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Hours before Trump speaks, Pence outlines conservative ‘agenda for future’ and hints at 2024 bid

<i>Patrick Semansky/AP</i><br/>Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Young America's Foundation's National Conservative Student Conference
Patrick Semansky/AP
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Young America's Foundation's National Conservative Student Conference

By Michael Warren, CNN

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday delivered a speech outlining an “agenda for the future” in Washington — just hours before a competing speech from Donald Trump during the former President’s first visit to the nation’s capital since January 2021.

Speaking to the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth group, Pence delivered a modified version of an address he planned to give Monday at the Heritage Foundation before the event was postponed.

“I came today with the intention of speaking to you about a broad range of topics, but the weather had different plans for me yesterday, so today I’m going to take the opportunity to speak about an agenda for the future,” Pence said.

The Indiana Republican said that conservatives “must focus on the future to win back America” and laid out what he called a “freedom agenda” of conservative policy goals on everything from the economy to immigration to cultural fights over education. The speech hinted at a platform for a presidential campaign, which Pence may pursue in 2024.

“I believe this freedom agenda provides a clear roadmap for conservative leaders like all of you to connect deeply with the American people on their top priorities,” Pence said.

Those aspirations put him in direct conflict with Trump, who is also considering running for president again. The two Republicans have been split since the events around January 6, 2021, when Trump put public and private pressure on Pence to delay the counting of electoral votes. Pence made an oblique reference to Trump, who has continued to argue falsely that the 2020 election was stolen, in his remarks.

“Now some people may choose to focus on the past,” he said. “But elections are about the future. And I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America.”

But the divide between the erstwhile running mates was on the mind of the crowd of young conservatives. When asked about the divide by an audience member Monday, the former vice president downplayed the idea there was any break within the broader conservative movement, saying he “couldn’t be more proud of the record of the Trump-Pence administration.”

But Pence did acknowledge a difference in “focus,” however, between himself and Trump.

“I don’t know that the President and I differ on issues, but we may differ on focus,” Pence said. “I truly do believe that elections are about the future. And it is absolutely essential, at a time when so many Americans are hurting, so many families are struggling, that we don’t give way to the temptation to look back. But I think the time has come for us to offer a bold and positive agenda to bring America back, and I’ll continue to carry that message all across this nation.”

Trump will speak later on Tuesday at the America First Policy Institute’s conference in Washington. The former president is expected to focus on “law and order,” according to Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich.

“President Trump sees a nation in decline that is driven, in part, by rising crime and communities becoming less safe under Democrat policies,” Budowich told CNN. “His remarks will highlight the policy failures of Democrats, while laying out an America First vision for public safety that will surely be a defining issue during the midterms and beyond.”

Trump allies have told CNN they hope former President will use Tuesday’s speech to look forward and focus on setting a Republican agenda ahead of the midterms, not unlike Pence’s own effort Tuesday to provide an guiding agenda for Republican candidates in 2022.

That agenda, he said, includes “advancing pro-life protections in every state in the union” and enacting “right-to-carry laws and constitutional carry” for firearms in states across the country.

Pence also offered criticisms of President Joe Biden and Democrats during his speech, contrasting the current administration’s policies with his own proposed policy agenda.

Much of his fire was directed at Biden’s approach to the economy, going after the potential that the US is in a recession.

“We need to permanently extend the Trump-Pence tax cuts for the American people. We need to eliminate special interest tax breaks and lower tax rates for working Americans and businesses. We need to support reciprocal trade deals that put American jobs and American workers first and with gasoline prices soaring,” Pence said.

But Pence also focused on a critique of the Biden foreign policy.

“Today, American leadership is hampered by this administration’s flagging commitment to our national defense, flatlining investments in our national defense and the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Pence said. He called the withdrawal “a disgrace” that “dishonored the service and sacrifice of every American who served in that nation to defend our country over the past 20 years.”

He also emphasized the need for conservatives to side with Ukraine over Russia and Vladimir Putin, citing his own experience as vice president with the Russian leader.

“Let me say this, as Russia continues its unconscionable war of aggression in Ukraine,” Pence said. “Conservatives must make it clear that Putin must stop or Putin will pay. Our freedom agenda calls for continually marshaling support for freedom fighters in Ukraine. We need to continue to put economic pressure and we need to continue to isolate Russia until peace is restored for the good people of Ukraine. And I’ve stood toe to toe with Vladimir Putin. I’ve looked him in the eye and told him things he didn’t want to hear.”

Tuesday’s speech is the latest example of Pence contrasting himself with Trump as the midterms and the 2024 presidential election loom.

In Washington last Wednesday, Pence received a warm welcome from members of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative House caucus he once chaired, suggesting he still has cachet among elected members of his party, even within a House GOP conference that remains steadfastly loyal to Trump. And on Friday, Pence campaigned in Arizona for GOP gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson. That put him in conflict with Trump, who was also in Arizona that day to stump for a rival candidate, Kari Lake.

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CNN’s Kristen Holmes contributed to this story.

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