WASHINGTON (AP) — In his first return to Washington since Joe Biden ousted him from the White House, former President Donald Trump strenuously repeated the false allegations of voter fraud that sparked the Capitol insurgency on June 6. January. In a duel speech not far away, his former vice president, Mike Pence, implored the Republican Party to move on after Trump’s defeat.
The separate appearances marked an intensification of the rivalry between the former partners as the two saw potential presidential bids. And they highlighted the divisions in the party between Trump loyalists who refuse to accept the 2020 results and other Republicans who think the party should focus on the future instead.
Federal and state election officials from both parties and Trump’s own attorney general said there was no credible evidence the 2020 election was tainted. The former president’s allegations of fraud have also been flatly dismissed by the courts, including by the judges he appointed.
But Trump continued to deny his loss as he made his first appearance in the nation’s capital since Jan. 20, 2021, when President Joe Biden was sworn in despite Trump’s frantic efforts to stay in power.
LOOK: Republican divide widens as Trump and Pence take divergent paths
“It was a disaster this election,” Trump said about a mile from the White House he once called home. He addressed a summit hosted by a group of former White House officials and Cabinet members who have been charting an agenda for a possible second Trump administration.
In a nod to a 2024 presidential campaign he is increasingly teasing, Trump said “we may have to start over.”
Pence, once Trump’s stalwart vice president, spoke at a separate conference on Tuesday morning where he laid out his own “freedom agenda” and argued that conservatives should stop looking back.
“Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future,” Pence said in a speech to the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative student group. “I believe conservatives need to focus on the future to win back America. We cannot afford to take our eyes off the road ahead of us, because what is at stake is the very survival of our way of life.
Trump also said America’s survival was at stake. In a speech billed as focused on public safety, he said the country was in imminent danger of crime. Among his proposals, he called for executing drug traffickers, sending homeless people to tent cities on the outskirts of cities and expanding his southwest border wall.
Biden joined in – on Twitter – dismissing Trump’s claim to have been a law-and-order president.
Referring to the Capitol riot, he tweeted, “I don’t think inciting a mob to attack a police officer is ‘respect for the law.’ You can’t be pro-insurgency and pro-cop — or pro-democracy, or pro-American.
Trump, in his remarks, spent a lot of time airing his usual grievances.
“If I renounced my beliefs, if I agreed to remain silent, if I stayed at home and took time off, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately,” he said. “But that’s not what I will do.”
The dueling appearances came as Trump’s potential rivals have grown increasingly brazen in their cunning in directly criticizing the man who remains a dominant force in the Republican Party. Former White House partners also campaigned for rival candidates in Arizona on Friday. And their Tuesday speeches came as former Pence chief of staff Marc Short testified before a federal grand jury investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Short was on Capitol Hill that day as Pence fled an angry mob of rioters calling for his hanging after Trump falsely insisted that Pence had the power to overturn election results.
Pence repeatedly defended his actions that day, even as his decision to stand up to his boss turned large swaths of Trump’s loyal base against him. Polls show Trump remains, by far, the top choice of GOP primary voters, with Pence trailing far behind.
LOOK: Mike Pence calls on conservatives to ‘not look back’
That contrast was highlighted on Tuesday as Trump spoke to an audience of hundreds of cheering supporters gathered for the America First Policy Institute’s two-day America First Agenda summit. The group is widely seen as an “administration in waiting” that could quickly move to the West Wing if Trump runs again and wins.
The event had the feel of a Trump meeting at the White House — but one without Pence.
Pence, meanwhile, received a friendly – but less exuberant – reception from the students, who struggled to break into a “USA!” singing.
In his remarks, he repeatedly extolled “the Trump-Pence administration.” But the first question he received during a brief question-and-answer session concerned his growing estrangement from Trump, which is particularly striking given the years he has spent as the company’s most loyal sidekick. ‘former president.
Pence denied that the two “differ on issues,” but acknowledged, “we may differ on direction.”
“I truly believe that elections are about the future and that it’s absolutely critical, at a time when so many Americans are hurting and so many families are struggling, that we don’t give in to the temptation to look back,” he said. he declared. .
Trump has spent much of his time since leaving office spreading lies about his loss to cast doubt on Biden’s victory. Indeed, even as the House Jan. 6 committee laid bare his attempts to stay in power and his refusal to call out a violent mob of his supporters as they tried to halt the peaceful transition of power, Trump has continued to try to pressure officials to overturn Biden’s victory, although there is no legal way to decertify it.
Beyond the summit, the America First Policy Institute prepared for another possible Trump administration, “ensuring that we have the policies, personnel and processes defined for each key agency when we take over the White House,” said declared its president. , Brooke Rollins.
The group is one of many Trump-allied organizations that have continued to lobby his policies in his absence, including America First Legal, dedicated to combating Biden’s agenda through the justice system, the Center for Renewing America and the Conservative Partnership Institute.
Also on Tuesday, Simon & Schuster announced the title of Pence’s next book, “So Help Me God,” which will be published in November. The publisher said the book would, in part, chronicle “President Trump’s severance of their relationship on January 6, 2021, when Pence fulfilled his oath to the Constitution.”