- Jeremy Scahillco-founder of The Intercept. His latest book is The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program.
We spend the hour looking at the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, a candidate who ran on a platform of open bigotry, threats against immigrants and Muslims, and blatant misogyny. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, is often portrayed as a counterbalance to Trump and called a “bridge to the establishment.” But our guest Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, says Pence’s ascendance to the second most powerful position in the U.S. government is a “tremendous coup for the radical religious right. Pence—and his fellow Christian supremacist militants—would not have been able to win the White House on their own. For them, Donald Trump was a godsend.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today, we spend the hour looking at the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, a candidate who ran on a platform of open bigotry, threats against immigrants and Muslims and blatant misogyny. Over the weekend, Trump held meetings with finalists for high-level Cabinet positions at his golf resort clubhouse in New Jersey. Reporters questioned Trump as retired Marine General James Mattis, who is considered a strong contender for defense secretary, left the facility.
DONALD TRUMP: Really efficiently, very good, tremendous talent. We’re seeing tremendous talent, people that—as I say, we will make America great again. These are really great people. These are really, really talented people.
REPORTER 1: Do you see the Cabinet being shaped by [inaudible]?
DONALD TRUMP: Yes, partially.
REPORTER 1: Will you be announcing any—
DONALD TRUMP: We’re doing this again tomorrow.
REPORTER 2: Is General Mattis going to be secretary of defense?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, we think he’s a great guy. I mean, he’s some—he is some great man.
DONALD TRUMP: You will hear some things tomorrow, I think.
REPORTER 3: Governor Pence, what are your thoughts, Governor Pence?
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT MIKE PENCE: Great day.
REPORTER 4: Does Bridgegate disqualify Governor Christie from being in your Cabinet, sir?
DONALD TRUMP: We like Chris a lot.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Retired Marine General James Mattis is a former commander of United States Central Command and one of several names being floated for secretary of defense. Other possible nominees include Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantry officer, and national security adviser under George W. Bush, Stephen Hadley.
Later in the broadcast, we’ll examine other potential members of Trump’s Cabinet, but first we turn to his incoming vice president, Mike Pence, who is often portrayed as a counterbalance to Trump and called a, quote, “bridge to the establishment.” But our guest today says there’s every reason to consider him even more terrifying than President-elect Trump. The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill writes that Pence's ascendance to the second most powerful position in the U.S. government is a, quote, “tremendous coup for the radical religious right. Pence—and his fellow Christian supremacist militants—would not have been able to win the White House on their own. For them, Donald Trump was a godsend.”
On Friday, Pence attended a performance of the Broadway hit Hamilton in New York City. At the end of the show, actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr in the rap musical about America’s Founding Fathers, had a message for Pence.
BRANDON VICTOR DIXON: You know, we had a guest in the audience this evening. And, Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a—we have a message for you, sir, and we hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post, because this message needs to be spread far and wide, OK?
Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do. We, sir, we, are of the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Donald Trump later took to Twitter to demand an apology from the cast of Hamilton, saying, quote, “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!”
In Pence’s first round of Sunday show interviews since the election, he said he wasn’t offended by the remarks and that Trump would be a president, quote, “for all Americans.” Later, in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, Pence was asked whether Trump would reinstate waterboarding as an interrogation technique during his administration. This was his response.
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT MIKE PENCE: We’re going to have a president again who will never say what we’ll never do. I think, in President-elect Donald Trump, you have someone who believes that we shouldn’t be telling the enemy what our tactics or our strategies are. And I know that in conversations with some leading Americans about—about playing roles in our administration, we’re very excited about Congressman Pompeo’s role at the CIA, we’re very excited to see General Mike Flynn stepping into his leadership position. The team that we assemble, the president-elect assembles at the Department of Defense will all advise him, but the American people should know that this is a—this is a president who, on day one, January 20th, is going to focus on defeating and destroying ISIS at its source and confronting radical Islamic terrorism so it can no longer threaten our people or inspire violence here in the homeland.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Vice President-elect Mike Pence speaking Sunday on Face the Nation.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, where his most recent article is headlined “Mike Pence Will Be the Most Powerful Christian Supremacist in U.S. History.” His latest book is The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jeremy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Good to be with you, Juan.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: All right, let’s start with Mike Pence now, extensive articles you’ve been doing on him, particularly your main concern about him as the new vice president.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I’ve been covering Mike Pence for almost a decade, and my initial gateway into covering Pence is because he was one of the candidates that received the most funding from Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, who during the Bush-Cheney years operated what amounted to a Christian supremacist neo-Crusader militia. And Pence was actually the member of Congress that invited and welcomed and threw a party for Erik Prince in the aftermath of the Nisoor Square massacre in Baghdad in 2007, when Blackwater operatives killed a dozen and a half Iraqi civilians, including small children. So, Pence sort of was on my radar because of looking at who Erik Prince and his family were funding.
