Vice President Mike Pence received a memento from his aides the other day: the engraved chair set aside for him in the White House Cabinet Room, hauled over-the-shoulder from the West Wing and delivered to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for one of his final staff meetings.
The gift, accompanied by a standing ovation, was nearly the opposite sentiment being offered to Pence’s boss, President Donald Trump. Instead of applause, many of Trump’s aides — even those who have stuck with him through myriad scandals and embarrassments — were voicing shame and disappointment. His circle has shrunk. Many have resigned and others are still considering it.
On Monday, after an extended period of silence, Trump and Pence spoke for the first time after a deadly riot of Trump supporters broke out at the US Capitol with Pence inside, according to two administration officials.
A senior administration official told CNN they met in the Oval Office, had what was described as a good conversation and discussed the week ahead while “reflecting on the last four years of the administration’s work and accomplishments.”
“They reiterated that those who broke the law and stormed the Capitol last week do not represent the America First movement backed by 75 million Americans, and pledged to continue the work on behalf of the country for the remainder of their term,” the senior official said.
Trump had spent the weekend largely in isolation, as aides either distanced themselves from him or limited their time in his presence. Trump canceled a planned trip to Camp David, where his closest aides were hoping he would get into a good mindset ahead of his final stretch in office. Instead, he spent the weekend stewing to his deputy chief of staff, Dan Scavino, and entered his final full week angrier than ever.
The attempted insurrection that Trump incited at the US Capitol last week prompted the permanent suspension of his Twitter account, a looming second impeachment and a wave of administration resignations. But among the more significant repercussions had been the apparent collapse of Trump’s relationship with Pence.
Pence finally got “a glimpse of POTUS’ vindictiveness,” one source familiar with the situation said, using the acronym for President of the United States.
Trump’s treatment of a man who served him faithfully for more than four years outraged those in Pence’s orbit — but also many in Trump’s, who view Pence as the most loyal of lieutenants whose treatment they regarded as deeply unfair. And while Pence now appears unlikely to entertain invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, he has not weighed in on it publicly, allowing the idea to persist, which people close to him described as intentional.
Pence, who is often internally mocked for how deferential he is toward Trump, has taken a quiet but defiant stance in their final days in office. One source close to the vice president said Pence is hoping to spend his remaining days in office telegraphing “to our allies and adversaries that we have a fully functioning government.”
After the two men spoke Monday, a source close to the vice president told CNN’s Jim Acosta that Pence’s advisers are trying to cool the temperature with Trump after their initial outcry.
“The feeling is we made our point,” the source said.
The mob event, and Trump’s fury at Pence in the lead-up to it, left their relationship in tatters. Before their Oval Office meeting Monday, the pair had not spoken since before Trump’s rally on the Ellipse last week. Their last conversation was punctuated by a vulgarity the President uttered after Pence informed him, for a final time, that he could not unilaterally reject the results of the election, something he had already told Trump in previous meetings that often dragged on for hours.
On several occasions, Trump had sent a random assortment of lawyers, such as Jenna Ellis, to the vice president to explain, in his mind, that he could disrupt the results process.
The final conversation left Trump irate, and his anger emerged during the rally itself, when he told the crowd he hoped “Mike has the courage to do what he has to do” and ignores “the stupid people that he’s listening to.”
It was the first time in their more than four years as political partners that Trump’s vengeance had been trained on a man known mostly for his fealty. Even as others once close to Trump — from his personal attorney Michael Cohen to his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to any manner of former aides — met similar fates, Pence was spared.
The turn of events has left Pence shaken and caused him to exclaim in anger to a fellow Republican: “After all the things I’ve done for (Trump)!”
Pence also recently learned that pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell was involved in the lawsuit filed by Trump’s Republican allies against him. Trump was not only aware, but had encouraged the effort, people close to the situation said.
Even when the President returned to the White House while his crowd set off for the Capitol, Trump’s anger at Pence did not abate. And as the crowd broke down doors, mobbed the building, and in some cases appeared to be hunting Pence himself, Trump remained focused on the perceived disloyalty.
The threats against Pence have not been limited to the particular actions of the rioters on Wednesday. Pence’s staff has received two threatening emails sent to an internal distribution list from an outside sender in the past days, both before and after the insurrection attempt at the Capitol on Wednesday, according to a White House official. Pence himself is not on the distribution list.
Pence’s office declined to comment on the threatening emails sent to the staff distribution list. On Saturday, deputy press secretary Judd Deere said the White House “strongly condemn(s) all calls to violence, including those against any member of this administration.”
After Wednesday’s events, Pence allies were aghast the President did not call to ensure the vice president’s safety, or the safety of his wife and daughter, who had accompanied him as he performed the ceremonial role of overseeing the Electoral College tally. Pence’s brother, Rep. Greg Pence, an Indiana Republican, was also inside. Instead, the President was trying to phone Republican allies to convince them to persist in their futile rejection of the election results.
“Was he concerned at all that an angry mob that he commanded to march on the Capitol might injure the vice president or his family?” a person familiar with the matter asked.
Inside the besieged Capitol, it was Pence and not Trump who coordinated phone calls with law enforcement and security agencies. Afterward, Pence phoned the family of the fallen Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, even as Trump remained silent. And after Trump finally conceded he would not serve another term in office, it is Pence who will attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration while Trump says he will boycott it.
Pence’s actions earned him praise within the administration, including from national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who tweeted on Wednesday that Pence “is a genuinely fine and decent man. He exhibited courage today.”
Democrats, however, remain frustrated at Pence’s unwillingness to move on the 25th Amendment, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer made an unsuccessful attempt to phone the vice president to discuss the matter last week, but were placed on hold with a military aide for 20 minutes before being told Pence wasn’t available.
“I was at home, so I was running the dishwasher, putting my clothes in the laundry. We’re still waiting for him to return the call,” Pelosi said Sunday on CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”
Other Democrats are skeptical that after four years of standing by Trump — including through his attempts to cast doubt on the election results using false claims of voter fraud — Pence can recover his moral standing now.
“All of us, including Speaker Pelosi, will prefer that Donald Trump simply do the right thing and resign, or that Vice President Pence actually shows some spine, at least for himself and his own family, and invoke the 25th Amendment,” Rep. Ted Lieu said on “CNN Newsroom” on Sunday.
A day later, an attempt by House Democrats to bring up a resolution urging Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power was blocked by Republicans. If that resolution ends up failing, Democrats plan to to vote Wednesday to impeach Trump for his role in the Capitol riot.
On Saturday, a source close to the vice president told CNN that Pence had not ruled out entirely an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment, and wants to preserve the option in case Trump becomes more unstable. But he hasn’t held discussions on the issue with members of the Cabinet, and still appears unlikely to move forward with it.
Instead, Pence and his advisers seem to be looking toward their final week in office with an eye toward his legacy, hoping to tout the administration’s achievements. Advisers have been encouraging Trump to hold similar events, including on Middle East diplomacy and deregulation, but it’s unclear whether he will agree to do so as he remains consumed with his permanent suspension on Twitter.
Last week, second lady Karen Pence was looking at available homes for rent in Virginia, according to a source familiar with her schedule.
Advisers have said Pence hopes to provide a bridge to the next administration and do as much as possible to assist Biden’s team in preparing for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Pence and Biden consulted regularly in the early days of the Trump administration, including on foreign policy matters.
On Monday, Pence’s schedule listed a coronavirus task force meeting — one of the final times the group meets before the end of the administration. Pence did not bring up the siege at the Capitol during the discussion, a person close to the task force said.
Trump, meanwhile, had nothing on his schedule.