A Conversation With Vice President Mike Pence

interview with Mike Pence
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Peter Robinson:  Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. On the program today an interview we taped in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the presidential complex right across the street from the west wing of the White House. Michael Richard Pence is a man of the Heartland born and bred. He grew up in Columbus, Indiana. He went to college at Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana and received his law degree from Indiana University. After representing Indiana and the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013 he became the 50th governor of Indiana, the successor of figures such as John Adams, our first vice president and Thomas Jefferson, our second vice president and George H. W. Bush, our 43rd vice president. Mike Pence is now the 48th vice president of the United States. Mr. Vice President, thank you for making the time to join us.

Mike Pence: Thank you Peter. Good to see you.

Peter Robinson: Good to see you.

Mike Pence:  And welcome to the White House everybody.

Peter Robinson: On a 60-minute interview this very week, the program played a clip of now Democratic front runner, Senator Bernie Sanders, speaking about Fidel Castro in the 1980s.

[Reporter] Here he is explaining why the Cuban people didn't rise up and help the U.S. overthrow Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.

Bernie Sanders: He educated the kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed the society.

Bernie Sanders: We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba. But it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program.

Peter Robinson: Mr. Vice President, does that strike you as an adequate answer?

Mike Pence: Bernie Sanders is wrong about so many things. He's also wrong about Cuba. It is remarkable to think of that now for decades we have seen a socialist dictatorship oppressing the people of Cuba. Literally political prisoners as we speak are chained to walls in Cuba. Hundreds of thousands have fled the tyranny in Cuba. And for Bernie Sanders to tout a literacy program in the midst of the tyranny of Cuba is just a truly remarkable. But I think it belies the fact that this coming election is going to be a choice between two worldviews. I mean, the Democratic front runner today believes in socialist, in a command and control economy. But I couldn't be more proud to be vice-president of the United States to a president who believes in freedom and free markets. And we're going to make this election a choice between freedom and socialism. And I have every confidence that the American people will choose freedom once again.

Peter Robinson: Senator Sanders continued we're back with 60 minutes now. He went on to admit that Cuba does have political prisoners today, but then he said, and I'm going to quote him again, "He took a couple of pups that your boss."

Bernie Sanders: Unlike Donald Trump, let's be clear, I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a good friend. I don't trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.

Peter Robinson: Mr. Vice President, how do you respond to that?

Mike Pence: This is a president who has taken the world as we found it. The truth is, when we came into office the last administration had essentially neglected and ignored the rising threat of a nuclear North Korea. And this president sought to engage and has engaged historic summits with Kim Jong-un. And now we are several years into no more missile tests, no more nuclear testing, and we'll continue to stand strong until we achieve the complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea. But the president's willingness to engage leaders around the world, is more a reflection of his absolute commitment to put the safety and security of the American people first and to suggest otherwise, to suggest otherwise is really a great disservice and at minimum a great misunderstanding of President Trump's vision. But when it comes to Russia, there's no been no president in my memory that's been tougher on Russia and President Donald Trump. Even in the last week, we impose additional sanctions on a Russian oil trading firm because of our absolute commitment to see freedom and liberty restored in Venezuela, another country in our hemisphere beset by a socialist dictatorship that's utterly impoverished their nation every bit as much as the dictatorship and socialism have impoverished Cuba. But the president imposed additional sanctions on Russia to make it clear that we're going to continue to isolate Venezuela economically and diplomatically until there, as we say, libertud is restored. And so what Bernie Sanders is, and I expect we'll continue to hear from many of the Democrat candidates. Simply misapprehends the president's philosophy of America first. This is a president who the American people know and tens of millions of Americans that have rallied to our cause and continue to rally to our cause understand is this is a president who will always put America first. America's economies first, America's workers first, America's security first. But in so doing, then we will engage the world and look for opportunities to advance the security and the prosperity of the American people.

