Vice President Mike Pence certified Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory after violence erupted at the U.S. Capitol. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON â€“ Before leaving office, President Barack Obama awarded the nationâ€™s highest civilian honor â€“ the Presidential Medal of Freedom â€“ to his vice president.
In President Donald Trumpâ€™s final days, he has presented similar honors to California Rep. Devin Nunes, one of his most vocal supporters during impeachment, and to three professional golfers.
To his vice president, Trump bestowed the label of coward.
The staunchly loyal Mike Pence was excoriated by Trump on Wednesday for his refusal to illegally intervene to prevent Congress from certifying the results for the presidential election that Trump lost.
â€œMike Pence didnâ€™t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,â€ Trump tweeted in a post that Twitter removed Wednesday evening.
Trump has also barred Penceâ€™s chief of staff, Marc Short, from the White House.
â€œHeâ€™s blaming me for advice to VP,â€ Short told RealClearPolitics.
‘Never seen Pence as angry’
Pence has not spoken publicly about the rift.
But Sen. Jim Inhofe told the Tulsa WorldÂ on Wednesday that heâ€™s â€œnever seen Pence as angry as he was today.â€
The Oklahoma Republican told USA TODAY he talked to Pence about Trump’s rebuke. Pence, he said, was â€œvery upsetâ€ with Trump.
Trumpâ€™s public denunciation of his vice presidentÂ is unprecedented in the history of the modern vice presidency, according to scholars. And it comes after more than four years of Pence showing extreme deference to Trump, leading critics to deride him as anÂ obsequious enabler of a volatile president.
â€œ(Trumpâ€™s) turning on Pence is particularly striking given Vice President Pence’s loyalty to the president which some, myselfÂ included, would regard as having been excessive in the history of the office,â€ said vice presidential scholar Joel Goldstein.
The break adds to uncertainty about whatâ€™s in store for the remainder of Trumpâ€™s term, particularly in the aftermath of the violence that engulfed Washington on Wednesday when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
A person close to Pence who was not authorized to speak publicly said that while Penceâ€™s team expected Trump to be upset, his behavior was â€œa shock to all of us.â€ The person said itâ€™s â€œreally unclearâ€ how the dynamic between the president and vice president will work going forward.
While some speculated Trump might step down at the last minute so Pence could issue a pardon to him, that’s even less likely now, said Todd Belt, a presidential expert at George Washington Universityâ€™s Graduate School of Political Management.
‘This is our house’: Lawmakers prepared to fight or be killed as Trump mob attacked US Capitol
The 25th Amendment
Calls have increased for Pence to replace Trump through the 25th Amendment, which includes a never-used mechanism for a vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to seize control from a president.
25th Amendment: Why it continues to be raised to remove Trump from power
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday said Pence should immediately invoke the amendment.
Schumer said he and Pelosi tried to call Pence Thursday morning. But after being kept on hold for 25 minutes, an aide told them Pence would not come to the phone, Schumer said.
“We have not yet heard back from the Vice President,” they said in a joint statement Thursday night.
Pence’s officeÂ did not respond to a request for comment.
Multiple media reports have said conversations about invoking the amendment have taken place among senior officials.
An administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity Thursday morning said the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment hadÂ not been brought to the vice president.
Trump had spent much of Tuesday afternoon in the Oval Office with Pence, trying to persuade his No. 2 to bend to his will. Trump and his allies also leaned on those close to Pence.
Pence had promised to thoroughly study the issue. Over the past two weeks, he put together a legal team, consulted with experts on congressional rules and thought about what the founding fathers intended.
Besides being a lawyer by training, Pence is a self-proclaimed student of history who has said he gets “chills” when he visits Independence Hall.
In the lengthy letter Pence released shortly before he began presiding over Congressâ€™ counting of the electoral votes Wednesday, he referenced his reverence for the Constitution and said he was bound by his oath of office to uphold it.
Trump tweeted his disdain for Penceâ€™s position as the supporters he hadÂ addressed at an earlier rally responded to Trumpâ€™s call to march to the Capitol.
â€œFor Trump, Pence was there to be a loyal servant, as was everyone else,â€ Belt said.
‘Courage,’ his daughter tweeted
When rioters broke through the perimeter and rampaged the building, Pence, hisÂ wife and older daughter were whisked away to a secure location by the Secret Service.
Penceâ€™s daughter later issued what could be read as a rebuke of Trump.
â€œCourage,â€ Charlotte Pence Bond tweeted as she recirculated the end of her fatherâ€™s letter of explanation, which concluded: â€œSo Help Me God.â€
‘Hard to believe’: Capitol Police security breakdown prompts calls for chief’s resignation
After the Capitol was secured and lawmakers finished counting the votes, a stoic Pence announced his and Trumpâ€™s election defeat at 3:41 a.m.
Pence bowed his head and closed his eyes as the Senate chaplain, in a closing prayer, said the â€œquagmire of dysfunction that threatened our democracyâ€ and led to a loss of lives and desecration of the Capitol has â€œreminded us that words matter.â€
The C-SPAN camera recording the moment for history turned toward Pence, capturing a slight nod of his head, when the chaplain said God has â€œstrengthened our resolve to protect and defend the Constitution.â€
â€œAmen,â€ the devoutly Christian Pence softly said at the conclusion of the prayer.
An evangelical Christian: How the Bible helps Pence navigate his role as Trump’s vice president
Doing ‘his duty’
Since signing on as Trumpâ€™s running mate in 2016, Pence has tried to strike a balance between remaining loyal to Trump while not parroting his most divisive rhetoric and unfounded claims.
Pence deserves credit for standing firm this week, said public affairs professor William Inboden, who worked for President George W. Bush. But merely upholding his oath of office when he did not have the power to act otherwise â€œshould not be mistaken as a profile in courage or principle,â€ he added.
Pence must continue to do his duty, amid â€œTrumpâ€™s madness and demagoguery,â€ to try to hold the executive office of the president together for the next 13 days.
â€œAfter January 20,â€ Inboden said, â€œPence will have ample time to reflect on the loyalty he showed to Trump for four years â€“ and what it cost.â€
Contributing: Ledyard King and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY
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