Thursday’s January 6 committee hearing focused heavily on one aspect of former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election: The pressure campaign he levied against former Vice President Mike Pence and the verbal attacks he used to do so.
Lawmakers on the committee spotlighted a reportedly fiery phone call that took place the morning of January 6, which emphasized how Trump targeted Pence despite the fact that multiple experts told him the vice president didn’t have the power to overturn the election. It illustrated, too, the escalation in Trump’s rhetoric, which the committee linked to violence at the Capitol.
After days of pushing Pence to reject the electoral votes — which Pence repeatedly refused to do — Trump called the vice president on January 6. In that call, which multiple staffers described as “heated,” Trump reportedly berated Pence, calling him a “wimp” and what an assistant to Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump described as the “p-word.”
“You’re not tough enough to make the call,” Trump reportedly said, according to testimony from Pence’s former national security adviser, retired Gen. Keith Kellogg.
For days, Trump and Pence had gone back and forth over the vice president’s role in certifying the election. According to the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act, the vice president’s role is to oversee the counting of the ballots and the announcement of the outcome. The committee detailed how Trump adviser John Eastman, a conservative lawyer, convinced the president that vice presidents have the power to adjudicate the legitimacy of electoral votes and to control the counting process. This is false, and Pence and his advisers consistently told Trump so, the committee found.
After the January 6 call, Pence stayed committed to completing the election certification as planned and headed to the Capitol. Trump, meanwhile, amended the remarks he was expected to give at the “Stop the Steal” rally on the National Mall, going out of his way to call out Pence and his ability to address the unfounded election fraud allegations.
“Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you,” Trump said in his remarks at the rally.
Trump’s remarks, as well as a tweet that he sent later in the afternoon also naming the vice president, fueled vitriol toward Pence, who became the target of the insurrectionists’ ire. Rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” as they broke into the Capitol, and put up a gallows outside. A confidential informant also told the FBI that members of the Proud Boys would have killed Pence had they found him as well as other lawmakers they encountered, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The revelations are striking in that they emphasize the intense pressure Pence was under to break the law at the president’s behest. They also highlight an extended campaign to convince Trump that overturning the election wasn’t possible — at least not legally — and his refusal to accept that reality.