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Former Vice President Mike Pence has declined an invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a major annual gathering of the most influential figures in American conservative scheduled to open this week in Orlando, Florida.
The news of Pence's decision comes a day after former President Donald Trump joined the list of speakers for what will be his first major appearance since leaving office.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a primary organizer of CPAC, confirmed Pence declined an invitation to speak at the conference. Schlapp said he thinks it is a "mistake" for Pence to avoid the event because "his conservative record is well respected, and conservatives want to hear his take on the current threats posed by socialism and this radicalized Democrat party."
Pence was a frequent and popular speaker at CPAC in recent years. The former vice president will be the highest-profile Republican to recently hold office not in attendance.
The former vice president has been keeping a low profile since he left office. He opened a transition office in Virginia and plans to move to Indiana by the summer.
Earlier this month, he announced he will act as a "distinguished visiting fellow" at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. He plans to be involved in next year's midterm elections, reportedly preparing to launch a fundraising committee focused on policy issues. And he aims to help Republicans' effort retake the majority in the House, and to wade into important Senate and gubernatorial races.
Pence has reportedly distanced himself from Trump personally in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riots, where many of the former president’s supporters expected Pence to overturn the results of the Electoral College, a power the vice president does not have. Chants of "hang Mike Pence" rang through the halls of Congress that day as rioters ransacked the building.
Trump’s speech is expected to focus on the future of the Republican Party and conservatism. He is also expected to target President Joe Biden’s immigration platform, which was recently outlined alongside congressional Democrats who plan to introduce legislation to implement the agenda.
– Matthew Brown and David Jackson
Rep. Steve Scalise: Don’t blame Trump for Capitol riots
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise declined to blame former President Donald Trump for the violence that took place during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
"Surely, there's a lot of blame to go around," the Louisiana Republican said Sunday on ABC News’ "This Week."
The second highest-ranking member in Republican House leadership, Scalise has been an ardent defender of Trump since the former president left office. Scalise was among the 121 House members who objected to the final count of the Electoral College on Jan. 6.
"But at the end of the day, the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, it was a disgrace. And they need to be held accountable," Scalise emphasized, moving past the question of whether Trump bore responsibility for the attack.
A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll found that 58% of Republican voters believe that antifa, or anti-fascist groups, were responsible for most of the violence that took place during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, despite a lack of any evidence to support that assertion. Federal investigators and multiple reports have found the rioters to be overwhelmingly pro-Trump, with many having ties to right-wing extremist groups.
"Joe Biden's the president," Scalise conceded, while casting aspersions on the legitimacy of the electoral process. He predicted doubts about the system would continue among many voters in the coming years.
"And I think that's the biggest frustration many people have, is those states that didn't follow the law, are they going to keep doing that in the future, or are we going to finally get back to what the Constitution calls out for electing our leaders?" Scalise questioned.
Many states and municipalities around the country changed their voting procedures due to the coronavirus pandemic, moves that were litigated before and after the 2020 election. The regulatory changes, which variously expanded and constrained voting rights in different areas, were enacted by both parties and survived court challenges.
– Matthew Brown
US communicating with Iran about release of detained Americans
National security adviser Jake Sullivan was adamant that the Biden administration would make the safe return of Americans detained in Iran a key point in upcoming negotiations.
"We intend to very directly communicate with the Iranians about the complete and utter outrage, the humanitarian catastrophe that is the unjust, unlawful detention of American citizens in Iran," Sullivan told CBS News’ "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
Sullivan emphasized that "we will not accept a long-term proposition where they continue to hold Americans in an unjust and unlawful manner. It will be a significant priority of this administration to get those Americans safely back home."
Iran has consistently said that talks will not resume until the U.S. lifts sanctions, a move the Biden administration says can only happen if Iran comes back into compliance with its commitments under the nuclear deal.
"The U.S. will not be able to rejoin the nuclear pact before it lifts sanctions," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday. "Once everybody implements their side of obligations, there will be talks."
Sullivan told CBS News that President Joe Biden is "determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon" and that Iran had "not yet responded" to its messages urging them to rejoin the nuclear deal.
The impasse has complicated other negotiations between the nations, including on regional security and the repatriation of Americans imprisoned by Tehran.
There are currently at least five American citizens being detained by the Iranian government.
– Matthew Brown
Arkansas GOP Gov. Hutchinson says he wouldn't support Trump in 2024
Asked Sunday whether he’d support former President Donald Trump in another presidential bid in 2024, Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson had a simple reply: "No, I wouldn't."
Hutchinson, a popular red state governor, argued that the GOP needed to listen to other voices in the party and not let itself be singularly defined by the former president.
"Well, he will only define our party if we let him define our party," Hutchinson said, noting that conservatives can still welcome Trump into events like the Conservative Political Action Conference, the high-profile conservative convention where Trump is scheduled to make his first major post-presidency speech.
The governor cautioned, however, that the party should also hear “those that have different points of view,” like Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, who Hutchinson said was “still arch-conservatives, but a different voice for the future of our party."
Trump remains immensely popular with conservative leaning voters. A USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll released Sunday found that nearly half of his voters would leave the GOP if Trump started a new party.
"We have got to respond and identify with the issues that gave him the first election and gave him support throughout his presidency," Hutchinson said, adding it was important to adopt some of Trump's message.
"We just got to handle it in a different way with different personalities," he argued.
– Matthew Brown
Texas GOP Rep. McCaul: 'I'm not going to go on some vacation' during a crisis
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has been widely criticized after revelations that he traveled with his family to Cancun, Mexico, as his home state was suffering from deadly winter storms and rolling blackouts. The attacks gained popularity online, in traditional media and from some in Cruz’s own party.
"Look, when a crisis hits my state, I'm there. I'm not going to go on some vacation. I know Mr. Cruz called it a mistake, and he's owned up to that. But I think that was a big mistake,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told CNN’s "State of the Union" on Sunday.
"Saturday Night Live" also mocked the Texas senator in its opening skit, with a character named "Bryant Cruz" attempting to escape to Mexico. "I deeply regret my actions over the last couple of days," the Cruz character says. "Mostly, flying United."
In the days since, the real Cruz has also been mocked for photos he’s posted to social media showing him carrying water bottles and other supplies. Several photos Cruz posted to Twitter captioned "#TexasStrong" garnered accusations of performative activism and fake compassion.
– Matthew Brown
President Biden visits Bob Dole after lung cancer diagnosis
President Joe Biden visited former Sen. Bob Dole in his Washington, D.C., home Saturday evening. The White House told reporters he was visiting "his close friend." Dole and Biden served in the Senate together for decades.
Dole, 97, served in Congress from 1969 to 1996, a career during which the Kansas Republican was both majority leader and minority leader in the Senate and the Republican nominee for president in 1996. On Monday, he announced he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer.
"While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own," Dole said in a statement.
The White House did not announce the meeting before Biden made the visit, which lasted a little over an hour. Asked by reporters how the former senator is doing, Biden replied Dole was doing well. Dole is set to start treatment for his cancer in the coming week.
– Matthew Brown
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Live politics updates: Mike Pence declines invitation to speak at CPAC