Who Is Mike Pence?
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was a conservative radio and TV talk show host in the 1990s. After losing two bids for a U.S. congressional seat, he successfully ran for Congress in 2000, rising to the powerful position of Republican conference chairman, before being elected governor of Indiana in 2012. Named Donald Trump's running mate in July 2016, Pence became vice president of the United States when Trump won the presidential race on November 8, 2016, though their administration ended four years later with a loss to the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket.
Eary Life, Family and Education
Michael Richard Pence was born on June 7, 1959, in Columbus, Indiana. One of six children of Nancy and Edward Pence, a U.S. Army veteran who operated a series of gas stations, Pence was politically influenced by the Irish Catholic leanings of his family. He grew up idolizing former President John F. Kennedy and volunteered for the Bartholomew County Democratic Party as a student at Columbus North High School.
While church had played an important role in Pence's early family life, he became more deeply religious as a student at Hanover College. Additionally, although he voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980, he became inspired by Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party. After graduating with a B.A. in history in 1981, he moved to Indianapolis in 1983 to attend the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, earning his J.D. in 1986. While church had played an important role in Pence's early family life, he became more deeply religious as a student at Hanover College, where he became a "born-again Evangelical Catholic."
Marriage and Children
Pence has been married to wife Karen since 1985. A former elementary school teacher, Karen has also been involved with youth-related nonprofit organizations. The couple has three adult children: Michael, Charlotte and Audrey.
Early Professional Career
Pence went into private practice following his graduation and tried his hand at politics by becoming a precinct committeeman for the Marion County Republican Party. Seeking to make a bigger splash, he ran for Congress in 1988 and 1990, losing both times to Democrat Phil Sharp. However, Pence learned a valuable lesson in defeat; disgusted by his own line of attack ads, he penned an essay in 1991 titled "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner," and vowed to preach a positive message from then on.
Meanwhile, his public profile continued to grow. Pence served as president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation from 1991 through 1993, before making the leap to radio talk show punditry with "The Mike Pence Show." Referring to himself as "Rush Limbaugh on decaf," Pence was unapologetic in his support of a conservative agenda, but was commended for his level-headed manner and willingness to listen to opposing views. His radio show was syndicated in 1994, and he branched out to television as a morning show host the following year, before ending both programs in 1999.
Pence revived his political career by running for Congress again in 2000, this time winning a seat. Describing himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order," he quickly demonstrated that he wasn't afraid to buck party lines. He opposed President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind policy in 2001, as well as the Medicare prescription drug expansion the following year. While his positions rankled party elders, they bolstered his reputation as a man of strong convictions, and he easily won reelection five times.
Climbing the ranks of Republican leadership, Pence was named head of the Republican Study Committee in 2005. He was unsuccessful in his bid to become minority leader in 2006, losing to Ohio's John Boehner, but two years later he was unanimously elected to the powerful position of Republican conference chairman.
A staunch fiscal conservative, Pence insisted on cuts to the federal budget before supporting funding for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005, and was among the leading opponents of the federal bailout in 2008. He also drew attention for his social views, notably supporting a plan to shut down the government over a fight to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011.
In 2011, Pence announced his intention to run for governor of Indiana the following year. Despite strong name recognition and a platform focused on tax cuts and job growth, he became embroiled in a heated race with Democrat John Gregg, eventually pulling out a close win with just under 50 percent of the vote.
After he became governor, Pence had his congressional papers, which are housed at Indiana University in Bloomington, sealed. According to the donor agreement, the public is forbidden from seeing his papers from the 12 years he served in Congress until either December 5, 2022, or the death of the donor, whichever is later.
In 2013, Pence sealed the deal on a $1.1 billion give-back, the largest tax cut in state history. He also signed into law the state's first pre-K funding program and steered funds toward infrastructure improvements. By 2016, Indiana was enjoying a $2-billion budget surplus and a pristine triple-A credit rating, though critics pointed out that the state's wages were below national average.
Pence found himself in the national spotlight and on shaky ground after signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in March 2015. Intending to protect business owners who didn't want to participate in same-sex weddings, Pence instead encountered resistance from moderate members of his party and corporations that threatened to pull out of the state, and he was forced to alter the bill to provide exemptions for LGBTQ communities. Similarly, he came under fire in the spring of 2016 for signing a bill to prohibit abortions when the fetus has a disability.
Donald Trump's Running Mate
Shortly after announcing his intention to run for a second term as governor, Pence returned to the national spotlight when he surfaced as the vice presidential candidate for likely 2016 Republican nominee Donald Trump. Although Pence had opposed some of Trump's views, he was believed to be a good running mate for the New York business mogul due to his ties to congressional leaders and strong support among conservatives. (Pence had originally endorsed Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz during the primaries.)
On July 15, 2016, Trump officially announced that Pence was his choice for vice presidential nominee via Twitter.
At a press conference a day later, Trump called Pence “a man of honor, character and honesty.”
