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Pence defends his actions on Jan. 6 during event on University of Iowa campus

Vice President Mike Pence plans to attend President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.
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When former Vice President Mike Pence was asked by an audience member who told him to buck former President Trump's plan to overturn the election results, Pence replied, "James Madison."

Former Vice President Mike Pence defended his actions on Jan. 6 during an event at the University of Iowa Monday night. Speaking to a conservative campus organization, Pence largely avoided directly referencing the divisive 2020 election and its violent aftermath during his prepared remarks, but when questioned by an audience member about why he didn’t overturn the Electoral College results, Pence pushed back.

The 2020 election and former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat have drastically reshaped American politics and have shaken some voters’ beliefs in the bedrock of the country’s democracy: free and fair elections.

These issues were not the focus of Pence’s speech at an event hosted by the UI chapter of Young Americans for Freedom on Monday, but when questioned about Jan. 6, Pence said he did his duty.

“What is the name of the person who told you to buck President Trump’s plan and certify the votes?” an audience member asked Pence.

“James Madison,” Pence replied, eliciting laughter and applause from others in the audience of some 700 at the UI’s Iowa Memorial Union.

“I understand the disappointment in the election. You might remember I was on the ballot. But you’ve got to be willing to do your duty.”
-former Vice President Mike Pence, on his actions on Jan. 6

Pence went on to say that he shared voters’ concerns about “irregularities” in the 2020 election and supported efforts in states like Georgia and Arizona to “improve voter integrity," but said that the federal government’s responsibility is simply to count the votes certified by the states.

“The constitution is very clear that elections are to be governed at the state level. The founders actually made that decision at the constitutional convention. And the only role of the federal government is to open and count the electoral votes that are sent by the states,” Pence said. “Now, I understand the disappointment in the election. You might remember I was on the ballot. But you’ve got to be willing to do your duty.”

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Some Republicans have abandoned Pence for not heeding Trump’s call to unilaterally overturn the Electoral College results. Pence became a central target for rioters on Jan. 6. That day, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, some erecting a gallows and others chanting “Hang Mike Pence”, after Trump had propelled his supporters to Washington following months of assailing the election process and falsely claiming he had won.

Reporting has shown that rioters who rampaged the building on the hunt for lawmakers came perilously close to finding Pence as he and his family were whisked away to a secure location. In the midst of the attack, Trump tweeted Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what needed to be done."

Still, Pence continues to tout his role in Trump’s administration, highlighting their efforts to cut taxes, limit immigration, and appoint hundreds of federal judges, including three U.S. Supreme Court justices.

“I couldn’t be more proud to have served alongside the most pro-life president in American history,” Pence said.

“I couldn’t be more proud to have served alongside the most pro-life president in American history."
-former Vice President Mike Pence

A recent Des Moines Register / Mediacom Iowa Poll found that Trump remains deeply popular among Iowa Republicans: at a stunning 91 percent, Trump has a higher favorability rating among Iowa Republicans now than when he was in office.

Speaking Monday, Pence compared Trump to former President Ronald Reagan, who Pence said was one of his own political heroes.

“Reagan’s victory in 1980 breathed new life into our party and into conservatism,” Pence said. “I think today we actually find ourselves in a very similar position. President Donald Trump was also one of a kind. Think about it. He too disrupted the status quo, challenged the establishment, invigorated a movement and once again there is no turning back.”

Trump’s rise has indeed marked a turning point in American politics, one that has transformed the Republican Party and severely undermined Republicans’ trust in election outcomes. A recent NPR / PBS NewsHour / Marist College poll found that while a majority of Americans trust that elections are fair, just a third of Republicans agree. Voters told pollsters that their concerns would carry into the 2024 presidential election as well: 33 percent of Republicans said they would trust the outcome if their candidate lost, compared to 82 percent of Democrats.

Justin Lieber, a University of Iowa student who supported the Trump-Pence ticket and attended the event Monday, said that while some aspects of the 2020 vote seemed “suspicious," he himself hasn’t seen any legitimate evidence to back up claims of massive fraud.

“Just like our court system: innocent until proven guilty. Until there’s actual evidence, then we can take it further,” Lieber.

“A lot people, they want to win no matter what,” Lieber added. “A lot of it is just human nature, of us versus them. They just want to see their party win.”

Pence is among the latest potential presidential hopefuls to test the political waters in Iowa ahead of 2024. Trump himself drew a crowd of thousands at a rally in Des Moines last month.

Ahead of his prepared remarks to the crowd of an estimated 700 people, who appeared to be mostly college students, Pence opened with a highly produced campaign-style video blasting President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy, his public health mandates to address the coronavirus, and a rise in crime in communities across the country. The video also highlighted Pence’s role in Trump’s administration, featuring images of them working together and ending with the tagline “Advancing American Freedom."

Lieber, the UI student, said Pence is not at the top of his list of presidential hopefuls. Instead, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has caught his eye for his “values” and his forceful opposition to “mandates” aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. But Lieber reasoned that if Trump were to run again, he would obliterate the Republican field.

“I don’t even know if it’ll really be an option for anyone else if Trump does run again,” Lieber said. “I would want him to [run again] but I think in order to win, the Republican Party would probably have a better chance of winning with someone else in there.”