Peter Robinson: You just mentioned Venezuela. The United States has recognized the opposition leader Juan Guido as the legitimate president and during the State of the Union address, President Trump seated Mr. Guido in the chamber and had him stand and receive applause. And the president said this about Nicolas Maduro, the heir to or successor of Hugo Chavez. I'm quoting president Trump in the State of the Union.

Donald Trump: Maduro is an illegitimate ruler. A Tyrant who brutalizes his people. But Maduro,'s grip and tyranny will be smashed and broken.

Peter Robinson: How? How? What do we do to help Venezuela?

Mike Pence: Well, from early in this administration, President Trump made it clear that we were simply not going to allow what was the second most prosperous nation in our hemisphere to continue to collapse into dictatorship and tyranny and poverty. Literally, five million people have fled Venezuela in the wake of Maduro's tyranny and deprivation. It really is extraordinary to think once again, the Democratic party today is on the verge of nominating as their party standard bearer, as someone who embraces the economic philosophy that has impoverished nations for generations and is as we speak, robbing the prosperity and the Liberty of people in our own hemisphere, in Venezuela and in Cuba. But those are the facts. Now, what the president did in inviting president Juan Guido to the State of the Union was reaffirm our commitment under the president's leadership. The United States has led a coalition of now some 60 nations who have recognized Juan Guido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. We'll continue to bring diplomatic pressure to bear. We'll continue to bring economic pressure to bear. But as the president has said, many times, all options are on the table. We're simply not going to stand idly by while Venezuela continues to collapse in not only poverty and tyranny, but also becomes frankly, becomes a nation state that's increasingly driven not just by outside interests far afield of our hemisphere, but also by narcotic interests and drug traffickers that are increasingly using Venezuela as a waystation station for their nefarious trade. So we sent a very clear message about who we stand with in Venezuela and we're supporting nations around the region. We're going to continue to bring pressure to bear. But President Trump and I both believe that the time will come when the reign of Nicolas Maduro comes to an end. And we'll continue to stand with President Juan Guido, we'll continue to stand with freedom loving people in Venezuela and across our hemisphere until that day comes.

Peter Robinson: China, this is you in a speech last autumn. Our leaders once hoped that economic engagement alone would transform China into a free society. And you know I can attest to that, having served in the Reagan administration all those years ago, that is just exactly what we were hoping. And now we have President Xi who has tightened control. China has not followed the pattern of South Korea and Taiwan with economic growth leading to political freedom. What went wrong?

Mike Pence: Well, when the United States accepted China's entrance into the World Trade Organization, that was the hope history records. We believe that if we invited China to be part of the world economic and trading system, that as economic liberty would expand in their nation, so would political liberty and all the ideals that we cherish. The reality is those we've spoken very plainly in this administration, the opposite has been largely true. That as the president has said many times, we've essentially rebuilt China into the modern economic nation that it is and yet in the midst of all of that, we've actually seen an increase in repression in China, whether it be repression of religious liberty, political liberty, the presence of detention camps in the Jinjiang province, the jailing of Christian pastors around the country. And at the president's leadership, we've called China out on that. We've spoken very plainly on those issues. President made it very, very clear that it would be difficult for us to make any progress in our trading relationship if there was violence in Hong Kong in the wake of millions of people taking to the streets in Hong Kong. And the president's taken a strong stand on that and we are pleased that Hong Kong continues to be able to work through its issues in China with Hong Kong in a peaceable manner that respects human rights of all of those people that are rising up. What went wrong is that the West hoped for better and it didn't come about. And so what president Trump has done is say, well, first and foremost, we're going to set this economic relationship on a footing that's based on the principles of fairness and reciprocity. Now we're encouraged by the phase one deal with China. That is the beginning of setting right a trading relationship that when we came into office, fully half of our international trade deficit was with China. The president was determined to change that and the phase one trade deal, not just dealing with the imbalance and including 40 to $50 billion in agriculture purchases, but also for the first time, dealing with intellectual property rights which are rights that are actually spoken about in the constitution of the United States. That we're finally beginning to deal with issues, forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft. But it's just the beginning and the president's made it very clear that we're going to continue to stand firm until we set this economic relationship on a balanced footing. But at the same time, we're gonna continue to stand firm on behalf of American ideals. We're gonna continue to speak out on behalf of religious liberty. We're gonna continue to speak out on behalf of political liberty. And our hope is that by setting part of our relationship with China right, that will also create a better relationship overall to encourage China to continue to move toward recognizing all of those principles that we cherish among the families in the nation across the West.

