WILTON -- Former Vice President Mike Pence said in Iowa on Thursday that he believes “the role of the vice president is clear” when presiding over the counting of electoral votes as the U.S. Senate considers reforms to the role he played in the process on Jan. 6.
Pence joined 200 Republican supporters in Wilton at the 15th annual Kaufmann Family Harvest Dinner fundraiser. He spoke about the upcoming midterm elections and the resilience of Americans in the face of national disasters, like Hurricane Ian, which is battering the southeastern United States.
Pence told the Press-Citizen that, while Congress considers reforming the Electoral Count Act, the role of the vice president has always been clear and he understood his duty on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to halt the certification of Joe Biden as president. He said the Constitution says the vice president's role is to preside over a joint session of Congress where the electoral votes are opened and counted, "no more and no less."
"The role of the vice president in the counting of electoral votes has been clear throughout our history and I know that I did my duty on that day, on Jan. 6," said Pence, who served as vice president under Donald Trump.
The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022 would reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and includes new protections for presidential elections and the transition of power. The bill is a response to former Trump's attempts to coerce Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6.
The proposed reform clarifies that the vice president's role in the joint session following a presidential election is "solely ministerial and that he or she does not have any power to solely determine, accept, reject, or otherwise adjudicate disputes over electors." The Electoral Count Act instructs the vice president, as president of the Senate, to be the "presiding officer" over the electoral count, by opening election certificates and calling for objections.
Pence didn’t say whether he would support the legislation. He said he defers to Congress to work the bill through the legislative body.
The bill already has 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats as either sponsors or cosponsors. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed support for proposed changes to the Electoral Count Act to The Des Moines Register in August and is now one of the cosponsors.
Former vice president focuses on electing Republicans and healing wounds in speech as Hurricane Ian batters Florida
Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann and Iowa state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann hosted Pence at the fundraiser to raise money for several down-ballot candidates in the crowd, including state Sen. Roby Smith, who is running against State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, and two candidates running in Johnson County this fall: Board of Supervisors candidate Jammie Bradshaw and House District 92 candidate Heather Hora.
Bobby Kaufmann is running against Libertarian Clyde Gibson this fall and that new district, House District 82, starting in 2023 will no longer include Johnson County, which he has represented since 2012.
Pence arrived just before 6 p.m. and a line soon formed in the middle of the room to greet the former governor and congressman from Indiana. Pence took the stage while the air was filled with the smell of the fried chicken being served.
"Hello, Iowa! It is wonderful to be here 40 days away from a great American comeback, and it all starts here in the Hawkeye State," Pence said, referring to his hope for Republican victories in the Nov. 8 election.
Pence focused on the impacts of Hurricane Ian during his speech, saying it was extraordinary to see the storm come ashore and level communities on the west coast of Florida. He recalled trips he's made to Sanibel Island off the coast of Florida and how the hurricane devastated the island.
"To see that hurricane come across and sunder that island and come ashore as it did in Fort Myers ... just broke our hearts," Pence said.
Pence said he's taken heart seeing Americans coming together to aid people in Florida and likened it to when the derecho hit Iowa in 2020 while he was vice president.
"In my years of public service in Congress, as governor of Indiana and as your vice president, my opinion of the American people went up, not down," Pence said.
Pence sounded off on his optimism for Republican chances in the midterms, stating Iowa will help the party get a new majority in Congress and "retire" Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a common rallying cry for conservatives this year.
He said he believes America can be turned around despite challenges he referenced like inflation, immigration and crime. He said it seems to him that Biden's administration is working to weaken the country.
"I came to Iowa today to say in this year and the years ahead, we need to have government as good as our people," Pence said.
Pence and other potential 2024 candidates making frequent stops in Iowa ahead of the midterms
Pence has been in Iowa several times over the last year ahead of a possible run for president in 2024. He isn't alone in this effort.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Des Moines in February to join a panel discussing America's standing on the international stage with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst; former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley held events in Dubuque and Sioux Center; and South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott joined a fundraiser in Central City for U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson in August.
Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott campaigned with U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the outskirts of Iowa City in September prior to the "Cy-Hawk" football game featuring the hometown University of Iowa Hawkeyes playing the Iowa State Cyclones just across town. Miller-Meeks is in a tight race against Democrat Christina Bohannan of Iowa City in the 1st Congressional District.
Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton was Miller-Meeks' guest at the tailgate event last year.
The Des Moines Register reported that earlier this year Pence made appearances at the Iowa State Fair and was met with a downpour; he spoke at the Bremer County Republican's summer fundraiser; and inCarroll in the 4th Congressional District in April. Pence also invested $400,000 in the 3rd Congressional District race by funding a TV ad for Republican candidate Zach Nunn, who is running against Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne.
Pence was asked about Trump saying he wouldn't select the former vice president as his running mate in 2024, should Trump choose to run himself. Pence did not address the question, saying he is focused on 2022.
"For me and for my family, when the time comes after the first of (2023) we will take time to reflect on how we might serve in the future. Near-term or long-term," Pence said.
Pence, during his speech, alluded to the Iowa caucuses by saying the state plays an outsized role in the destiny of the nation every four years. He said in 2024 he thinks Iowa will set the course for "strong conservative leadership in America."
"If we win back our states and our Congress in 2022, we will win back America in 2024," Pence said.
Iowa will continue to host the Republican Party's first-in-the-nation caucuses in 2024. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is still considering changing the presidential nominating calendar, removing Iowa as the first state in that party's primary.
George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen's local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, GShillcock@press-citizen.com and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to Iowans at Wilton fundraiser