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Pence's future in the GOP after speaking out against Trump


Historically, vice presidents see themselves as the heir apparent to the Oval Office. But for Mike Pence, that plan was cut short in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. One week ago, Pence spoke out in his strongest terms yet against former President Trump. That raised new questions about the political future for the former loyal No. 2. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has more.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: It was a series of words some never expected Mike Pence to utter.


MIKE PENCE: President Trump is wrong.

GRISALES: Pence was responding to Trump's claims that he had the power to overturn the 2020 presidential election results during last year's joint session of Congress on January 6.


M PENCE: I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone, and, frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.

GRISALES: His remarks before the conservative Federalist Society highlight a dramatic divide facing the GOP today. It's also a reminder of the political dangers that face Republicans who speak out against Trump, evident even in Pence's own family.

GREG PENCE: I stand by my brother and always will, and I'll let him speak for himself about his remarks.

GRISALES: That's Indiana GOP Congressman Greg Pence, who would not say whether he agreed with his brother. But some working to defeat Trump and his movement, like former Pence adviser Olivia Troye, were grateful. Troye, who left the Trump White House in 2020, said Pence helped enable lies about the election - that is, until his stunning remarks.

OLIVIA TROYE: That's very hard for Mike Pence to do because I have never heard him say that publicly.

GRISALES: Now she suspects Pence was prompted by a perfect storm. Several of his former advisers have testified before the House panel investigating the January 6 riot. And days before the remarks, Trump escalated his attack. He said the House select committee should probe Pence instead for not rejecting President Biden's win.

TROYE: I think at that point, Mike Pence was like, enough. And I think it's set him up to be able to do this.

GRISALES: Now Troye believes Pence is looking for ways to survive politically as a traitor to the GOP's de facto leader - this as a Democratic-led January 6 committee has engaged with Pence's lawyers in talks for weeks to try to land his voluntary testimony, too.

PETE AGUILAR: It has been publicly reported that we have met with folks, you know, around him, and, you know, we continue to learn a lot. We'd obviously, you know, love to hear from him, and we're proceeding, you know, respectfully with what we do in the future.

GRISALES: That's California Democrat Pete Aguilar, who sits on the panel. Questions remain if Pence could cooperate in a probe that could harm Trump's political future, as the committee plans to deliver their findings through primetime hearings later this spring. Ex-top Congressional GOP advisor Brendan Buck says until the January 6 attack, Pence had well positioned himself as Trump's successor.

BRENDAN BUCK: That has been shattered, and it probably took a year for him to come around to the realization that his future is no longer going to be defined among Republicans as the loyal No. 2. Even if he wanted to do that at this point, Donald Trump wouldn't allow it.

GRISALES: Buck says Trump remains as strong as ever politically, and that's left Pence to carve out a new lane for what could be a lonely journey. Still, Buck says it is too soon to count out Pence's political future and his influence for the GOP, since he still draws wide respect in certain circles.

BUCK: It's not clear, at least in the next three to four years, that there's much room for somebody to be outside of Donald Trump's good side. But you can't wait 10 years to hope the party changes and be off the stage that entire time.

GRISALES: With Trump eyeing a 2024 presidential run and likely dealing more attacks to those who cross him along the way, Buck says Pence may be trying to chart a new course for the GOP, starting right now.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUDASAIBEATS' "ATTACHED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.