‘President Trump is wrong’: Pence rebukes claim he could have overturned election

Steven Lemongello
Orlando Sentinel (TNS)
President Donald Trump gestures toward Vice President Mike Pence as the two appeared together at a "Keep America Great" rally at the Giant Center in Hershey Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

ORLANDO, Fla. — Mike Pence rebuked former President Donald Trump on Friday, telling Federalist Society members in Orlando that he had no power to keep his ex-boss in the White House.

“I heard this week that President Trump said I had a right to overturn the election. President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election,” Pence said in his most forceful admonition yet of Trump’s false claims.

“Frankly, there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” the former vice president said at the conference at Disney World’s Yacht Club resort.

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The event also included a “fireside chat” between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in which DeSantis criticized Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and said he hoped President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court pick would evolve over time to the right.

Pence’s remarks come after Trump said in a statement last week that the bipartisan attempt to change the law about certifying presidential elections means Pence could have changed the results.

“Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away,” Trump said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the election!”

The Federalist Society, a conservative legal group founded 40 years ago, has risen to become one of the most powerful organizations in the country. Five members of the Society sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Trump based his three selections to the court in large part on its recommendations.

Pence, the first speaker at the gathering of the Florida chapters of the Society, praised Republicans and conservative Supreme Court justices and bashed Biden for much of his speech.

He said Roe v. Wade, the 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, must be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” A scheduled panel at the event plans to focus on whether the decision could be overturned this year.

But after having only mentioned Trump once, and repeating his slogan that they had “made America great again” during their four years in power, Pence turned to Trump’s claims.

“Jan. 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States,” Pence said. “Lives were lost. Many were injured. Thanks to the courageous action of the Capitol Police and federal law enforcement, the violence was quelled. The Capitol was secured. And we reconvened the Congress that very same day to finish our work under the Constitution of the United States and the laws of this country.”

Pence said elections were conducted at the state level, adding that “the only role Congress has with respect to the Electoral College is to open and count votes submitted and certified by the states. No more, no less. ... Under the Constitution, I have no right to change the outcome of our election. And Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.”

The crowd of about 500 loudly applauded Pence at this point, and again at the end of his speech.

“Look, I understand the disappointment many feel about the last election,” Pence continued. “... But whatever the future holds, I know we did our duty that day. ... And the truth is there’s more at stake than our party’s political fortunes. Men and women, if we lose faith in the Constitution, we don’t just lose elections. We lose our country.”

Pence’s comments came on the same day the Republican National Committee officially declared the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol “legitimate political discourse.” The ex-vice president was threatened by members of the pro-Trump mob shouting, “hang Mike Pence,” hundreds were injured and five people died during the assault or in the aftermath.

The Republican National Committee also censured Republican U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their participation in the Jan. 6 committee looking into the events of that day.

DeSantis echoed much of his usual talking points in his “chat” with McEnany, including his opposition to vaccine mandates and school mask mandates. He did not comment on Pence’s remarks.

He also said his “anti-woke” bill banning critical race theory, despite the theory not currently being taught in Florida schools, would be a “brick wall against all things woke. This is where woke goes to die.”

Asked about Biden’s upcoming pick to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, DeSantis said he hoped Biden would pick someone who “kind of drifts the other way into a more constitutionalist posture.”

He also criticized Roberts, saying he “views his job as to make the court quote, ‘not political.’ And he tries to do that by being political, so that he’s not seen as doing a Republican decision.”

He drew applause when he said some people joined the society thinking it would help them advance their judicial careers.

“Honestly, it doesn’t make much of a difference with me at this point,” DeSantis said of society membership. “Too many people are joining and thinking that that’s a ticket to be able to be a judge.”