CHICAGO — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Monday denounced former President Donald Trump for dining last week with a pair of antisemitic purveyors, Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, but stopped short of saying whether he thought it should disqualify Trump’s bid to recapture the White House.
Pence, the former one-term Indiana governor before joining Trump’s Republican ticket in 2016, is eyeing his own bid for the GOP nomination for president. But he said a decision won’t come before the holidays.
He also said he hasn’t made a decision to cooperate with the U.S. Justice Department on its criminal investigation into Trump’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and Trump’s storing of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving the White House. But he restated his position not to cooperate with the U.S. House select panel reviewing Trump’s role in fomenting the Capitol riots.
Pence appeared before about 300 people at the Union League Club of Chicago as part of a national tour to promote his autobiography, “So Help Me God.”
The book covers his life in politics, including his six terms as an Indiana congressman, the one term as governor, actions in the Trump administration and the day of Jan. 6 when protesters — some threatening his life — sought to stop his role overseeing the counting of Electoral College votes that officially made Democrat Joe Biden president, despite Trump’s intense public and private pressure on Pence to keep him president.
In his book, released earlier this month, Pence flatly declared: “Donald Trump is not anti-semtic. He’s not a racist or a bigot. I would not have been his vice president if he was.”
But when asked where he would have sat at the dinner table in Mar-a-Lago with West, who goes by the name Ye, and Fuentes, a young purveyor of antisemitic and racist white supremacist thought, Pence paused for several seconds before responding. West was raised in Chicago and Fuentes is from the western suburbs.
“Let me say, I think no president, no former president, no one aspiring to be president should ever associate with antisemites, Holocaust deniers or white nationalists under any circumstances. Now, that being said, the president was wrong to give those two people a seat at his table and I think he should apologize,” Pence said.
Trump has not offered any apology.
Despite Trump’s actions, Pence said he still did not think Trump was antisemetic, noting his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism in marrying Jared Kushner and his grandchildren are being raised Jewish. Pence also said the Trump White House was the most “pro-Israel administration in American history.”
He also said the Trump campaign and the administration’s single term was subjected to “a seedy assault … of attacks by the Democrats and by many in the mainstream media that would assume the worst in every situation.”
Pence has refused in previous book tour interviews to answer directly if he believes Trump’s integrity and character are disqualifying factors for the former president to again seek the White House. He did so again Monday when asked if he believed the West and Fuentes meeting should keep Trump out of the presidency.
“I trust the American people will sort all of this out. They will, and ultimately, the presidency belongs to the American people and they will decide. No one individual, no one in the media, will decide who has the opportunity to lead this country,” he said.
In contemplating a run for the presidency, Pence finds himself walking a fine line of not seeking to alienate a Republican base still supportive of the controversial, combative former president while promoting the policies the administration enacted. Republican leaders also are questioning Trump’s hold over the party base and his focus on repeating baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election against a desire to move the party beyond the former president.
Pence, an evangelical Christian, said before he makes a decision about running for the GOP presidential nomination he and his family will “take some time to reflect and pray and hear our kids out and then (wife) Karen and I will do like we’ve always done and that is we’ll just try and respond in our hearts to what our calling is.”
“Whatever the calling is, we’ll follow that calling because we love this country and I believe the best days for America are ahead,” he said.
Of his time in Washington, Pence said he was proud to be part of “one of the most consequential and impactful Republican administrations in American history.”
But Pence also discussed Trump’s actions in the days leading up to Jan. 6. Pence said he repeatedly told Trump he did not have the unilateral power to throw out states electoral votes under the Constitution as the former president had maintained.
On Jan. 6, after he, his wife and daughter were moved into a secure location in the underground parking after rioters broke into the Capitol building, Pence saw a tweet from Trump: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
Pence said he “was angry but I didn’t have time for it. I felt in that moment. I felt I had to put it aside and work the problem. It was clear to me, the president had decided to be a part of the problem,” he said of the efforts to end the rioting.
“In the days to follow, I really prayed for grace. The Bible says, ‘Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.’ But that is easier said than done,” he said. “In my Christian faith, forgiveness is not an option.”
Pence said in the days that followed he spoke to Trump and was “candid with him” about putting his life and that of his family’s in jeopardy. Trump “reflected a genuine remorse about what had happened, a genuine concern about my wife and daughter in the first instance. It made it possible for us to part amicably.”
“Now I will say in the months since we left office, when the (former) president had returned to the same rhetoric in the run-up to that tragic day, I just decided that it’s best that we had gone our separate ways,” Pence said of Trump’s rehashing of false claims of a stolen 2020 election.
“But as I said to him and say in the pages of the book, ‘I’ll never stop praying for you’ and I continue to pray for the president and pray for the grace to live out my faith in a real way,” Pence said.