the corrupt and illegal behavior, did Pence stand up for America and for what was right? Again, NO, he kept quiet in complicit and tacit obeyance of the corrupt guy once again. And in the end, even after we now know the worst president in American history called his own V.P. on the day of the insurrection a “wimp” and a “pussy” for not going along with his unconstitutional and illegal attempt to subvert democracy and interfere in the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in our nation’s history, has Pence been willing to come forward and give any testimony whatsoever to the congressional committee investigating the insurrection? Absolutely NOT. So don’t hold Pence up as a here… the real heros are the U.S. Capitol Police, D.C. Police, national guard members, Lt Colonel Andrew Vidman and others who stood up to the corrupt orange guy, the mob of rioters and defended our democracy, while Pence merely did his minimal job and has remained silent about his boss ever since.
@Skibum. . . as usual, I couldn’t agree more with your excellent reminder of just a small portion of the ways corrupt and criminal donald trump has completely betrayed our country with pence by his side 99% of the time. Pence is certainly NO hero!
Skibum and Sherry: I agree with you, and I disagree with you at the same time. Whew! I can’t believe I’m defending Pence, but here goes: As VP, it is not his job to spar with the President at every turn. To try to disagree with his boss at every stupid statement, would be not only mind bending (Trump and all his everyday lies and grifting), but he would have been hung, if figuratively, day one. The point is, Pence stood up when the time was necessary, and when he could without banging his head against the wall. The crazy loyalists would have simply ignored him early on. He used the power when he could, and when he was most effective. As you are well aware, there are plenty of Republicans who are still scared shit less, to this day, to go against Trump.
Mike Pence did his job. For four years he displayed more loyalty than just about any vice president in history. On January 6 and in the early hours of January 7, he once again did his job. I do not agree with many of Mike Pence’s political positions, but he seems to be a rare politician who has something that resembles a backbone.
What I am appalled by, is the number of people (voters) who seem willing to still back Donald Trump. Everyday more details are revealed as to his attempted coup. Hundreds of his mislead supporters are going to prison for participating in his plot to overthrow the US government. Isn’t it time for the leader and orchestrator to be given his chance to defend himself in a criminal court?
As to whether Mr. Biden is or is not a good president, let us let history decide. At a minimum, he has not attempted to overthrow the duly elected government of the USA and become a “president for life”.
DaleL: Fox Entertainment refuses to show the inquisition, so many people are ignoring the hearings. If they actually watch it, they will see all the very respectable Republican witnesses speak the truth. But that takes thought.
I’m convinced that there are a lot of people who rather have others think for them, so they can spout out talking points at the cooler, and all agree likes it’s a football game. Kind of “I’m in the know ’cause I watched the one and only *news* channel that’s acceptable ’cause the former President said it was. Are we all in agreement? Good, now let’s have some high fives and get a cup of coffee.”
Hey, remember he did say the economy would “tank” (my term, not his I think… and yes, pun intended) if he wasn’t re-elected… just not when. SD, VIVS, CR, RIU… hum.
FYI- Saudi Dance, Venezuelan Immigrant Voter Support, Capital Riot, Russian Invasion of Ukraine.
Just another conspiracy theory folks, everyone seems to have one these days, I got mine… oil.
I don’t feel the need to comment any further, it all adds up in my opinion… particularly after considering the text to Pence and doing a little research on the history of the verse.
Well, at least I had taken some time to see some of what was left of the “old FL,” before all the “doomsday death cults” moved here (just my opinion). Did I ever mention that was another thing I noticed about FL?… Probably not. Must have been really beautiful back then… when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
James: Aw, no. I love my home state of Florida, there is no other place like it. What you are experiencing now is not new, and not isolated to Florida. North Florida has always been a bit on the rednecky side (think Redneck Riviera) and keep in mind that the KKK were present and flourishing. South Florida was a little more liberal, and had more money simply because it was a fabulous place to go to, and wonderful to live in, but the KKK were there too. We were deep south up north, and northern in the south. My husband and his friend pulled down a burning cross with his truck west of West Palm Beach.
My point being is this kind of crap goes on, fades back and goes on again. Look around. It’s not just Florida, it’s many states and actually, around the world. Florida is simply a victim of too much influx.
As you might have guessed I’m from up North and this may sound kinda nutty, but when I thought of the South when I was a child the first states that I would think of were Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, etc… oddly enough, not Florida. Nor Texas for that matter. Don’t ask me why, I honestly don’t know. Kinda carried over into adulthood I guess. Weird… even more so considering that Georgia is just North of here.
But don’t get me wrong, Florida still is a beautiful state, and there are many good folks here… and many things that you should be proud of… but it is a tough place to live (especially year round, year in year out). And it’s getting really crowded, really over built in my opinion. But then what can you do, real estate construction is a pillar of the economy here. Hey, just part of a big circle that starts in the North and ends here, for a while anyway… until folks like me decide perhaps it’s time to go back. It’s what I like to think of as the “real estate-go-round,” sorta like a merry-go-round but… eh, I’ll just drop it. As for politics, you have a point… other states have similar issues. But then again, I was never that “politically aware” of things until I settled here in PC. St. Augustine does seem to be a little less so… never went further south then Daytona.
James: both my husband and I were born in Broward County, and grew up in Ft. Lauderdale. It was a fabulous place! We did not think of ourselves as being so much down south as they did in north Florida. Now, Ft. Lauderdale has grown so much that when we see an old, familiar place like the Gateway Theater, we point it out in amazement! I once worked at the Tower Club downtown, and it was the tallest building at 28 floors. Now, I have a hard time finding it. Unbelievable growth.
Anyway I guess it’s all relative. I once was chastised at a party in Virginia for commenting how far north we were. A woman told me “I’ll have you know we are south of the Mason Dixon Line!” Um, okay.
Mike Pence was nothing but Orange Man’s hand puppet.
He would gaze at Trump mesmerized as if in awe or in love with him.