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Cheney: Pence ‘was essentially the president for most of’ Jan. 6

The Hill logo The Hill 9/20/2022 Mychael Schnell
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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Monday said former Vice President Mike Pence “was essentially the president for most of” the day on Jan. 6, 2021, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol in a failed effort to stop the counting of electoral votes for the 2020 presidential election.

“If you watched our hearings closely, you know that Mike Pence was essentially the president for most of that day,” Cheney, one of the two Republicans serving on the Jan. 6 House select committee, said in remarks delivered at the American Enterprise Institution.

“White House staff knew it, and so did every other Republican and Democratic leader in Washington,” she added.

In their public hearing on July 21, the Jan. 6 select committee documented Trump’s inaction during 187 minutes of the riot — he did not contact senior law enforcement and military leaders, D.C. government officials or Pence — and put a spotlight on the vice president’s role in mobilizing authorities to quell the mob.

The panel has sought to demonstrate that Trump was at the center of a scheme to keep himself in power.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pence called him two or three times during the riot.

“He was very animated and he issued very explicit, very direct, unambiguous orders. There was no question about that,” Milley said in a clip of his deposition shown at the hearing.

“And he was — and I can give you the exact quotes I guess from some of our record somewhere, but he was very animated, very direct, very firm,” he added.

In response to a question Monday about Pence’s role on Jan. 6, and if he may have exceeded his constitutional duty, Cheney said the then-vice president “was doing absolutely what you would expect anybody in that situation to do.”

“I think that when you look at the other people who were involved that day and the actions they took, they all were acting in a way that you would expect them to. And I don’t believe that at any point the vice president exceeded his constitutional duties and obligations by saying ‘the Capitol is under attack and it needs to stop and we need to get help here,’” she added.

In a June interview with CNN, Cheney called Pence “a hero on Jan. 6.”

Cheney, a three-term congresswoman who hails from a political dynasty, emerged as the face of the anti-Trump wing of the Republican Party after speaking out against the former president’s claims of election fraud and voting to impeach him following the Jan. 6 attack.

Her posture in the party has made her a frequent target of Trump’s ire, and has shaken up her political career: she was ousted from her place as the No. 3 lawmaker in the House GOP conference last year, and this summer she lost her reelection primary to Trump-backed lawyer Harriet Hageman.

After being driven out of her role as House GOP conference chairwoman last year, the Wyoming Republican said she would “do everything I can” to keep Trump out of the White House. Last month, less than 24 hours after she lost her reelection bid, Cheney said she was “thinking about” running for president.

Asked whether a third-party run might be possible, Cheney said “third parties, for all the reasons everyone knows, strike me as very challenging.”

“There’s no question that we’re at a moment where the ground is shifting politically,” she said, but added: “I don’t know that a third party is the answer.”

The congresswoman went on to critique both the Democratic and Republican parties, commenting on the “fringe” elements of the groups.

She said she hopes that both major parties “can return to some sanity,” adding “I really think there are millions of people around the party who are not reflexively partisan and do not want to embrace the fringe of either party.”

“I think for the Republicans, unfortunately right now, the fringe is in charge and is dangerous,” she said.

“I’m not ready to, sort of, abandon that, and I think we really do need to focus on getting back to substance and policy … on both sides,” she added.

Cheney on Monday night also told a story from Jan. 6, when Republican lawmakers were in the GOP cloakroom before the riot signing up to object to slates of electors.

“As I was sitting there, a member came in and he signed his name on each one of the state’s sheets. And then he said under his breath, ‘the things we do for the orange Jesus.’ And I thought, you know, you’re taking an act that is unconstitutional,” Cheney recalled.

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