Peter Robinson: The Corona virus. Have we achieved cooperation with the Chinese at all? Have we got CDC teams moving into China? What's the state of play between us and the Chinese on the Corona virus?

Mike Pence: Well, I know from very early in this process, we've seen China exercise a higher degree of transparency with the coronavirus than we saw in past instances and we're cooperating with them fully. We've offered a broad range of assistance and we'll continue to do so. The president spoke to President Xi not long ago, reiterating our availability to provide resources, support CDC personnel and China knows that we stand ready to flow those resources at a moment's notice. But that being said, we first and foremost have taken unprecedented action to protect the health and wellbeing of the American people. The president took action to suspend air travel, to suspend access to the United States from people in the region, non citizens of the United States back into our country. We immediately instigated a screening at five major airports across the country and you all have seen the stories about quarantines that we've required people to participate in quarantines to ensure that the coronavirus doesn't make its way into the United States. We've had some manifestations there. The likelihood there will be more, but what you're gonna see, Peter, is our administration is gonna continue to take very strong action to protect the wellbeing and health of the American people and we're gonna continue to be there not just for China, but South Korea and Italy and any requests for assistance from the United States of America will be met with the generosity of the American people.

Peter Robinson: Mr. Vice President, this administration cuts taxes. You lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21%. That goes into effect on January 1st, 2018. A couple of quarters later, we're up at three and a half percent growth into the first quarter of this year, we're still at 3%, and now it's dropped back to 2%. How disappointed, how worried, how concerned should we be?

Mike Pence: Well, Peter, I think one thing that's obvious anytime you travel around this country is the American economy is booming and it's booming because we have a president and we had partners in the Congress that believed that less taxes, less regulation, unleashing American energy and free and fair trade would turn loose the incredible potential the American economy and its worked. I mean, more than seven million jobs created, wages are rising at their fastest pace in more than 10 years, unemployment's at a 50 year low. And we just have every confidence that the economy is going to continue to grow on the basis of those fundamental principles of free market economics being put into practice. And I do think you listen to some of the commentary on the other side. Democrats running for president talking about how the economy is not working. I gotta tell you, it kind of reminds me of what Groucho Marx said one time, which was who are you going to believe me or your own eyes?

Peter Robinson: By the way this is, you've got a lot of Californians in this audience and you took away their, you kept their state and local tax deduction at a very low level by their standards. And I can tell from their faces, they're enjoying listening to you, but they're all a little poorer because of you. Is there anything you'd like to say? Any apology you'd like to offer?

Mike Pence: The tax reform packages that we did was really designed to in so many ways not only unleash the full potential of the American economy, but really level the playing field around the country and we think it has, really think it has. And the American people know it too, Peter. My wife and I stole away for a spring break last year. We had a day and a half on the beach at Sanibel Island in Florida, which it's on the West coast.

Peter Robinson: We've heard of it.

Mike Pence: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Zero income tax state. That's the sort of thing RPA didn't know.

Mike Pence: Zero income tax state. So we were down and we were on the beach, we had ball caps on and sunglasses and these, I love to tell the story, these two big boys who'd written the paper that we were there, these two big boys wearing Budweiser shirts came walking by and this one fellow looks at me and he says, "Hey, you're Pence." I said, "Yes I am." And he said, "Listen, you got to tell the president "to keep doing what he's doing." 'Cause he said, "I made twice as much money last year "as I made the year before." And I told him, "I'm gonna tell him exactly what you said." And then he took two steps away with a warm smile on his face and turned back around and said, "And I don't know what you do, "but keep doing what you're doing too." And I told him I would. The American people know what, I'm everywhere I go around the country, there's a sense of enthusiasm. Kids are graduating from college and finding work in the area they are training. I mean the economy is booming to quote our friend Larry Kudlow. It's a booming American economy and it is. I know that President Obama is for some reason taking credit for it in the last few weeks, but I think everybody knows that from the day that election was over in 2016, we saw the American economy take off. And then when this president delivered on his promises for less taxes, less regulation unleashing American energy and free and fair trade, the American people made the difference.

