Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke at a private event in Salt Lake City on Friday about the “tragedy” of the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, his related grand jury testimony on Thursday, and what he thinks the Republican Party should focus on going into the 2024 election.

Pence has been floated as a potential presidential candidate, and he appears to be preparing for a run as he crisscrosses the U.S. doing speaking events in support of his memoir, “So Help Me God.”

Known for his strong Christian faith, Pence said his book was a record of “God’s faithfulness” in both he and his wife, Karen, who was also at the event.

The event was hosted by former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, in conjunction with the public policy institute named for Herbert at Utah Valley University. Herbert asked Pence questions and the two former governors — Pence was the governor of Indiana in the 2010s — joked about their previous interactions.

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Pence’s visit to Utah came just a day after he testified to a grand jury for seven hours. The jury is exploring whether criminal charges should be filed against former President Donald Trump for his role in seeking to overturn the 2020 election results.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court rejected Trump’s attempt to stop Pence from testifying. Pence had also opposed the grand jury subpoena on the grounds that his role as president of the Senate should provide him congressional privilege. In that case, Pence was allowed to avoid some lines of questioning over the conflict.

Pence has not shied away from talking about his anger with Trump over his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, when protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building. In his memoir, Pence said he told Trump he was “angry” over Trump’s actions that day. He also recounted how he, his wife and daughter had to huddle in the Capitol garage to escape rioters who were reportedly chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!”

Pence demurred when Herbert asked him about what he said in his seven hours of grand jury testimony the day before, saying he was “very limited” in what he could discuss.

Former Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, arrive at an event at the Zions Bank Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 28, 2023. The event was hosted by the Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy at Utah Valley University. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“If people are curious about what I might say, you can look at the interviews that I’ve done over the last six months, and you can read the pages of my book,” he said.

The audience gave Pence a sustained standing ovation after he spoke about his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, and how he believed it was a “tragic day,” that “became a triumph of freedom,” because the institutions and Constitution held strong.

“I will always believe by God’s grace — with my wife at my side the whole day, the whole night, and our daughter beside her — I’ll always believe it was by God’s grace that we did our duty that day under the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

He also declined to answer a question about his plans for a presidential run in 2024. He has hovered in third or fourth place in early presidential primary polls, trailing behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Pence’s decision to run will likely be based on his ability to raise money, and on whether he is able to capture the lane once held by conservative evangelical Republicans. He may have some competition in that lane from other candidates, including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott who is exploring a run.

Pence did seem to try to set himself apart from Trump and DeSantis with a more optimistic message.

“I’ve often said to people, ‘I’m a conservative but I’m not in a bad mood about it,’” he said.

Pence also weighed in on what he thought the Republican Party should focus on in the lead-up to the election, saying candidates should focus on “the future.”

In the 2022 midterms, those caught up on “re-litigating the past,” he said, “did not fair as well” — making a not-so-veiled reference to candidates who were focused on false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at an event at the Zions Bank Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 28, 2023. The event was hosted by the Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy at Utah Valley University. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

He also said repeatedly that the problems faced by the country would also be solved through strong leadership.

Pence had harsh words for the policies of the Biden administration, saying he thought Democrats had been “overtaken by the politics of the radical left.”

His criticisms focused on Biden’s policies on immigration, energy, spending and foreign defense.

“I’m here to tell you hope is on the way,” he said. “I truly do believe we are eight months away from a great American comeback and it’ll start right here.”

When asked what he thought the biggest challenges were facing the country, Pence named the rise of China and the nation’s debt.

He said China was a “strategic and economic threat to the vitality and future of the United States.”

On the debt, Pence spoke about his worries for his three granddaughters — and he touched the so-called “third rail” of politics by speaking in favor of entitlement reform.

Despite possible blowback from Trump, who has criticized his fellow Republicans who are willing to speak in favor of Social Security and Medicare reform, Pence said Social Security should be reformed for younger workers — those who don’t share his white hair color, he said.

He also acknowledged the Trump-Pence administration didn’t do “everything we needed to do to rein in spending.” During their administration, the national debt increased before the COVID-19 pandemic, and then shot up in its wake.

Herbert also asked Pence about immigration.

While Pence and Trump were known for their focus on a border wall, Herbert said lawmakers also need to provide a “gate” for immigrants. Pence said immigration reform should start with border security, but he said there was a need to “fix the doors.”

On lawmakers’ inability to compromise, Pence said Washington acts when they feel a “gale-force wind” of pressure from the American people.

He also spoke about the need for civility in Washington, and his friendship with the late Democratic congressman John Lewis of Georgia. While he didn’t agree with Lewis politically, the two struck up a friendship, he said, leading to Lewis inviting Pence to lead a commemorative walk across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 2010.

On the Republican Party’s struggles with younger voters, Pence said he thinks the younger generation values freedom, and he said that will eventually drive them away from Democratic policies.