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Pence steps back into political debate with speech to S.C. conservatives

The former vice president traveled to a key presidential nominating state to launch his criticism of Biden's first 100 days.

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence delivered his first public address since leaving office at the Palmetto Family Council Annual Gala in Columbia, South Carolina, on Thursday.

The event marked his re-entry into the public square in a critical presidential nominating state and in front of a gathering of evangelical voters he has long counted as part of his political base.

The address provided Pence an opportunity to highlight what conservatives see as the best of the previous administration’s record and position himself for the beginning of a potential presidential campaign in 2024.

In his remarks, Pence criticized President Joe Biden's first 100 days in office as drastically different from what he campaigned on in 2020, a line of attack echoing complaints from other Republicans in recent days.

“After 100 days of open borders, runaway spending, plans for higher taxes, a bigger welfare state, more government, defunding the police, abandoning the right to life, canceling our most cherished liberties, I've had enough!" Pence said to cheers. “After 100 days, I think the time has come for Americans devoted to faith and family and freedom and limited government to stand up and to unite behind a positive agenda and win back America, and it starts right here and right now in South Carolina.”

Now that Biden has reached the traditional benchmark, Pence contrasted Biden’s first 100 days with what he billed as the accomplishments of former President Trump’s first 100 days saying they were “four years of consequence, four years of results, and four years of promises made, promises kept.”

“The time has come for freedom-loving Americans to stand up to the far left agenda of the Biden-Harris, administration and say enough is enough,” Pence said. “It’s time to unite behind a positive agenda built upon our highest ideals and win back America. And we have the winning agenda, men and women, I have no doubt about it, built on American values and on our confidence in the American people.”

Pence addressed the current political moment as one conservatives have been in before, in 2010 and 1994, and suggested that the way to push ahead is to unify around a positive policy agenda that’s rooted in conservative principles.

He made only one brief reference to the deadly insurrection on January 6. "We've all been through a lot over the past year,” he said. “A global pandemic, civil unrest, a divisive election, tragedy at our nation’s capital, and a new administration intent on further dividing our country as they advance the agenda of the radical left."

Pence’s speech also reflected on his own Christian faith and touched on areas where he shares values with the host organization, the Palmetto Family Council — a conservative nonprofit that advocates religious liberty.

Thursday's speech serves as a kickoff to more travel and a higher public presence for Pence. He will now be taking at least one or two trips a week, a source familiar with his plans said, with a focus on efforts related to his partnerships with the Heritage Foundation and Young America's Foundation. His trips will also seek to help political allies, especially in boosting Republicans' chances to take back the House and Senate.

Pence also has a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster, with the first tentatively scheduled for publication in 2023.

And South Carolina is a politically important state for his first appearance since leaving office, a point not lost on the Palmetto Family Council's executive director, Dave Wilson.

“The road to heaven and the White House lead through South Carolina,” Wilson said when Pence's speech was announced. “We understand South Carolina does play a part in national politics, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”