You look at Pence’s evolution as a political figure, and in many ways it is the story of how the radical religious right gained such prominence and now is in an unprecedented position to wield power. Some may say, “Oh, well, wasn’t George W. Bush the same mentality?” These guys are more extreme than George Bush on issues of religion, on issues of women’s right to choose, on immigrant rights, on gay marriage—a slew of issues. I mean, they really make Dick Cheney look like a reasonable guy on some of these policies. And, in fact, Mike Pence says that Cheney is one of his mentors and examples and whose footsteps he wants to follow in as vice president, combined, though, with a really radical Christian agenda. Mike Pence—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: When you say Christian supremacist, as opposed Christian fundamentalist, what’s the—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, part of what I write—well, so, part of what I was doing with this article was playing with the way that so many people have used these terms to describe people that are perverting the religion of Islam in the name of ISIS or al-Qaeda, etc., and I sort of did it as a social experiment, and I got inundated with people demanding that I retract these labels. And some of those people, in their emails to me, actually use these same terms to describe the religion of Islam.
So, but what I’m getting at is that Mike Pence is not just against gay people being together in a relationship; he wants to legislate a ban on those issues. He wants to repeal Roe v. Wade. As he said, he wants to put it in the ash heap of history. Their primary agenda, on a social level, is basically taking us back to medieval times when it comes to the rights of women, the rights of immigrants, the rights of the poor, the humanhood of all of these sort of vulnerable, targeted groups.
And, you know, Mike Pence, his personal history is interesting. He was raised in an Irish Catholic, Kennedy Democrat household, and then he was converted, on the spot, at a Christian music festival in Kentucky while he was in college. And he sort of now describes himself as an evangelical Catholic. But his sort of intellectual role models within this, what I call a Christian supremacist world, are people like the famed radical right-wing Catholic priest Richard Neuhaus, who was an evangelical and converted to being a Catholic, Gary Bauer and James Dobson, you know, ferocious right-wing, anti-woman activists. These are the people that sort of populate the world that Mike Pence comes out of. And Pence has always been viewed as one of the prized warriors of the radical religious right.
In Indiana, his state was one of the most—had one of the most restrictive, draconian rules on abortion, in the criminalizing of abortion. He actually tried to ram through a law that would have required fetal tissue or fetuses that were aborted to receive a proper burial. And, you know, a judge intervened, a federal judge intervened, the day before this was to take hold, and said this is quite likely unconstitutional. He denied—he held up HIV medication and treatment funding, trying to put on it a requirement that it come with a therapy that would preach against the evils of gay sex. He has said that he believes that the only safe sex is no sex, and he chided former Secretary of State Colin Powell for suggesting that people should use condoms when having sex.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to—Indiana Governor Mike Pence cut funding to Planned Parenthood, resulting in the closing of clinics. Pence has also called for ending all federal funding to the organization. This is him speaking in 2011.
REP. MIKE PENCE: The time has come to deny all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America. I’ve authored the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, which would deny Title X funds to Planned Parenthood or any other abortion provider. And Congress must act, and act now, to move this important legislation. Pro-life Americans and all Americans should not be forced to subsidize America’s largest abortion provider or to continue to provide federal taxpayer dollars to Title X clinics that engage in this abhorrent behavior.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Mike Pence in 2011. Plan Parenthood has called Vice President-elect Mike Pence, quote, “the anti-women’s health crusader,” noting that Pence has already passed extreme anti-abortion, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-LGBTQ laws. Since the election, the group says it has received 20,000 donations made from its supporters in the name of Mike Pence. This is Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards speaking to MSNBC after the election.