“If you look at one of the big reasons that I chose Mike — and, one of the reasons is party unity, I have to be honest,” Trump said. “So many people have said, ‘party unity.’ Because I’m an outsider. I don’t want to be an outsider.”
On July 20, 2016, Pence accepted his party’s vice presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. He followed Cruz, who was booed off the stage for a speech in which he declined to endorse Trump. In his acceptance speech, Pence remained composed and spoke of his running mate Trump: “You know, he’s a man known for a larger personality, a colorful style and lots of charisma. And so, I guess he was just looking for some balance on the ticket.
"Donald Trump gets it. He's the genuine article. He's a doer in a game usually reserved for talkers," the vice presidential nominee continued. "And when Donald Trump does his talking, he doesn't tiptoe around the thousand new rules of political correctness. He's his own man, distinctly American. Where else would an independent spirit like his find a following than in the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
Historic Presidential Election
On November 8, 2016, Pence was elected vice president of the United States when Donald Trump won the presidential race, defeating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The stunning Trump-Pence victory was considered a resounding rejection of establishment politics by blue-collar and working-class Americans.
In the early hours of the morning after the race had been called in Trump's favor, Pence spoke at the campaign's victory party at the Hilton Hotel in New York City. "This is a historic night. This is a historic time," Pence said to the crowd of supporters. "The American people have spoken and the American people have elected their new champion."
On November 11, Trump named Pence to be the head of his transition team, replacing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Pence's office also said he would continue to serve as Indiana governor until his term ended on January 9, 2017.
Back in his home state, Pence found himself in a legal battle to try to conceal the contents of an email sent to him by a political ally. The email was connected with Pence’s decision to have Indiana join other states in suing to block President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Bill Groth, a Democratic lawyer, sought to have the contents of an attachment to the email made public in an appeal of an earlier court decision in which the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that it was "not for the court to decide" whether to release the emails. Pence’s defense team countered that the contents of the email were protected from being released under the state’s Access to Public Records Act.
U.S. Vice President
On January 20, 2017, Pence was sworn in on the steps in front of the U.S. Capitol by Supreme Court Justice of the United States Clarence Thomas. Pence took the oath of office before Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
A week after the inauguration, the vice president spoke at the March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C. “Be assured, we will not grow weary,” Pence told activists before the march. “We will not rest until we restore a culture of life for ourselves and our posterity."
Vice President Pence also highlighted the Trump administration's support of the movement. "This administration will work with Congress to end taxpayer funding of abortion and abortion providers," he said. "And we will devote those resources to health-care services for women across America.”
In the first weeks of the Trump administration, Pence defended the controversial rollout of President Trump's executive order to ban immigrants from the predominantly Muslim countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen for at least 90 days, temporarily suspend the entry of refugees for 120 days and bar Syrian refugees indefinitely. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, the vice president said: "We are going to win the arguments because we’re going to take the steps necessary to protect the country, which the president of the United States has the authority to do."
President Trump also put Pence in charge of a commission to investigate alleged voter fraud in the presidential election. The president, who won the electoral college, but lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million to Clinton, claimed that 3 to 5 million people had illegally voted in the election. Bipartisan politicians including Paul Ryan refuted the claim: “I’ve seen no evidence to that effect,” Ryan told reporters. “I’ve made that very, very clear.”
“At the very center of our democracy is the integrity of the vote — the one person, one vote principle,” Pence said in an interview with Fox News. “And it’ll be my honor to lead that commission on behalf of the president and to look into that and give the American people the facts.”
The vice president also played an important role in the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, President Trump's nominee for education secretary. Amid protests from Democratic critics and teachers unions that DeVos, a billionaire charter school supporter with no public school experience, was unqualified for the position, the Senate deadlocked in a 50-50 tie. Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined their Democratic colleagues in voting against DeVos. On February 7, 2017, Vice President Pence cast the historic tie-breaking vote to confirm her, the first time a vice president has been called on to break a tie in a cabinet nomination.
Michael Flynn Controversy
A week later, it was revealed that another Trump appointee, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, had misled Vice President Pence about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, prior to the inauguration.
According to The Washington Post, Flynn “privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials.” Vice President Pence had appeared on CBS News’ Face the Nation stating that Flynn had told him that he and Kislyak “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia."
Flynn resigned on February 13, 2017, after less than one month on the job, and in his letter of resignation he wrote: “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”
Weeks later, reports circulated that Pence's personal website had been hacked, due to the bizarre content being featured. It turned out that viewers were confused by a parody site attributed to the VP, created by Funny or Die.
Unlike President Trump, Pence was said to have fostered strong relationships with the men who preceded him in the executive branch. In November 2017, a news story revealed that Pence conversed with Obama's VP, Joe Biden, at least once per month, and also met with Bush's former second-in-command, Dick Cheney. Their discussions were said to involve the exchange of ideas and advice, with the former VPs relaying valuable lessons learned during their administrations.
In late December, Pence made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan to demonstrate American commitment to stability in the region, more than 16 years after war broke out. “We’ve been on a long road together, but President Trump made it clear earlier this year that we are with you,” Pence told Afghan officials, adding, “we are here to see this through.”
