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Politics chat: Biden's target voter base in 2024; nuclear submarine sale to Australia


President Trump was wrong. That's what former Vice President Mike Pence told D.C. insiders at a dinner last night. Pence was talking about the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, when Trump urged his supporters to try and stop Pence and Congress from certifying the presidential election that Joe Biden had won. The remarks are Pence's most forceful rebuke of Trump yet. To talk about them and to put them into broader context, we're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

RASCOE: So why do Pence's remarks matter right now? You know, it's been more than two years since the attack on the Capitol. So why now?

DETROW: Well, I mean, remember, Donald Trump is running for president again. So I think this is going to be something we keep talking about in a lot of different ways. And just to refresh - I don't know how much people need to be refreshed on January 6, but you know, we will - Pence did play a key role that day. He was overseeing the electoral count certification and Trump and other key election deniers pressured him to reject key states and deny Biden 270 electoral votes. And that would have led to an unprecedented crisis.

But Pence refused to go along with it. We all know what happened next, and we know how many of the people who attacked the Capitol did so wanting to find, hurt or even kill Pence. So speaking out against this and Trump feels like a no-brainer. And yet Pence has so far, up until now, tried to have it both ways - to stand up for what he did, but not directly attack Trump. And often he in the past has said things like he and Trump will, quote, "never see eye to eye" about January 6.

RASCOE: So what exactly did he say last night?

DETROW: So this was at the Gridiron Dinner, which is a fancy ballroom gathering of journalists and Washington insiders. And speakers usually keep the remarks light and make a lot of jokes. But Pence took a different tone. He said, quote, "President Trump was wrong" and that, quote, "his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day." Pence also said, quote, "I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable."

So here's some context. Pence is considering running against - running for president against Trump. So far, there's only one other declared candidate in the Republican side of the race, and that's former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. And Haley and other likely Trump opponents have really not focused on January 6, and they have not tried to directly attack Trump for what he did that day. Pence now seems to be making a different calculation.

RASCOE: And Pence spoke just days after Fox News host Tucker Carlson aired heavily edited security footage from that day and tried to paint January 6 as something that's been exaggerated, saying it was actually a peaceful event and that it was mostly just kind of sightseers, kind of touristy.


RASCOE: Was Pence actually responding to that?

DETROW: He did seem to address that segment. He said, quote, "Tourists don't injure 140 police officers sightseeing or break down doors to get to the speaker's office." And remember, Carlson got those videos because the current speaker, Kevin McCarthy, handed them over. And that tells you how many elected Republican officials have moved to this place of at best wanting to ignore January 6 and at worst, actively trying to minimize or distort this violent attempt to overturn a presidential election.

Other thing that jumped out to me about all of this was how quick President Biden was to engage in those Fox videos. He directly attacked Carlson's efforts on Twitter. And I think that shows Biden sees this trend as a way to hold on to to moderate and independent voters.

RASCOE: In the about 30 seconds we have left, to quickly shift gears - there's not the - that's not the only thing Biden has done in recent days with those kind of voters in mind, right?

DETROW: Yeah. He signaled he would sign a Republican bill to overturn a local law passed by Washington, D.C.'s city government. Congress has the power to do this. This would have lessened penalties for some violent offenses. And there was thought that Biden would veto this because he said a lot that he supports DC statehood.

Instead, he said, no, I would sign that law. And that led to kind of a bandwagon of Democrats voting against Washington, D.C.'s autonomy, overturning a rule there and really trying to clearly insulate themselves against Republican attacks that that Biden and other Democrats are soft on crime. So that was an interesting political choice he made.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.