Former Vice President Mike Pence declined to endorse former President Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign at a CNN town hall on Wednesday, leaving the door open to seek the Republican nomination himself.
A day after the release of his memoir, “So Help Me God,” Pence was mostly coy as he discussed his own plans while praising the Trump administration’s policy agenda.
But Pence was more direct when asked about the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The former vice president called it “the most difficult day of my public life.”
Pence also revealed more about his personal feelings about that day and his thoughts on the state of American politics in the wake of a presidency he said didn’t end well.
Here are takeaways from the town hall:
When asked about Trump’s new presidential campaign, which he announced Tuesday, Pence said he believed there would be “better choices” on the ballot in two years.
Pence left open the possibility that he would be one of those preferred options, as he saw it.
“I’ll keep you posted,” Pence told CNN’s Jake Tapper, who ran the event.
Moments before, wrestling with the Trump issue, Pence said, “I think it’s time for new leadership in this country that will bring us together around our highest ideals.”
Pressed by Tapper about his future, Pence replied, “Maybe there’s someone else in that match I’d rather have.”
It was, Pence said, the “hardest day of my public life.”
“It was important to me, as vice president, that I confidentially offer my advice and counsel to the president. And we did,” Pence said of his role that day, as Trump and others associated with the then president tried to convince him to make an unconstitutional bid to block or overturn the election results.
Pence said his decision to ignore Trump’s pleas was rooted in something deeper than their relationship.
“I had a higher loyalty, and that was to God and the constitution. And that set in motion the confrontation that was to take place on January 6 because I took an oath on the Constitution of the United States,” Pence said.
It was hard to break away from the man who picked him as a running mate for the 2016 election and elevated him to a whisper from the Oval Office, Pence said.
“But I will always believe,” he added, “that we did our duty that day by upholding the Constitution of the United States and the laws of this country and the peaceful transition of power.”
In the days that followed, Pence said, he was angry with Trump over the then-president’s role in the deadly uprising.
“The president’s words and tweet that day were reckless,” Pence said. “They endangered my family and all the people in the Capitol.”
But Pence also shut down all speculation about whether he would testify before the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, saying that “Congress has no right to my testimony.” He said it would set a “terrible precedent” for a congressional committee to convene a vice president to discuss White House deliberations, arguing it would violate the separation of powers and “erode the dynamics between a president and a vice president.
After CNN played footage of rioters chanting “Hang Mike Pence” on Jan. 6, the former vice president said he was saddened to see the footage again, but that right now “it made me angry.”
Pence, who moved to a safe location when the Capitol was breached, said he told Secret Service he would not leave because he insisted on staying at his post, in part because he didn’t want the crowd to see his motorcade drive away.
“But honestly, when I saw that footage, and when I read a tweet that President Trump put out, saying I didn’t have the courage at the time, it really pissed me off,” Pence said. But, he added, “I didn’t have time for it.”
After years on Trump’s side through various scandals and crises — as well as benefiting from the former president’s political rise — Pence said he had decided they would take opposing sides in this fight.
“The president had decided at that point to be part of the problem,” said Pence, who told Tapper he was “determined to be part of the solution.”
Pence then discussed bringing together the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate on a conference call, reaching out to Pentagon and Justice Department officials “to raise additional resources” to assist Capitol Hill police officers. stand.
Congress eventually reconvened on the same day and, after Republican challenges to the count, finally confirmed Biden as the next president.
“We have shown the American people and the world the strength of our institutions (and) the resilience of our democracy,” Pence said. “But those memories, those images will always stay with me.”
Pence described in vivid detail his meetings with Trump in the days following the Capitol riot. When he first saw Trump at the White House days after Jan. 6, he said the then president immediately asked about his family and if they were okay.
While it went against public perception of Trump, Pence said, he believed Trump was “deeply remorseful” at the time.
“I could tell he was saddened by what had happened,” Pence said. “I encouraged him to pray. He often told me he was a believer, and I told him to turn to Jesus in the hope that he would find comfort there—and I did at the time.”
In the days that followed, Pence said he saw Trump for another meeting and the president was still “dejected.” After they finished discussing administrative matters, Pence said, “I reminded him I was praying for him” and Trump was “dismissive.”
“As our meeting came to an end, I got up,” Pence said. “I looked at him and said, I think there are only two things that we will probably never agree on. And he looked up and said, ‘What?’”
“I was referring to my role on January 6,” Pence said. “And then I said, ‘I’ll never stop praying for you.'”
He smiled weakly and said, “That’s right. Never change.’ And we parted amicably as much as possible in the aftermath of those events.”
While bemoaning the Republicans’ disappointing performance in the 2022 midterm elections, Pence noted that candidates who talked about the future outnumbered those who focused more on “justifying the past again.”
“And I expect Republicans will take that to heart,” Pence said.
Asked why he then chose to campaign alongside election deniers — including GOP senate candidates Don Bolduc in New Hampshire and Blake Masters in Arizona, who both lost last week — Pence said party loyalty was more important than other concerns.
“I’ve often said, ‘I’m Christian, conservative, and Republican — in that order. But I’m a Republican,” Pence said, “and once the Republican primary voters picked their nominees, I went to 35 states over the last year and a half to see if we could elect a Republican majority in the House, Senate, elect Republican governors across the country.”
Pence added that his appearance on the stump with a candidate “didn’t mean, as it hasn’t meant in the past, that I agreed with every statement or position that candidates I support have taken in the Republican Party.”
He also tried to create a false equivalence between Trump’s lies about electoral fraud in 2020 and Hillary Clinton’s post-2016 comments, noting that she said, “Donald Trump was not a legitimate president for many years.”
“I think there are way too many question marks about the elections, not just in 2020 but also in 2016,” he said.
Pence has carefully crafted his explanation of events leading up to January 6, during the attack on the Capitol that day, and in his conversations with Trump since then — and he doesn’t deviate from that explanation.
While he’s let go of those events, Pence’s comments over the past few days have been nearly identical in his book, at CNN’s town hall, and in interviews with other news networks.
He had made it clear what he was prepared to say. One of the key points: that Trump listened to the wrong lawyers leading up to January 6; that he was “angry” watching the attack on the Capitol; that he left Trump with a commitment to continue praying for him; and that the two stop talking.
But it’s just as clear where Pence won’t go: He won’t reveal a simmering grudge with Trump, saying his faith commands forgiveness. He won’t blame Republicans entirely for agitating the party’s base with untruths about election fraud. He will not legitimize the work of the House committee investigating the events surrounding that day.
Pence’s slow, deliberate delivery of a consistent message is a hallmark that dates back to his days as a self-described “Rush Limbaugh on decaf” conservative talk show host in Indiana.
It’s an approach that has remained consistent throughout his political career, including 12 years in the House of Representatives and four years as Indiana governor. Pence often repeats much the same message—line by line, paragraph by paragraph—even if that message doesn’t directly answer the question put to him.
This story has been updated with additional developments.