Peter Robinson: Now, I don't need to remind a man who's won as many elections as you have of this, but cardinal rule of politics, voters don't cast their ballots to say thank you. They vote for candidates based on what they think the candidates are going to do for them next. So the economy is booming but if you've cut taxes already. What's the pitch? Why should the American people vote to give Donald Trump and Mike Pence four more years?

Mike Pence: Well, I think the answer is that the best is yet to come. This is a president who believes that we're literally just getting started in exploring the full potential, not only of the American economy, but of I mean, think about over 190 conservatives appointed to our federal courts at every level, including two Supreme Court justices. I mean, it is a record number of judges to the courts of appeals of any administration in history. And the president, if you go back to a speech that he gave to the New York Economic Club, Peter, in the fall of 2016 and this is a president for all the progress that we have made, for the all the good things that are happening in this economy. That's just what President Trump calls a good start. It's one of the reasons where you see this president calling on our agencies to continue to find red tape that we can clear out of the way without compromising the health and safety, wellbeing, or environment of this country. Cleared out a way so businesses large and small can create jobs. We're already working our economic team. Already working on tax cuts 2.0. This is a president who's engaging nations around the world for new trade deals. We've begun with China. We have a ways to go. Phase one is just the beginning but we've made it very clear to the UK. Now that Brexit is over, we're gonna work with them as soon as they work out their details with the EU, we're ready to do a free trade agreement with the UK. We're ready to do a free trade agreement with the EU. We're already in discussions with Japan for a free trade. This is a president who believes you bring all of these principles to bear, you get four more years and you just watch. You just watch this economy roll. You watch America grow stronger and more prosperous than ever before. And that's the message we're gonna take to the American people.

Peter Robinson: Got it. Campaign coming up, African-Americans, you and the president received about 8% of the Black vote. The economy is growing. Black unemployment is down to historically low levels, and your support among African Americans has shot up to 10%. You represent the party of Lincoln. Is there anything you can do? Is there any plan in prospect during this campaign to reaching out to that 11, 12% of the country, that for years now has simply not been interested in the GOP?

