Former President Trump returns to Washington, D.C, this week for his first visit since leaving the White House a year and a half ago.
The former president will deliver the keynote address Tuesday at a two-day summit hosted by the America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization and think tank formed last year by officials who served in the Trump administration.
While the event is invitation-only and not open to the public, the speeches, including the former president’s address, will be livestreamed.
Trump was last in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2021. He left the nation’s capital hours before Joe Biden was inaugurated, becoming the first departing president in a century and a half who failed to attend his successor’s inauguration.
On the eve of Trump’s Tuesday speech former Vice President Mike Pence will give what’s being billed as a high-profile address at the Heritage Foundation that will focus on his "freedom agenda" policy initiatives and his vision for the future of the Republican Party.
Pence joined the Heritage Foundation, one of the oldest and most influential think tanks in the conservative movement, as a visiting fellow last year, two weeks after the end of the Trump administration. The former vice president has been crisscrossing the country, helping fellow Republicans running in the 2022 midterm elections and highlighting his agenda, which could also serve as a theme for a likely presidential run of his own in 2024.
Trump’s been flirting with making another presidential run since leaving the White House and recently appeared to give his strongest signal yet of his intentions. The former president seemed to indicate in a recent New York Magazine interview that his 2024 decision is about when – not if.
"I would say my big decision will be whether I go before or after," Trump said in an interview published a week and a half ago, seemingly referring to the midterm elections in November.
Saturday night, while addressing the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit of young conservatives, Trump continued his flirtation with a 2024 presidential campaign.
After repeating his well-used line that "we may just have to do it again," referring to a 2024 presidential campaign, he added, "If I stayed home, if I announced that I was not going to run for office, the persecution of Donald Trump would immediately stop. … But that's what they want me to do. And you know what? There's no chance I do that."
Trump, Pence duel in the desert
The seeming competing addresses by Trump and Pence in Washington, D.C., this week come days after they held dueling events in Arizona.
Trump on Friday headlined a rally in Prescott Valley, Arizona — about 90 miles north of Phoenix — for former TV news anchor Kari Lake, who’s running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and three other GOP candidates the former president has endorsed: venture capitalist Blake Masters for Senate, Abe Hamadeh for Arizona attorney general and state Rep. Mark Finchem for Arizona secretary of state.
Trump’s slate of candidates heavily supports the former president’s unproven claims that the 2020 presidential contest was "rigged" and "stolen."
Pence headlined events in the Phoenix and Tucson areas for real estate developer and Arizona Board of Regents member Karrin Taylor Robson, who he endorsed just days earlier. Taylor Robson is a co-front-runner with Lake for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the Aug. 2 primary in the race to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Doug Ducey.
Pence, who teamed up with Ducey at the two stops in Arizona, praised Taylor Robson, saying, "No one worked harder for the Trump-Pence ticket in 2016 or in 2020 than Karrin Taylor Robson. … She volunteered, she helped raise millions of dollars for our campaign. When we needed Karrin, Karrin was always there."
And he took aim at Lake, questioning her conservative credentials.
"Look, I’m always happy to welcome converts to the Republican Party," Pence said as he referred to Lake. "But Arizona Republicans don’t need a governor that supported Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton."
Pence, as he’s done in the past, encouraged voters to look to the future and not "the past," which appeared to be a veiled reference to his former boss’s refusal to accept Biden’s 2020 election victory.
"Some people want this election to be about the past, but elections are always about the future. Democrats would love nothing more than for Republicans to take our eye off the ball and focus on days gone by," Pence added on Twitter following his Arizona stops.
Trump heaped praise on Lake and his other endorsed candidates at his rally and once again slammed Ducey. Arizona’s conservative governor incurred Trump’s wrath for certifying Biden’s razor-thin victory in Arizona in the 2020 election. Ducey famously publicly silenced a phone call from Trump in December 2020 as he certified his state’s results.
