Pence denounces Trump over Jan. 6 and Trump slams his standing in the polls

Former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump have in recent days exchanged sharp words over the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, escalating a conflict between the two erstwhile partners.

Pence, speaking Saturday at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, denounced his former boss over the insurrection, according to accounts from reporters in the room.

"History will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6," said Pence, who has been considering running against Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. "Make no mistake about it: What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way. President Trump was wrong. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day."

"Tourists don't injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing," Pence said, referencing how some other conservatives have sought to play down the rioters' actions. "Tourists don't break down doors to get to the speaker of the House. Tourists don't threaten public officials."

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Pence offered praise for the journalists in the audience — while acknowledging he felt they could be aggravating — and handed a compliment to a group Trump has lambasted as the "enemy of the people."

"We were able to stay at our post in part because you stayed at your post," he said of the reporters in the Capitol during the attack two years ago. "The American people know what happened that day because you never stopped reporting."

Pence previously faulted Trump for his part in Jan. 6 by suggesting Trump's calls for the overturning of the 2020 presidential election helped spur the violence, and his comments on Saturday were also blunt. That reportedly prompted a rebuke from Trump, who has long denied wrongdoing.

"I heard his statement, and I guess he decided that being nice isn't working because he's at 3% in the polls, so he figured he might as well not be nice any longer," Trump told a small group of media aboard his plane on Monday.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on Aug. 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas, and Mike Pence is seen at Fox News Channel Studios, Feb. 22, 2023 in New York City.Brandon Bell and Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images, FILE

Trump said Pence shared the "blame" on Jan. 6 for not rejecting some of the 2020 electors won by Joe Biden — something Pence didn't have the power to do.

"Had he sent them back to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, the states, I believe, No. 1, you would have had a different outcome. But I also believe you wouldn’t have had ‘Jan. 6’ as we call it," Trump said.

Still, Trump said of Pence, "He’s trying very hard. And he’s a nice man, I’ve known him, I had a very good relationship until the end."

Pence has been traveling to states that host early presidential nominating contests and has been vague on whether he'd back Trump in 2024 if Trump won the primary, telling ABC News' David Muir in November that he thinks there will be "better choices."

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Quotes from the Gridiron Dinner, a white-tie event for politicos and top Washington journalists, trickled out over Twitter and via news articles. However, coverage of it was partially stifled by virtue of there being no cameras in the venue to shoot video of Pence's remarks.

But his upcoming travel, including to New Hampshire on Thursday and Iowa on Saturday, will have far more extensive media coverage — especially amid his continued break with Trump.

Pence's team did not immediately respond to requests for comment from ABC News.


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