Former Vice President Mike Pence visited Houston Wednesday evening to speak at a conference of conservative college students, where he urged people to get vaccinated and praised the work of what he called the “Trump-Pence administration.”
At a banquet held by the Young America's Foundation, which is holding its weeklong annual conference at the Marriott Marquis downtown, Pence delivered a full-throated defense of the previous adminsitration’s policies, in what at times sounded like a campaign speech. There's speculation that Pence is testing the waters for a presidential run in 2024, which could be an uphill climb, as President Donald Trump has signaled he's planning to run himself.
Trump and Pence had a falling out in January, after the then-vice president declined to overturn election results during Congress's Electoral College certification process.
On Wednesday, Pence weighed in on the controversial election legislation pending before the Texas Legislature, and the federal legislation being considered that would override it.
"We must restore the confidence of every American in every vote," Pence said. "We must defend state-based elections across the country, advance reform, and we will never allow Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to nationalize our elections."
Despite the falling out, Pence on Wednesday also compared Trump to the late President Ronald Reagan, drawing an enthusiastic response from the crowd.
"He too, disrupted the status quo," Pence said of Trump. "He challenged the establishment. He invigorated our movement, and once again, as before, there is no turning back for the conservative movement in America."
Pence touted what he framed as the accomplishments of the previous administration on issues such as tax cuts, job creation, trade disputes with China, limiting abortion, and border security. He also included Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's effort to speed the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines. He claimed vaccinations had reached a pace of 1 million a day by the time President Trump left office. That was somewhat misleading – the daily average of vaccinations for the week before Trump left office was less than 900,000.
The former vice president also encouraged everyone in the unmasked audience to get vaccinated if it was possible for them to do so, saying he and his family had been vaccinated.
However, Pence swiftly pivoted to an attack on further government intervention in dealing with the pandemic.
"As we do our part, each and every one of us to put this pandemic in the past, we also need to stand firm on the principle that we can defeat this virus without lockdowns and mandates,” he said. “We can protect the vulnerable and get our kids back to school, and we can keep America open without forfeiting our freedoms."
This wasn't Pence's first speech since leaving office in January – or even his first visit to Texas. He previously came to Austin in May as part of a group of big name Republicans to raise money for a bid to flip the U.S. House next year.
Some of the speakers preceding Pence at Wednesday’s conference included former senior counselor to President Trump Kellyanne Conway, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and former senior advisor to President Trump Stephen Miller. Speakers on the schedule for later this week include former Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West, Congressmen Chip Roy and Dan Crenshaw, and Senator Ted Cruz.
The former vice president spent some of his speech attacking the policies of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
"After six months of open borders, higher taxes, runaway spending, abortion on demand, defunding the police, censoring free speech, canceling our most cherished liberties – enough is enough," Pence said.