Mike Pence: Well, first and foremost, thanks for mentioning. I mean the first Republican president, our 16th president proved the point that our party was born around the principle of equality of opportunity. And this president has brought the exact same approach to this administration. We want to create an economy that works for every American and it's working. It isn't historic levels just as you said, I'll put a fine point on it. We have the lowest unemployment level ever recorded for African-Americans. I'll never forget back when I was in the Congress, we had a conference in Baltimore, Maryland. And I went down to a homeless shelter before we had the Republican retreat conference and I met with a bunch of local activists, largely African American families. And this one dad looked at me and he said, he was about my age and he said, "Mike, it's not like when we were growing up." And I said, "Well, tell me how." And he says, "There's just no jobs." He said, "Our kids come out of high school, "there's nowhere to go to work." And I have to tell you in whatever the latest polls show, I don't know, I'm hearing every day from African American families that are coming up and saying, thank you. Tell this president it's working. We're opening doors of opportunity not just for African Americans, but for every American. But in particular, we're seeing real impact, lowest unemployment level ever recorded for Latino Americans as well. I mean, the economy is working. We've got a program for opening doors. Now, 15 million apprentice and internship positions. Maybe some of the companies that are represented here by these prominent Americans are part of this, part of the president's initiative tour to make sure that we've got people coming into the economy and have an opportunity to get the background and training and skills they need to fill the jobs that are opening up in this economy. But there's two other areas that I think are particularly meaningful that the president's made progress on and is committed to. First was in the progress category was criminal justice reform. We had done criminal justice reform when I was governor of Indiana. Texas had done it before us. But Congress was never able to reform the federal system with the principles of a second chance that had been spoken about on Capitol Hill, advocated by people left right and center to allow people to earn the right to have an education, to earn the right to more just system. And President Trump got it done. Literally in my time in the Senate, I was there, I was able to speak to them on the president's behalf about what his vision was for criminal justice reform. And the first step act was signed into law and in so many ways corrected some inequities that had been set into the law back during the Clinton administration. But one administration after another had never been able to move the Congress to change them. And it's really resonated in the African American community. The president did an event in Las Vegas just the other day. I think it was entitled Prisoners of Hope, but it was people who were graduating from vocational programs that were getting a second chance and a fresh start in life. I met with a group of pastors in the community that's working with local law enforcement and people in the prison system. And you're seeing real results, you're seeing recidivism rates drop, you're seeing lives changed. So that's made a connection. And the last thing I will tell you is, and people in the African American community know this. We have a president who believes that parents ought to be able to choose where their children go to school, whether it's public, private, parochial or homeschool. And we're going to champion for school prep. Yeah, I was in Milwaukee during School Choice Week with our amazing secretary of education, Betsy Devoss. We were in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where literally the governor in Pennsylvania just vetoed a bill that would have opened educational choice scholarships to 50,000 students. And there's an immense waiting list in Pennsylvania today. And I spoke at a wonderful Catholic school 90% minority kids, they spoke 40 languages at this school and yet the educational attainment outcomes at the school are remarkable. But the African American community has in my own experience back in Indiana we doubled the size of our school choice program when I was governor. The African American community has been ahead of the curve in support of school choice now for decades. And frankly, it's because so many African American families face educational outcomes in some of our most failing and dangerous schools. And it's those families that have been clamoring for the opportunity like here in the district of Columbia to choose where their children go to school. And so that's another area that I know, Peter, that we're building support every day. Because this is a president who's says what he means and means what he says. He wants equality of opportunity. He wants to open doors of opportunity for every American and African Americans are seeing real results in jobs and opportunity and reforms and educational opportunities.

Peter Robinson: The kids among Americans 35 and under only 38% give this administration a positive approval rating. Why do the kids belong to Bernie?

Mike Pence: Well, I don't think they do. I meet a lot of young people around this country who believe in freedom and are grateful for the progress that we've made under this president's leadership. I really do. But I will tell all of you here on the Hoover Institution, such a legendary place and you've been such a vanguard of liberty for so long. I'll challenge all of you. I think it's not gonna be enough for us just to win the next election. We've got to win the next generation. We've got out and tell the story. I mean, to think that as many young people as there are being taken can then by socialists, by the empty and hollow promises of socialist philosophy is really remarkable to me. But I think it's incumbent on us to tell freedom story and also to tell socialism, sorry. To be out there to make the historical, the economic and the moral case against socialist and we'll be doing that. I promise you the president, I'll be traveling cross country doing that. But I encourage all of the prominent Americans gathered here and everybody associated with Hoover Institution to take up that challenge because I will tell you, I have three kids in their 20s. I'll have all three of them married off by this spring, which is good, good progress. I know this generation of millennials and they are a freedom-loving generation. I mean, when you and I were growing up and we heard a song on the radio, we like, we just hope to remember the name of the song so we'd go down to the record store and thumb through the albums to see if we could find the record. Now, what do kids do? They hear a song they like, they get their phone out, type it in, download it, buy it. The idea that young people today could be sold on a system of healthcare that would allow government bureaucrats to make decisions about the most important issues in their life and in the life of their family is unthinkable. This is a freedom-loving generation. I think if we convey it that way, if explained to people that the free market is the best pathway toward prosperity and the best pathway to outcomes, we can win the argument. We have history on our side and so I just, whether it be Medicare for All the Green New Deal or if they just flat out call it socialism the way Bernie does, we have got to take the case of freedom straight at socialism and I have every confidence that as president and I make that case, as people across this country make that case, we're not only gonna have a victory for our team in the fall of 2020, we're gonna have another victory for freedom in 2020.

