Orem • Speaking to a crowd at Utah Valley University, former Vice President Mike Pence was asked by a student if he would run for president in 2024.
“I’ll keep you posted,” Pence said, causing a laugh and a cheer from the audience.
Pence addressed around 700 students, politicians and members of the public on Tuesday, sharing his thoughts on the state of the country since he left office in 2021. The former Indiana congressman’s tone often broke into a cadence resembling a stump speech, as he pushed for stronger borders and celebrated the end of Roe v. Wade.
UVU’s Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy hosted Pence on the Orem campus. Guests inside the 900-seat auditorium included Utah’s top politicians, including Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson and Utah Senate President Stewart Adams.
In a tweet ahead of the speech, Herbert called Pence a “close friend” and said they had served as governors together.
The former vice president told young people they are the last line of defense “for a free society in America grounded in the principles of our Constitution.”
“I truly do believe that here in the year 2022, and in the years that follow, the American people have an opportunity to restore our national unity, to rebuild the bonds that unite us and renew the promise of every American of every race and creed and color, if we build on a foundation of freedom,” Pence told the crowd.
Outside the auditorium, roughly two dozen people protested the event, saying Pence was not welcome on the UVU campus.
Puck Roth, a student and one of the organizers of the protest, told The Salt Lake Tribune the campus was informed of Pence’s speech around the start of the semester last month. Roth said UVU’s public ads say the campus is for everyone, but hosting Pence on campus goes against that message of inclusion.
“When (the university) invited Pence to speak here, they did not get the input of students, they did not see how this would affect students here on campus,” Roth said.
Inside the event, another student asked Pence about the events surrounding the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. After temporarily interrupting Congress’ certification of the 2020 presidential election, supporters of former President Donald Trump chanted “Hang Mike Pence” while inside the Capitol.
“Let me be very clear,” Pence said sternly, “Jan. 6 was a tragic day in the life of our nation.”
Pence thanked the members of law enforcement for restoring order and ensuring that Congress could reconvene and ultimately certify the election. He added that as Jan. 6 approached, he couldn’t see how a vice president could alter the outcome of an election.
“The only role of the Congress is to open and count electoral votes, and under the Constitution, the role of the Vice President is simply to preside over the opening and accounting of votes,” Pence said. “I know that as that tragic day approached there was some speculation about more authority than I had, but I just didn’t believe that. I never did.
“I mean, there’s almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person chooses which votes to count for the American president.”
The statement prompted a round of applause, while Pence thanked the audience for the encouragement.
Carson Jorgensen, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, praised Pence’s speech afterward, saying he gives a high-quality speech no matter where he goes.
“I think that’s why you never saw a lot of negative press about him,” Jorgensen told The Tribune. “It’s because it’s really hard to pick apart a speech like that. It’s just really done well, very professional and resonates to a lot of people.”
Jorgensen said he agreed with the former vice president’s call for civility in politics. During his speech, Pence shared a story about the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, explaining that he and Lewis, a Democrat, disagreed on many things, but their mutual Christian faith was a cornerstone of respect in their relationship.
“In Utah, we need a little bit more of that,” Jorgensen said.
Pence appeared in Utah earlier this year, visiting the state in July to host a fundraiser for Utah Rep. Burgess Owens in Park City. Pence also visited the Beehive State back in 2016 to stump as a vice presidential candidate.
Tuesday’s speech was one of the first public events for Pence in Utah since his 2020 vice presidential debate with current Vice President Kamala Harris, which took place at the University of Utah campus. The debate was remembered by many as the event where a fly sat on Pence’s head for several minutes.
During the 2020 debate, Pence was asked what he would do if then-President Donald Trump refused to concede the election, but the then-vice president took the moment to attack mail-in voting.
“President Trump and I are fighting every day in courthouses to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating this universal mail-in voting that will create a massive opportunity for voter fraud,” Pence alleged at the time.
Correction, Sept. 21, 9:15 a.m. • The story has been updated with the correct spelling of Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s name.