In January 2018, weeks after President Trump raised an outcry by announcing his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Pence visited the region. Much of his trip focused on working with U.S. partners to counter terrorism and helping Christian minorities in the Middle East, though he also attempted to smooth over things with Arab leaders. That aspect didn't work out as well, as Pence and King Abdullah II of Jordan publicly "agreed to disagree" over the decision to recognize Jerusalem, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to even meet with the American vice president.
Weeks later, Pence became a central figure in the politics surrounding the Winter Olympics, held in PyeongChang, South Korea. First, his selection as head of the U.S. delegation was criticized by openly gay men's figure skater Adam Rippon, who cited Pence's alleged animosity toward the LGBTQ community. Rippon also reportedly rejected Pence's overtures to meet, though the VP's office denied having extended an invitation.
In February, before the start of the Games, Pence delivered a tough message to North Korea with the announcement that more sanctions were forthcoming. Toward the end of the Games, The Washington Post reported that Pence had planned to secretly meet with a high-level delegation of North Korean leaders, before they canceled at the last minute. The attempted meeting contrasted with the administration's public stance that there would be no dialogue until North Korea first agreed to abandon its nuclear program.
Returning stateside, the vice president generated more controversy with his comments at a luncheon hosted by the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List & Life Institute in late February. "I just know in my heart of hearts that this will be the generation that restores life in America," he said, adding, "If all of us do all we can, we can once again, in our time, restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law."
In August 2018, Pence delivered a speech at the Pentagon in which he outlined the administration's plans to create a sixth branch of the U.S. military, the "Space Force." Declaring, "We must have American dominance in space, and so we will," he noted that President Trump would request $8 billion over the next five years to support military operations in that arena.
While such military expansion would require congressional approval, the Department of Defense attempted to kick-start the process by identifying several steps to take in the meantime, including establishing civilian oversight for the Space Force and creating a United States Space Command. Critics countered by calling it unnecessary, expensive and likely to cause bureaucratic problems.
The following year, Pence was dragged into the House impeachment inquiry of President Trump after The Washington Post reported that the vice president was involved in efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Around that time, Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Ankara, Turkey, where they successfully brokered an arrangement with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to allow the safe passage of Kurdish forces from an area in northeastern Syria under fire from a Turkish military operation.
On February 26, 2020, President Trump announced that Vice President Pence would lead the administration's response to the coronavirus, which originated in China and was spreading around the world.
Citing his experience with the emergence of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as Indiana governor, Pence stressed the importance of partnerships between state and local governments and health authorities when responding to infectious diseases, and said he would determine the "best options for action to see to the safety and well being and health of the American people."
While his regularly scheduled press briefings were soon dominated by the presence of Trump, Pence focused on delivering measured versions of the president's fluctuating pronouncements, coordinating efforts with governors and addressing matters of supply shortages. On Monday, March 9, he announced that testing capabilities had increased to the point where 5 million tests would be distributed by the end of the week.
With the administration looking to find ways to reopen businesses and schools by April, the vice president raised eyebrows by visiting the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota without a face mask late in the month, saying he wanted to be able to look workers in the eye and thank them without being obstructed.
On October 2, 2020, President Trump revealed that he and wife Melania had both tested positive for COVID-19. Pence and wife Karen were also tested, but their results came back negative.
2020 Vice Presidential Debate
At the vice presidential debate on October 7, 2020, Pence faced tough questioning from moderator Susan Page and attacks from opponent Kamala Harris over the White House's response to the coronavirus pandemic that had already killed more than 210,000 Americans. The vice president defended the administration's efforts, pointing to Trump's early decision to suspend travel from China, and promised that a vaccine would be ready in record time. He also argued that the Trump White House was better equipped to support Americans at home and abroad, over the environmental policies proposed by the Biden-Harris team, saying they will derail the economy.
2020 Election Defeat
Although Pence expressed confidence in a reelection victory, the days-long effort to count the ballots brought increasingly grim news for the incumbents, until Biden was declared as the president-elect on November 7, 2020. While Trump raged against the "illegal" voting and launched a flurry of lawsuits to challenge the results, Pence offered a more grounded perspective of the proceedings, urging supporters to "remain vigilant" as the litigation played out.
On December 14, 2020, all 538 electors in the Electoral College cast their vote, formalizing Biden’s victory over President Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Biden received 306 votes and Trump received 232.
Trump continued to insist that he won the election, and he called on Pence, as president of the Senate, to reject the results of contested states when Congress convened to formalize the Electoral College vote on January 6, 2021. However, Pence publicly broke with Trump just before the start of the congressional meeting by issuing a letter which read: "It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not."
That afternoon, after the president held a rally in which he criticized his vice president and the "weak Republicans" who refused to join his cause, Pence was among the lawmakers who were whisked to safety when an unruly mob broke into the Capitol and clashed with police, resulting in four deaths and the declaration of a public emergency by Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser.
"To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win," the vice president said when order was restored, and he went on to formally declare Biden's victory just after 3:40 a.m. on January 7.
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