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Press: Mike Pence sets the bar for 2024 

Former Vice President Mike Pence gives a lecture at Christ Chapel on the campus of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich., on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (David Guralnick/Detroit News via AP)

Here are four words I never thought I’d hear from my own lips: “Thank you, Mike Pence.” 

Yes, no matter what I think of his politics, a big thank you to Mike Pence for having the courage to tell the truth. For barging in where no other real or potential 2024 GOP contender has yet dared to go. For unequivocally condemning what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, and holding Donald Trump personally responsible. 

At Saturday night’s Gridiron Dinner, Pence stunned the audience by suddenly shifting from a few humorous one-liners to a powerful jeremiad on Jan. 6 — laying the blame squarely on his former boss. “History will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6,” Pence said. “President Trump was wrong. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.”  

Then, in a direct slap at Fox News, the former VP declared: “Make no mistake about it. What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.” Repudiating Fox host Tucker Carlson’s assertion that rioters on Jan. 6 were actually nothing but “orderly and meek” sightseers, Pence snarled: “Tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing. Tourists don’t break down doors to get to the Speaker of the House. Tourists don’t threaten public officials.”  

He could have added: “Tourists don’t erect a gallows in front of the Capitol and threaten to hang the vice president of the United States.” 

True, Pence waited a long time to say it. But so what? What’s important is that Mike Pence did say it. And, in so doing, Pence, wittingly or unwittingly, set the bar for what will be the signature issue of the 2024 campaign. It won’t be crime, the economy, abortion, education, foreign policy or climate change. The first test any candidate for any office in 2024 will face is simply this: Do you condemn the attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 and those responsible for it? Yes, or no? 

Given the overwhelming evidence on Jan. 6 — the fact that 140 police officers were assaulted and five officers died in the days and weeks after the attack; the Justice Department’s recent report that at least 1,000 people have been arrested for their role in the assault — it’s amazing we’re even having this debate. But House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), won’t let it go. 

In a speech on the House floor late on the day of the attack, McCarthy condemned the attack and said former President Trump “bears responsibility” for it. But, after his visit to Mar-a-Lago on Jan. 28, 2021, McCarthy changed course and is now leading a campaign to downplay the insurrection. 

It was McCarthy who released the entire 41,000 hours of videotape of Jan. 6 exclusively to Tucker Carlson, most likely knowing that Carlson would cherry-pick clips of the tapes to buttress his argument that Jan. 6 was no big deal. And it’s McCarthy who’s ultimately responsible for sending a congressional delegation led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to D.C. jails — to make sure that those already convicted and serving time for assaulting the Capitol are being properly cared for. McCarthy is the House Speaker. Without his OK, that visit would never take place. 

This should be an easy test, for all Americans, simply to admit that Jan. 6 was a direct attack on our government and that those who inspired, planned or carried it out must be held accountable. It should be a no-brainer. Yet, it’s stunning how many Republicans still fail the test. 

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is also the author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”   

Tags 2024 presidential election Donald Trump Jan. 6 Capitol riot Kevin McCarthy Marjorie Taylor Greene Mike Pence Tucker Carlson

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