Peter Robinson: You've been very generous with your time and you're a lovely guy, but you have a couple of members there on your staff who are gonna give it to me right in the neck if I don't wrap this. A couple of last questions. Actually this is, take this one as fast as you want to, but it's an important question. We'll return to China really briefly. Our population, 325 million. Our average growth rate over the last decade, between two and 3%. The people's Republic of China, 1.4 billion. Their average growth rate over the last decade, something like 8% even if you don't believe the official figures, it's tremendous. They're more populous. Their economy may soon be bigger than ours. They possess a central authority, which is ugly in all kinds of ways, but can get certain things done. And we have a 230-year old constitution. Honestly, when you think of the long term struggle and this administration's national security document calls China an adversary, this is the first time this has happened. Honestly, are you optimistic?

Mike Pence: I'm absolutely optimistic because I think that we have a president who understands the boundless capacity of the American people and sees a boundless future for our country. If we will just continue to hue to the principles and the ideals that frankly are enshrined in their constitution. And will continue to inspire the world. Look where we are at minimum. We're in a great power competition with China. And in my judgment, in the last 25 years, it hasn't been going in a direction favorable to our longterm interests. And then increasingly we've given them access to our economy with limited access to their economy. We've seen them take the trade surpluses and invest them in the military build up. The space force that we just created was the first new branch of our armed forces in 75 years. And we continue, we're dominant in space today as much as we are on land and sea and air. But the truth is that China actually established a similar agency a few short years ago. And so in my judgment, things were not going in the right direction before for the longterm interests of the United States. But with the president putting America first, rebuilding our military, reviving the American economy and embracing his role as leader of the free world, engaging leaders around the world, including President Xi in ways that are candid, but demand the kind of change that the American people expect. I have every confidence that we're gonna have a future brighter than any of us could possibly imagine. That's the story. That's the choice we gotta take to the American people in this election. It really is.

Peter Robinson: Last question. Last question is very easy to imagine an alternative life from Mike Pence. Think of Paul Ryan. He's out of Washington. He's teaching at Notre Dame. He sits on a board. Your friend Mitch Daniels is running Purdue. He sits on corporate boards. So what a great job. Notre Dame, Purdue, these are great institutions. They're both back home in Indiana.

Mike Pence: They are.

Peter Robinson: Instead, you're committed to a campaign in which you're about to embark on months of 18 and 20-hour days during which you will be insulted, called names and accused of undermining everything from the constitution of the United States to the Christian faith. What are you doing? What keeps you in this game?

Mike Pence: My first reaction is, so what else is new? I think number one, it really has been an extraordinary privilege for me to be part of an administration to serve alongside a president that's accomplished so much in such a short period of time for the American people. I mean I have to tell you, I served for 12 years in the Congress. I served four years as governor of state of Indiana. But when the call came, I joined this ticket in a heartbeat because I sense that we were an important moment, in the life of the nation. Another eight years of welfare state, big government policies, high taxes, more regulation, an internationalist view that saw America as just another country in the world. I thought we'd set our nation on a path that we might not be able to come back from. And what I heard in our candidate in 2016 and I've seen every day as his vice president is someone who believes in the American people and believes in this country and believes in the principles of freedom and free markets and the liberties enshrined in our constitution and limited government and whether it be court appointments, whether it be economic reforms, whether it be rebuilding our military has just hewn America back. I mean, when he used that phrase, make America great again, it was clear to me from early on that he had a clear vision in his mind of what that was. And that was an America strong and prosperous and free and leading the free world. And for me to have been able to be a part of that, I can tell you any the criticism comes with the territory when you're in public life. My wife and I have been involved for a while but to have been a part of an administration that's delivered so much for the American people and can still deliver so much more if we keep our nation on the path of freedom and free markets and the principles enshrined in our constitution. Any criticism that comes with it, as the old book says, I counted all joy.

Peter Robinson: Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States.