Former President Donald Trump on Friday criticized former Vice President Mike Pence as lacking “courage” for refusing to carry out a plan to overturn the 2020 election results, echoing a tweet Trump sent on Jan. 6, 2021 as the country’s second-in-command sheltered from a violent mob attacking the U.S. Capitol.
In a keynote speech at a conservative Christian political conference in Nashville, Trump delivered a lengthy speech against what he calls a “ludicrous narrative” and “witch hunt” as a House committee continues its investigation into Trump’s role in the attack.
Former Trump aides and staff testified on Thursday of Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence to illegally reject the 2020 election results. A former Trump assistant testified Trump called Pence a “wimp” in a heated Jan. 6 phone call.
“I never called Mike Pence a wimp,” Trump said. “Mike Pence had a chance to be great. He had a chance to be, frankly, historic, but just like Bill Barr and the rest of these weak people, Mike did not have the courage to act.”
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The bipartisan committee on Thursday alleged Trump's actions endangered the vice president's life in his pursuit of a legal theory that Pence could overturn the election. Pence refused to do so. Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, called the strategy "illegal and unconstitutional."
Enthusiastic crowd for speakers
Trump spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, where hundreds gathered this week to hear prominent conservative and evangelical speakers at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority."
Despite the friendly reception, Trump's speech struck a discordant tone from other speakers at the conference that at times resembled a well-produced church service.
Following a speech from Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw encouraging Republicans not to match the "sheer anger of the left" in actions and rhetoric, Trump mocked political opponents' appearances and said he believes one Republican on the select committee has a "mental disorder."
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The conference featured a slate of Republican heavy hitters and Tennessee’s Senate delegation, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Sen. Bill Hagerty and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, all of whom avoided any mention of the ongoing Jan. 6 committee investigation on Thursday and early Friday.
Before his own speech at the Faith & Freedom conference, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted Thursday that "Real America" doesn't care about the Jan. 6 investigations.
But Trump appeared to be paying attention, spending more than a half hour of his speech disparaging the committee and current Republican leadership.
"We have to fight some very sick and very evil people,” Trump said, describing the bipartisan House committee as having a “menacing spirit” and being “con artists" putting on a "theatrical production."
Trump said if he sought a second term in 2024, he would "very seriously" consider giving pardons to the hundreds of people arrested in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The rioters face charges ranging from seditious conspiracy to assaulting law enforcement.
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Fight for control in the midterms
Conference speakers this week repeatedly referred to upcoming midterm elections as a "battle," invoking biblical and military language to rally supporters for an aggressive push to take back the upper chamber and effectively hobble Democratic President Joe Biden for the remainder of his term.
"It is time to rescue America," Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said. "God favors those who are bold."
Multiple speakers decried public schools and education trends, an ongoing, hot-topic issue that has raged in school board meetings and state legislatures since last year.
Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praised school choice, calling students "hostages" to the public education system.
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"Today, kids have been held hostage to radical-left fever dreams," DeVos said. "Education should not be in the domain of government, it should be in the domain of family."
Even with the attention on the 2022 midterms, Trump's appearance stoked continuing questions about his potential candidacy for another term in 2024. Haley, a one-time Trump critic and rumored to be considering a presidential run herself, told a conference attendee on Thursday she would support Trump if he ran.
"Would anybody like me to run for president?" Trump asked on Friday, to thunderous applause.
Reach Melissa Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Trump slams Pence in speech after Jan 6 hearing highlighted feud