By ZEKE MILLER and CHRIS MEGERIAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday harshly criticized former President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, widening the rift between the two men as they prepare to battle over the Republican nomination in next year’s election.
“President Trump was wrong,” Pence said during remarks at the annual white-tie Gridiron Dinner attended by politicians and journalists. “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 history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
Pence’s remarks were the sharpest condemnation yet from the once-loyal lieutenant who has often shied away from confronting his former boss. Trump has already declared his candidacy. Pence has not, but he’s been laying the groundwork to run.
In the days leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Trump pressured Pence to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory as he presided over the ceremonial certification of the results. Pence refused, and when rioters stormed the Capitol, some chanted that they wanted to “hang Mike Pence.”
The House committee that investigated the attack said in its final report that “the President of the United States had riled up a mob that hunted his own Vice President.”
With his remarks, Pence solidified his place in a broader debate within the Republican Party over how to view the attack. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, for example, recently provided Tucker Carlson with an archive of security camera footage from Jan. 6, which the Fox News host has used to downplay the day’s events and promote conspiracy theories.
“Make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace,” Pence said in his Gridiron Dinner remarks. “And it mocks decency to portray it any other way.”
Trump, meanwhile, has continued to spread lies about his election loss. He’s even spoken in support of the rioters and said he would consider pardoning them if he was reelected.
Speeches at the Gridiron Dinner are usually humorous affairs, where politicians poke fun at each other, and Pence did plenty of that as well.
He joked that Trump’s ego was so fragile, he wanted his vice president to sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” — one of the lines is “did you ever know that you’re my hero?” — during their weekly lunches.
He took another shot at Trump over classified documents.
“I read that some of those classified documents they found at Mar-a-Lago were actually stuck in the president’s Bible,” Pence said. “Which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there.”
Even before the dinner was over, Pence was facing criticism for his jokes about Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet member in U.S. history.
Pence mentioned that, despite travel problems that were plaguing Americans, Buttigieg took “maternity leave” after he and his husband adopted newborn twins.
“Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets post-partum depression,” Pence said. ___
Megerian reported from Wilmington, Delaware.
FILE – Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a Coolidge and the American Project luncheon in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress, Feb. 16, 2023, in Washington. On Saturday, March 11, Pence harshly criticized former President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, furthering the rift between the two men as they prepare to battle over the Republican nomination in next year’s election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)