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Mike Pence: A Profile In Courage

On January 6, 2021, as insurrectionists invaded the United States Capitol, Vice President Pence could have taken the Secret Service's advice and fled. He did not. He could have put the safety of his family, who were with him, first. He did not. He could have succumbed to the wishes of President Trump and refused to certify the electors of states where the results were disputed. He did not.

He could have ignored the insurrectionists' chants to "hang Mike Pence." He did. He could have told the President whom he had loyally supported that he would follow the law and the Constitution. He did. And he could have announced from the Congressional dias that Joe Biden had been elected President of the United States. He did.

Pence declares Biden winner of the presidential election

Pence declares Biden winner of the presidential election.

For doing what was right in the face of tremendous pressure to do otherwise, Vice President Pence deserves to be counted as a "Profile in Courage." More importantly, he has earned the thanks of the American Public. The Vice President did not have to stay at the Capitol and perform his constitutional duty. He had an easy out, which would have thrown the certification of the election into doubt, preserved his political future, and, at the same time, not put him in a situation where he would violate the Constitution by refusing to certify the election.

He could have left the Capitol. But he did not. Instead, he stayed and did what was right.

Notwithstanding constant pressure from a President whom he had faithfully and unquestioningly supported, Vice President Pence was adamant that he did not have the constitutional authority to do as Trump wished. The Vice President made it clear to Trump that his role on January 6 was purely ministerial, without any authority to do more than count the electoral votes and announce the results.

The Vice President sought the best legal advice he could find to determine his role when the Congress met on January 6 to count the electoral votes and decide who would be the next president. He concluded that the 12th Amendment to the Constitution dictated his responsibilities and limited him as President of the Senate to

in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted

The Vice President's role was akin to a clerk opening the electoral certificates from each State and counting the electoral votes. Vice President Pence believed he had no power to reject any of the reported State votes or to refuse to certify the election winner.

Trump publicly pressured the Vice President to do otherwise. At a January 4th Georgia rally, Trump put his fate in the Vice President's hands. "I hope Mike Pence comes through for us," he told the crowd. The next day, in a meeting in the Oval Office, Trump pressed the Vice President to refuse to certify the election and send the vote count back to the States. Vice President Pence refused. At 1 a.m. on the morning of January 6, Trump tweeted,

“If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency,”

Then, in a prelude to the attempted insurrection, Trump announced that January 6 would be a "wild" rally. Right-wing message boards began to light up with discussions about building a gallows outside the Capitol. One user wrote that it "[c]ould be built very quickly with the right plan and the right people bringing pre-cut materials to the site!"

Gallows built in front of the Capitol.

Gallows built in front of the Capitol.

Fueled by Trump whipping them into a frenzy, the "wild" rally led to the insurrectionists breaching the Capitol. Trump had placed the responsibility for sabotaging the election of President Biden on Vice President Pence by informing the crowd that

"[i]f Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election . . . All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people."

The Capitol Police were overwhelmed by insurrectionists armed with clubs, bear spray, stun guns, and baseball bats. One officer, who was repeatedly shocked with a stun gun, succumbed to a fatal heart attack. Others were beaten, stabbed with a flag pool used as a spear, or crushed in between doors while being hit on the head. Five died defending the Capitol.

Capitol Police officer being beaten on January 6

The unaided and outnumbered Capitol Police, although valiant in their actions, could not stop the insurrectionists from flooding into the Capitol.

Testimony of Capital before the January 6 Select Committee

Before the insurrectionists could reach the Senate Chambers, the Secret Service ushered away Vice President Pence. The Vice President's wife and daughter had previously joined him, and some reports put them all within 100 feet of insurrectionists.

Trump delayed taking any steps to calm his insurrectionists. Instead, he focused his ire on the Vice President. Trump tweeted that

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify,”

Surveillance footage showed the insurrectionists reading Trump's words aloud and breaking into chants of "Hang Mike Pence!" According to testimony before the January 6 Select Committee, Trump responded, "Maybe our supporters have the right idea."

Vice President Pence and his family were brought unharmed to a secure underground loading dock, where his motorcade waited to take him to a safe location. With most of his staff already in the vehicles, the Secret Service strongly advised the Vice President to leave the Capitol. He refused, stating that he would not be seen fleeing the Capitol. Two more times, the Secret Service attempted to convince the Vice President to leave the Capitol. Two more times, the Vice President refused.

Vice President Pence taking a call at the loading dock on January 6

Vice President Pence taking a call at the loading dock on January 6

The Vice President waited about four and a half hours at the underground loading dock until the Capitol was resecured. At about 8 p.m., Vice President Pence called the Congress back into session with this message.

“Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol. But thanks to the swift efforts of U.S. Capitol Police, federal, state and local law enforcement, the violence was quelled. The Capitol is secured. And the people’s work continues."

When the Vice President announced, "Let's get back to work," he was greeted with applause.

Several hours later, at 3:40 a.m. on January 7, Vice President Pence declared Trump's and his election defeat and the election of President Biden and Vice President Harris.

Would it have made a difference if Vice President Pence had left the Capitol and not been present to officiate the counting of the electoral votes? Maybe not, since the vice president did not oversee the count on at least one prior occasion, the 1968 election of Richard Nixon. However, in 1968, the defeated candidate, Hubert Humphrey, was not yelling that the election had been stolen.

One thing is sure. Trump and his cronies believed that the Vice President leaving the Capitol was the next best thing to him refusing to certify the election. It would have given Trump one more basis for challenging the election since the 12th Amendment to the Constitution states that the Vice President is to preside over the vote counting. Further chaos and uncertainty were the friends of the Trump campaign's attempt to overturn the election. Their ultimate goal was to throw the matter into the lap of the courts, with the Supreme Court being the ultimate arbitrator. Trump believed that the Justices he had appointed would show the loyalty that he expected but did not receive from the Vice President.

Insurrectionists breaking into Capitol on January 6

The Vice President had an easy cover if he had chosen to leave the Capitol. The Secret Service told him it was unsafe and that he should go. He had no choice. He had to protect his wife and daughter. The Vice President ignored the advice of his security detail and stayed. He chose to ignore the demands of the President and to count the electoral votes as cast. Vice President Pence put it best: "

President Trump asked me to put him over the Constitution, But I chose the Constitution, and I always will,”

Whether you agree with the Vice President's politics or not, his actions on January 6 are to be honored. He was a true patriot, putting his political future his and his families safety aside to serve his country faithfully. Thank you.

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