Trump, Pence speeches highlight sharp GOP divide
By JILL COLVIN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The escalating rivalry between former President Donald Trump and his once fiercely loyal Vice President Mike Pence was on full display Tuesday as the two gave dueling speeches in Washington on the future of the Republican Party.
Trump, in his first return to Washington since Democrat Joe Biden ousted him from the White House, repeated the false allegations of voter fraud that sparked the Capitol uprising on Jan. 6, while Pence, in a separate address, implored the party to leave Trump. defeat.
Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general said there was no credible evidence the 2020 election was tainted. The former president’s allegations of fraud have also been flatly dismissed by the courts, including by the judges he appointed.
“It was a disaster, this election,” Trump nonetheless told an audience of cheering supporters at the America First Agenda summit, about a mile from the White House he once called home.
Hours earlier, speaking to a group of conservative students, Pence said, “Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future.”
The speeches highlighted divisions within the party between Trump loyalists who still refuse to accept the 2020 election results and other Republicans who believe the party should focus on the future ahead of the election instead. midterm this fall and beyond.
And they come as the two men laid the groundwork for the expected presidential elections. Trump, in particular, teased his intentions and said on Tuesday he “may have to start over” as he addressed a group of former White House officials and Cabinet members who hammered out a program for a possible second Trump administration.
Pence, once a staunch Trump vice president, spoke about his own “freedom agenda” as he presented a different view of the party at a nearby conference.
“I believe conservatives need to focus on the future to win back America. We cannot afford to take our eyes off the road ahead of us because what is at stake is the very survival of our fashion. of life,” he said in a speech to the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative student group.
Trump also said America’s survival was at stake. In a speech billed as focused on public safety, he painted a grim picture of one nation in decline and another in imminent danger in the face of rising of crime. Among his proposals, he called for executing drug traffickers, sending homeless people to tent cities on the outskirts of cities and expanding his southern border wall.
Biden joined in – on Twitter – dismissing Trump’s claim to have been a law-and-order president.
Referring to the Capitol riot, he tweeted, “I don’t think inciting a mob to attack a police officer is ‘respect for the law.’ You can’t be pro-insurgency and pro-cop — or pro-democracy, or pro-American.
Trump, in his remarks, also spent a lot of time airing his usual grievances, though some advisers urged him to move on.
“If I renounced my beliefs, if I agreed to remain silent, if I stayed home and took time off, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately,” he said. “But that’s not what I will do.”
Despite Trump’s reputation for harshly criticizing his rivals, Pence and other potential GOP candidates have been increasingly brazen in their willingness to take on the man who remains a dominant force in the Republican Party, despite his actions. on Jan. 6, when he stood by his side as a mob of his supporters ransacked the Capitol and tried to prevent certification of Biden’s victory.
The former White House partners also campaigned for rival candidates in Arizona on Friday, while former Pence chief of staff Marc Short recently testified before a federal grand jury investigating the assault on the US Capitol. .
Short was in the building that day as Pence fled an angry mob of rioters calling for his hanging after Trump falsely insisted that Pence had the power to overturn election results.
Pence repeatedly defended his actions that day, even as his decision to stand up to his boss turned large swathes of Trump’s loyal base against him. Polls show Trump remains, by far, the top choice of GOP primary voters, with Pence trailing far behind.
That contrast was highlighted on Tuesday as Trump spoke to an audience of hundreds of cheering supporters gathered for the America First Policy Institute’s two-day America First Agenda summit. The group is widely seen as an “administration in waiting” that could quickly move to the West Wing if Trump runs again and wins.
The event had the feel of a Trump meeting at the White House – but one without Pence.
Pence, meanwhile, received a friendly — but less exuberant — reception from the students, who struggled to break through into a chant of “USA!”.
In his remarks, Pence repeatedly extolled “the Trump-Pence administration.” But the first question he received during a brief question-and-answer session that followed his speech concerned his growing split with Trump, which is particularly stark given the years he has been there. passed as the most loyal acolyte of the former president.
Pence denied that the two “differ on issues,” but acknowledged, “we may differ on focus.”
“I truly believe that elections are about the future and that it’s absolutely critical, at a time when so many Americans are hurting and so many families are struggling, that we don’t give in to the temptation to look back,” he said. he declared. .
Pence has spent the past few months giving political speeches, traveling to early voting states and writing a book that Simon & Schuster announced on Tuesday will be called “So Help Me God” and will be published in November. The publisher said the book would, in part, chronicle “President Trump severed their relationship on January 6, 2021, when Pence fulfilled his oath to the Constitution.
Trump, meanwhile, has spent much of his time since leaving office spreading lies about his loss to cast doubt on Biden’s victory. Indeed, even as the House Jan. 6 committee laid bare his attempts to stay in power and his refusal to call out a violent mob of his supporters as they tried to halt the peaceful transition of power, Trump has continued to try to pressure officials to overturn Biden’s victory, although there is no legal way to decertify it.
The America First Policy Institute is one of many Trump-allied organizations that have continued to champion his priorities in his absence. In addition to the summit, the group has been making preparations for another possible Trump administration, hoping to avoid the early chaos of Trump’s first term by “making sure we have the policies, personnel, and process nailed down.” for every key agency when we take to the White House,” said AFPI President Brooke Rollins, who previously served as the head of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council.
While the organization was once seen as a landing zone for former Trump administration officials cut off from more lucrative jobs, it has grown into a behemoth, with an operating budget of around $25 million and 150 employees, including 17 former senior White House officials and nine former Cabinet members overseeing nearly two dozen policy centers.
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