It was late December 2020, and Greg Pence had just received his Covid shot in the Capitol and was seated in the observation room when Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma approached to talk about his younger brother.
“I said ‘Hey, just tell Mike when you talk to him, I admire him,’ ” Cole told CNN of his conversation with Greg Pence, an Indiana Republican.
The congressman responded: “Well, you don’t have to worry about Mike. He’s going to do the right thing,” according to Cole. “And he’s certainly not going to be overturning an election.”
His prediction turned out to be right: Mike Pence defied the pressure campaign led by then-President Donald Trump and certified the election results, setting off a furor on the right that inspired some rioters to threaten the then-vice president’s life as they stormed the US Capitol in a bid to overturn the election.
A year later, the fury in the fringe element has only grown for the former vice president, but he’s not the only one in the crosshairs. Standing right next to him is his brother, a two-term conservative lawmaker and relative newcomer to the political scene. Greg Pence walks a fine line as he tries to carve out his own lane in a GOP still dominated by Trump — and also to seek reelection at a moment when it’s rather hard out there for a Pence. Two candidates have filed to challenge him in the state’s May primary, but neither is considered a serious contender.
So far, Greg Pence’s path falls solidly under the category of loyalty to his brother, despite the fact that he personally objected to certifying Pennsylvania’s election results on January 6, 2021. He nevertheless maintains that then-Vice President Pence did not have the power to overturn the election.
“I stand by my brother and will always stand by my brother,” Pence told CNN. “I was with him on January 6.”
In fact, that is literally true. He was with the then-vice president in a safe room while the violence at the Capitol was unfolding and their lives were at risk — a situation that the congressman described as “surreal.”
“If you’ve ever been in a combat situation or life-threatening situation, it all happens very fast and it’s surreal. I think my brother’s a hero for him to say ‘I’m not leaving,’ ” added Pence, who has rarely spoken up about his experience that day.
Yet even though Pence compares the experience to a combat situation, he stopped short of reacting to the Republican National Committee’s characterization of the day as “legitimate political discourse,” which has forced Republicans to continue to rehash the day’s events and Trump’s role in promoting conspiracies and lies of a stolen election.
“I’ll let you all keep talking about that,” Pence said. “I’ll talk about my brother and the job he did gaveling us back in. That’s my story, OK? If other people want to interpret things differently, I saw a hero that day. I saw a leader that day. And so I’m always going to stand behind him. In fact, it’s difficult to say that your younger brother is your hero, but he is my hero.”
When Greg Pence walks down the hallway, he looks strikingly similar to his younger brother, often causing reporters to do double takes until they realize it is not the former vice president but the Republican congressman from Indiana walking toward them. He was reportedly used as a decoy to throw off the press when his brother was about to be named Trump’s running mate. Yet since arriving in Congress, Pence has managed to mostly fly under the radar, maintaining relationships with members from competing factions within his party, staying out of the party’s most high-profile skirmishes and gaining the reputation of being more of a “workhorse than a show horse.”
But with the Republican Party still at odds over how to characterize the violent events of January 6 and in light of the former vice president’s latest stunning rebuke that Trump was wrong in insisting that he could have unilaterally overturned the election, Greg Pence’s days of relative anonymity could be running out — especially if his brother decides to run for president in 2024, which means potentially challenging Trump for the party nomination.
Not to mention that the former vice president remains a top target for the House select committee investigating January 6 as it zeroes in on its investigation. But even though Pence remains a private conduit to the former vice president and continues to publicly defend him, he also does not want to speak for his brother.
“I’ll leave that up to him,” Pence told CNN, when asked whether his brother should voluntarily appear before the committee. “Our father always said, ‘Climb your own mountain.’ So all of us are very different. We don’t tell each other what to do.”
‘More of a workhorse’: How Pence operates behind the scenes
Pence, 65, a former Marine officer and small businessman who owns antique malls, decided to jump into the political arena in 2017, after Trump was already in the White House. The Columbus, Indiana, native occupies the solidly red seat that Mike Pence held for more than a decade.
Even as the Pence name remains central to the conversation Republicans are having about the direction of their party, lawmakers on Capitol Hill say that the Pence serving in Congress never uses his last name for leverage.
“It’s actually the opposite, which is very refreshing,” said Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a member of GOP leadership. “Because almost anybody else would use that. Right? But he doesn’t. And he almost, like, works against it. Because he’s his own man.”
“He does not go out of his way to self-aggrandize or grandstand,” added moderate Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota. “He is more of a workhorse than a show horse.”
He said that when Pence does talk about his brother, “it’s not forced. It’s not like he is name dropping.”
Moderate GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska also characterized Pence as more of a behind-the-scenes operator, telling CNN, “He is not trying to grab a lot of attention even though he could with his last name.”
Part of that likability comes from Pence’s ability to balance voting with the faction of his party that remains loyal to Trump while also being loyal to his brother.
Pence objected to the certification of the Pennsylvania 2020 election results, and signed on to an amicus brief backing a lawsuit from Texas to the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the results of the election in the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia. But he doesn’t view those actions as at odds with his brother’s role in overseeing the election certification process.
“He did his job that night,” the congressman said.
The Indiana lawmaker certainly could use his political standing and connections as a springboard for his political career, especially if Republicans reclaim the House next year. He’s also a strong fundraiser, especially for a rank-and-file member: He once earned a shoutout from Trump for his fundraising skills, with the former President joking: “I know a guy who looks like you.”
But while he’s followed in his brother’s footsteps by running for Congress, lawmakers aren’t certain whether Pence has his eyes on climbing the leadership ladder or launching a bid for higher office one day.
“You don’t, you know, talk to Greg Pence and think, ‘Oh, aspiration,’ ” said Mike Johnson. Yet at the same time, “people look at him and think, this guy could be a leader.”
If he does harbor any great political ambitions, lawmakers say, he’s kept them close to the vest.
“He’s certainly very capable,” Dusty Johnson told CNN. “I don’t know what his ambitions are.”
Pence serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a top panel that has broad jurisdiction over health care, the environment and telecommunications. He is also a member of the GOP’s whip team, which is responsible for counting votes and wrangling members.
But even though members were not sure if Pence had leadership ambitions, members from across the Republican conference spoke highly of his character.
“He’s one of those quiet forces inside the conference that people look to for common sense and steadiness in a crisis,” Cole said.
Even some of the conference’s hardliners, who have been critical of the former vice president and continue to falsely suggest he had the power to overturn the election, had nothing but nice things to say about Greg Pence.
“I find him to be very kind, very helpful and a very cheery person, but we don’t serve on committees together and we haven’t worked on legislation closely together,” said GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a staunch Trump ally.
“He is hard working, levelheaded, commonsense. A very good member,” added GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona, who serves with him on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, echoed a similar sentiment: “He is just as nice a guy as you could ever meet.”
Some lawmakers, however, did not have as much to say about him, given his low profile.
GOP Rep. Jackie Walorski, who is also from Indiana, did not know how to describe Pence when asked how he interacts with others on the Hill.
“I don’t have a clue,” Walorski told CNN. “I’m not on necessarily any team of anybody’s politically, so I haven’t run into him up here.”