CECILE RICHARDS: Our doors stay open, and they will. And it has been kind of extraordinary, as you said. We have supporters—thousands of supporters from around the country took to social media last night immediately. Folks have been dropping off baked goods at our health centers. But also, one of the most interesting things has been the number of women who have called and made appointments for birth control, IUDs, things that are covered now by the Affordable Care Act at no cost, because they are, of course, concerned that Donald Trump will follow through on his pledge to overturn the Affordable Care Act. So we are seeing lots of new patients coming in to our—in to our health centers.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood, responding to some of the positions of Pence. But, Jeremy, very little of this made its way into the public discussion during the campaign season of Pence’s stance on a lot of these issues. He was portrayed sort of as the more reasonable, more establishment figure compared to Trump. Your—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, yeah, even like liberal pundits and major newspapers have sort of referred to him as like the adult in the room, and this is going to be the reasonable guy who will be able to have a conversation with the Democrats. I mean, Mike Pence is anything but reasonable. I mean, this is a guy who has a militant agenda against women, against the poor, against immigrants. But also, remember, he is going to be running both domestic and foreign policy, according to Donald Trump Jr. Now, the Trump campaign walks that back and says, “Oh, we didn’t say that.” I think it’s very likely they did say that. And that becomes extremely important when you look at the composition of the Supreme Court right now. You know, the Republicans have effectively stopped Obama from putting Merrick Garland in as a Supreme Court justice. We have the potential for these guys to be putting in two, maybe more, Supreme Court justices. The court will tilt as sharp to the right as it’s been certainly in our lifetime and could actually raise the prospect of a full attempt to criminalize abortion.
Just quickly, also, on foreign policy, you know, Mike Pence is an extremely hawkish neocon when it comes to redrawing maps in the Middle East. He is now coming to terms with the fact that he loves torture. He was one of those Republicans who was sort of saying John McCain is right on this; now he’s walking that back. The strategy that they’ve said they’ll employ against ISIS is just like bomb the blank out of them, as Donald Trump put it.
Mike Pence, though, is an interesting guy. The few areas where I actually think he has decent policy ideas, he’s now slowly backing away from them. One is, Mike Pence was one of the only members of Congress to support a shield law for journalists to protect confidential sources. And Mike Pence actually had a very strong position on that. The language of the bill that they ended up putting forward, that of course did not pass, was weak in its exceptions for national security, which is what they use against, well, The Intercept and other places to conduct surveillance on journalists. But it was there. He also has walked back his opposition to warrantless wiretapping. In the state of Indiana, he tried to require probable cause in order for local law enforcement to use Stingray surveillance devices against people. But he wants a permanent PATRIOT Act, and he doesn’t want federal law enforcement to have a warrant. So, on these issues where he may have had some logical, sane policy ideas, Trump has all but destroyed that. And Pence is now a foot soldier in this lunatic agenda, that joins his own lunatic agenda. So, it’s kind of like the worst of both worlds from the right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And quickly, on Israel-Palestine? Because Trump, at least in the debates, seemed to be offering a more balanced approach to Israel-Palestine. Your sense?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, no, I mean, Mike Pence has suggested that the United States should pass a law, or pass a resolution, rather, supporting an Israeli attack on Iran, should they decide to do that.
You know, Pence, also, on climate change, I call him sort of climate change curious. He once said it was a fraud and wrote that, and that was part of his political campaign, was to say climate change is a total myth, and it’s a fraud. Now he’s sort of saying, “Well, yeah, I guess that human actions and pollution contribute to this, but I don’t want us to do anything about it, because jobs.” You know, there’s this whole thing about Trump restarting coal. First of all, they’re lying to those workers, you know, that they’re going to be reopening this booming coal industry. You know, for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment, they’re going to lose that. But to have a—to have two people running this country who have either dog-whistled or blatantly said that climate change is a hoax bodes very, very dim for the prospects of our environment and the world that we’re going to leave our children and our grandchildren.
It’s a frightening administration on a number of levels, because it combines the buffoonery of Trump’s public persona with nuclear weapons and being the most powerful economic force in the world right now, second maybe to China, with this radical right-wing Christian supremacist agenda. They want to wipe out Muslims. That’s the clearest definition of a religious supremacy: You want to wipe out another people because of their religion. ANd Pence is in good company in the emerging Cabinet in terms of viewing Islam as an ideology that needs to be exterminated, along with its followers.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we’re talking with Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, where his most recent article is headlined “Mike Pence Will Be the Most Powerful Christian Supremacist in U.S. History.” We’re going to be going into the rest of that Cabinet after we come back from this break.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: “Retreat!” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Sharon Jones died this Friday after an extended battle with pancreatic cancer. She had returned to performing in 2015 after treatment, put the cancer into remission, but late last year she revealed she had been told it had returned.