Pence’s split with Trump in Arizona was his second high-profile one in GOP primaries the past two months. The former vice president endorsed Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and campaigned with the conservative governor outside Atlanta on the eve of the state’s May 24 primary. Kemp crushed Trump-backed former Sen. David Perdue in the primary. Trump had repeatedly targeted Kemp ever since the governor certified the 2020 election results in Georgia, where Biden narrowly edged Trump in a key battleground state.
But, unlike in Georgia, where Kemp was far ahead of Perdue when Pence endorsed the governor, the race between Taylor Robson and Lake remains very competitive.
The proxy battles between Pence and Trump in key battleground states such as Arizona and Georgia have implications for the GOP in November’s elections, but they also serve as a preview of a potential clash between the former running mates in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race.
Pence D.C. and South Carolina stops grab headlines
Unlike Trump, Pence’s trip to the nation’s capital Monday is far from his first since the end of the Trump administration. He was in Washington, D.C., last week, where he grabbed plenty of headlines.
After introducing House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy Tuesday night at a fundraiser for top Republican congressional candidates, Pence on Wednesday met with the Republican Study Committee, the longstanding group of conservative House members that Pence once led as a congressman from Indiana. The group’s current leader, Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, is a Pence ally and would likely be an early supporter of any Pence presidential campaign.
During the closed-to-press breakfast, some lawmakers thanked Pence for his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by right wing extremists and other Trump supporters who aimed to disrupt congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory, with some chanting "hang Mike Pence." Pence refused Trump’s demands to overturn the election results. And some lawmakers, sources confirm to Fox News, then encouraged Pence to run for president in 2024.
Marc Short, a close Pence aide and adviser who served as the former vice president’s chief of staff, told Fox News Pence "has received a lot of encouragement from that audience" [the Republican Study Committee] in the past. But what made this past week’s visit different was that it was "in a more public setting … where they were offering that encouragement in front of others."
The comments in the press from some of those attending the Pence breakfast appear to be another indication that some Republican lawmakers who’ve long spoke in support of Pence in private are now more comfortable expressing that support in more of a public arena.
Pence headed directly to South Carolina after his stop in Washington, D.C., where he hailed the move by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that sent the divisive issue of legalized abortion back to the states. Pence, long a champion for social conservatives, highlighted the steps he’d like to see states take going forward to further limit abortion access. They were Pence’s first public comments on abortion since the blockbuster ruling last month from the high court.
Short noted that Pence has "been fighting this battle for decades. … he’s been in the forefront of it," and "he’s gratified that a lot of his efforts were fruitful."
But he emphasized that while "there’s a moment of gratification," the former vice president is addressing "this in a spirit of compassion for women who face unwanted pregnancies." Short said the GOP needs "to show that our party can reach out to women in crisis."
And he noted that Pence often uses crisis pregnancy centers as the location for his addresses on the issue of abortion and that more speeches at such venues are planned for later this year.
Pence’s stop last week in South Carolina was his sixth the past year and a half in the state that votes third in the Republican presidential nominating calendar and a state where social conservatives play an outsized role in GOP primaries.
Pence New Hampshire bound
Pence has also made numerous visits since leaving office to Iowa, whose caucuses kick off the GOP nominating schedule, and to New Hampshire, which votes second and holds the first presidential primary.
In another sign that Pence is gearing up for a likely White House bid, he’ll return to the Granite State Aug. 17 to headline the New Hampshire Institute of Politics’ Politics and Eggs. For two decades, the St. Anselm College speaking series has been a must stop for presidential candidates and potential White House contenders visiting the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state.
"There’s a tremendous amount of interest in hearing from the former vice president. I’m asked all the time, ‘When are you having Vice President Pence to the institute?’" New Hampshire Institute of Politics Executive Director Neil Leveque told Fox News.
And it’s likely Pence also will return to Iowa this summer.
Short called Pence’s travels an "aggressive schedule" and noted that, after four years of being vice president, "you’re used to that sort of a pace."