Pence warns about focus on 2020 election as Trump returns to Washington
Former Vice President Mike Pence distanced himself from Donald Trump's repeated falsehoods about a stolen 2020 election on Tuesday, saying hours before the former president due to speak in Washington that conservatives need to focus on the future to win.
"I don't know that the president and I differ on issues. But we may differ on focus. I truly do believe that elections are about the future," Pence told an audience of young conservatives in a speech at the Heritage Foundation think tank.
"It's absolutely essential at a time when so many Americans are hurting, so may families are struggling, that we don't give way to the temptation to look back."
Pence, who is considering his own run for president in 2024, laid out his "freedom agenda" for conservatives ahead of Trump's return to Washington for the first since he left office. Trump is due to speak across town at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) at a Republican summit devoted to his America First agenda.
The audience chanted "USA! USA! USA!" as Pence took the stage and applauded his remarks about Trump and the election.
"Conservatism is bigger than any one moment, any one election or any one person," Pence said in a 40-minute speech punctuated by several veiled references to Trump.
"In order to win, conservatives need to do more than criticize and complain. We must unite our movement behind a bold, optimistic agenda," he said.
Trump makes repeated false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democratic President Joe Biden through massive voter fraud. And he has harshly criticized Pence for refusing to block certification of Biden's victory in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, some chanting: "Hang Mike Pence."
The congressional committee investigating the deadly melee presented testimony last week that members of Pence's security detail feared for their lives and made phone calls to say good-bye to family members, as Trump supporters rampaged through the building.
Pence, who made only a passing reference to the assault as "a tragic day in our nation's capital," took the stage amid signs of new momentum in a US Justice Department probe into the Capitol assault and a plot by Trump allies to overturn the 2020 election with fake electors.
Former top Pence aide Marc Short last week became the highest profile official to appear before a federal grand jury investigating the two issues.
A loyal lieutenant during the four years of Trump's tumultuous presidency, Pence said in February that he did his duty by certifying Biden's victory, and added that "there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president."
On Tuesday, Pence predicted that his agenda would build on the policy successes of the "Trump-Pence administration."
"I'll always be grateful for the opportunity to serve as vice president," he said.