Pence Reached His Limit With Trump. It Wasn’t Pretty.

Vice President Mike Pence presides as a joint session of Congress convenes to certify the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. After four years of tongue-biting silence that critics say enabled the president’s worst instincts, the vice president would not yield to the pressure and name calling from his boss. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni-Wed, January 13, 2021, 8:08 AM EST

WASHINGTON — For Vice President Mike Pence, the moment of truth had arrived. After three years and 11 months of navigating the treacherous waters of President Donald Trump’s ego, after all the tongue-biting, pride-swallowing moments where he employed strategic silence or florid flattery to stay in his boss’ good graces, there he was being cursed by the president.

Trump was enraged that Pence was refusing to try to overturn the election. In a series of meetings, the president had pressed relentlessly, alternately cajoling and browbeating him. Finally, just before Pence headed to the Capitol to oversee the electoral vote count last Wednesday, Trump called the vice president’s residence to push one last time.

“You can either go down in history as a patriot,” Trump told him, according to two people briefed on the conversation, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.”

The blowup between the nation’s two highest elected officials then played out in dramatic fashion as the president publicly excoriated the vice president at an incendiary rally and sent agitated supporters to the Capitol, where they stormed the building — some of them chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”

Evacuated to the basement, Pence huddled for hours while Trump tweeted out an attack on him rather than call to check on his safety.

It was an extraordinary rupture of a partnership that had survived too many challenges to count.

The loyal lieutenant who had almost never diverged from the president, who had finessed every other possible fracture, finally came to a decision point he could not avoid. He would uphold the election despite the president and despite the mob. And he would pay the price with the political base he once hoped to harness for his own run for the White House.

“Pence had a choice between his constitutional duty and his political future, and he did the right thing,” said John Yoo, a legal scholar consulted by Pence’s office. “I think he was the man of the hour in many ways — for both Democrats and Republicans. He did his duty even though he must have known, when he did it, that that probably meant he could never become president.”

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