In what was called his “last public speech” while in office, Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly thanked the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division for its service to the country, touted the accomplishments of the administration he served in for four years — including a pay raise for troops and no new wars — but only mentioned the name of the president he served under once during his 24-minute address at Fort Drum Sunday, and didn’t thank President Donald Trump at all.
Approximately 50 members of the 10th Mountain Division, some with their spouses, sat in socially distanced folding chairs in a large room containing six helicopters Sunday evening and listened to short speeches from U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who introduced Second Lady Karen Pence, who then introduced her husband.
“You know, it is such an honor to be with you, here I go,” Karen Pence said, pausing, with tears welling in her eyes, “for our very last trip as vice president and Second Lady of the United States.”
Karen Pence told the soldiers how proud she was of them and of their families. She said she chose to focus on the spouses of members of the military as her Second Lady initiative, in part because both her son and son-in-law serve as fighter pilots in the military. She said she knows the sacrifices they endure as “Blue Star Families” and she is proud to be one of them and grateful for their service.
“But there’s somebody else who’s been fighting to stand for our military and our military families for the last four years and each one of you are near and dear to his heart, this is where he wanted to be for his final speech as vice president of the United States,” she said.
Pence’s visit to Fort Drum Sunday fulfills a promise he had made during his last visit to the military base in 2018 that he would speak there again before the end of his tenure in office, set to conclude at noon on Wednesday.
Pence’s visit comes 11 days after an angry mob of thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building Washington D.C. in an apparent attempt to interrupt Pence’s accepting the congressional certification of the Electoral College results from the 2020 election. Some of the people in the mob were chanting “hang Mike Pence” and “stop the steal” references to the president’s repeated assertions that he would have won the 2020 election if not for election fraud, despite his lack of evidence to support the claim. Trump also publicly pressured Pence to reject the electors from several states where he was defeated by President-elect Joe Biden.
Pence steadfastly refused, stating he had no constitutional power to fulfill Trump’s wishes regarding the outcome of the election, drawing the ire and hatred of some of Trump’s most passionate supporters.
When Stefanik announced Pence’s visit to Fort Drum on her Facebook page Wednesday, she received at least 850 comments, some of them calling Pence a “scumbag” and a “traitor” as well as other pejoratives. More often though, Stefanik received many comments from people blaming her for being on the “same side” as the “insurrectionists” who wanted to kill Pence.
Although Stefanik’s life was likely also in danger from the riot, which resulted in the deaths of five people, after the the Capitol was cleared of the mob on Jan. 6 she joined with 147 House Republicans and 7 Republican senators in voting against certifying the electors from several states won by Biden in November, which was one of the things Trump and the rioters had been demanding before the Capitol was attacked.
Since then major U.S. businesses including General Electric, Verizon Communications, Walmart, American Express, AT&T and Stewart’s Shops have announced they will suspend future contributions to Stefanik pending outrage over the certification vote. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association on Jan. 8 said it would no longer support political contributions to members of congress who voted against certifying states won by Biden, calling them “lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy.”
Stefanik, who cruised to reelection in November carrying every county in the sprawling 21st Congressional District, has become known as one Trump’s most staunch defenders, even though she voted against some of his most signature policies, including his tax cut. She did praise Trump in her short introductory speech.
“Over the last four years we have worked to defend [America] to rebuild and re invest our military readiness,” she said. “These results could not have been possible without the unwavering support from the Trump administration and President Trump who signed the [$717 billion Fiscal Year 2019] National Defense Authorization Act right here at Fort Drum two years ago, and it would not have been possible without today’s special guest Vice President Mike Pence, a strong leader, a man of strong character.”
Pence said when the Trump administration took office it inherited a military that had been “hollowed out” by devastating budget cuts, but by working with leaders in Congress like Stefanik military funding was increased. He then offered his one line of specific praise for the president he served.
“Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, we have rebuilt our military. We’ve restored the arsenal of democracy and enacted the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan,” he said. “We also provided the largest pay increase of the last 10 years and you deserve every penny.”
He said soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division were the first troops deployed to Afghanistan, and if recently started peace talks with the Taliban succeed there’s a chance they will be among the last conventional units deployed to that war-torn country.
Pence did not reference the Capitol riot in his speech at Fort Drum, nor the coronavirus pandemic, but he said Americans have “all been through a lot this past year” and that his religious faith gives him confidence “that the day will come when we put these challenging times in the past and emerge stronger and better than ever.”
“We will renew our land. We will renew our strength, and the best days of our nation are yet to come,” he said.
During his speech Pence said he spoke “on behalf of the commander-in-chief and every American” and focused most of his remarks on the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, which he said has been deployed 46 times to Iraq and Afghanistan since the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 — more than any other military division.
“You come from the rest of us, but the people of this country know you’re the best of us,” Pence told the soldiers. “It’s because of you that we reached the 19th anniversary of that terrible day just last year having had no major terrorist attack on American soil. You took the fight to the enemy in the field and gave the Afghan people the hope of freedom and a chance to determine their own future.”
Pence said no American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since February of 2020, four Arab countries have recognized Israel’s right to exist, the U.S. killed terrorist Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, all while increasing pay for U.S. soldiers and improving the equipment used by the military and getting NATO allies to increase their contribution to the cost of the defense of Europe.
“I’m proud to report, with only a few days left in our administration, that we are the first administration in decades that did not get America into a new war,” he said.
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