Chicago Sun-Times

Pence rebukes Trump, Tucker Carlson at Gridiron dinner — But will he testify for special counsel?

- LYNN SWEET D.C. DECODER | @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence knew exactly what he was doing on Saturday night. And where.

Pence delivered his strongest rebuke yet to Donald Trump and Fox News host Tucker Carlson over the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, speaking at a journalist­s’ dinner. In a second surprise, Pence praised the press, as Trump et al continue to take shots at “fake news.”

This download from Pence was calculated, coming as he is mulling a likely 2024 GOP bid for the White House.

The venue he picked to distance himself further from Trump, who is already in the 2024 race, was the 138th annual Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner.

Pence had many options when it came to picking a place to slam Trump and Carlson. Speaking to an establishm­ent journalism organizati­on in D.C. — with members of the Biden White House flanking him at the head table — is no way to appeal to the GOP base.

Pence spoke as denialism — whether about the 2020 election or the related Jan. 6 violence aimed at keeping Trump in power — is rooted among many in the Republican base. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in the cause of furthering denialism and pandering to Carlson, handed the Fox News host thousands of hours of U.S. Capitol surveillan­ce footage from Jan. 6, 2021. Carlson is using some clips to back up his bogus claim that the rioters were “sightseein­g.”

It’s a Gridiron tradition to have three speakers: Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke for the White House; New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy commented on behalf of the Democrats and Republican­s, respective­ly.

The white-tie and tails for men — and gowns for women — dinner was a gathering of some 650 —power brokers in politics, government, business and labor. Pence knew — he spoke for the Trump administra­tion at the 2017 Gridiron Dinner — he was speaking to many influentia­l political reporters who will be covering the 2024 presidenti­al race and shaping the narrative about him.

The evening consisted of speeches and a show produced by club members, featuring songs digging at Democrats, Republican­s, the Biden White House, congressio­nal and political figures and others in the news this past year such as Elon Musk.

I’m a Gridiron member and was club president in 2017. I sang and danced a bit in the show’s chorus.

The Gridiron is not televised or photograph­ed — which limits its political impact for cable hosts who want to impale Pence with his own words.

The show is on the record. Pence started his routine with jokes, as is the custom in these sort of dinners, including the best kind, self-deprecatin­g. Mocking his well-known devout religious beliefs, he quipped he was not “some kind of religious nut. Just ask my sons, Jedidiah, Obadiah and Zacharia. It’s true. I’m a man of deep faith. In fact, my preferred pronouns are Thou and Thine.

“… I read that some of those classified documents they found at Mar-a-Largo were actually stuck in the President’s Bible. Which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there. Honestly, I learned a lot working beside Donald Trump, like about subpoenas, for instance.”

Then Pence turned serious. “January 6 was a tragic day. I was there at the Capitol. And let me assure you. It was not, as some would have us believe, a matter of tourists peacefully enjoying themselves,” Pence said to applause.

“Tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by sightseein­g. Tourists don’t break down doors to get to the speaker of the House or voice threats against public officials.”

Pence said, the “American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6th. I expect members of the Fourth Estate to continue to do their job. And make no mistake about it: What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.

“And to my fellow Americans who are gathered here: For as long as I live, I will never, ever diminish the injuries sustained, the lives lost or the heroism of law enforcemen­t on that tragic day. So help me God.

“… President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election, and his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountabl­e for his actions.” Let’s not get carried away. Pence never testified before the now-disbanded House January 6th committee — the one chaired by now-former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

And he has yet to cooperate with Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal probe into Trump’s attempt to stay in power and deny Joe Biden the presidency. There are reports Pence is fighting Smith’s subpoena.

“I genuinely value what you do to keep us a democracy,” Pence told the journalist­s in closing.

Pence took on Trump and Carlson over Jan. 6 on Saturday. Let’s see if he does it again. And where.

 ?? ANNA MONEYMAKER/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO ?? Former Vice President Mike Pence slammed Donald Trump and Fox News host Tucker Carlson over Jan. 6 at the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner on Saturday night.
ANNA MONEYMAKER/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO Former Vice President Mike Pence slammed Donald Trump and Fox News host Tucker Carlson over Jan. 6 at the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner on Saturday night.
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