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In Trump White House, Will Mike Pence Become the Most Powerful Vice President in History?

StoryNovember 09, 2016
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According to The New York Times, Donald Trump’s son called John Kasich’s adviser before the Republican National Convention asking if the governor wanted to be “the most powerful vice president in history.” Kasich was told he would be in charge of both domestic and foreign policy. As for Donald Trump’s role, his son reportedly said he would be simply “making America great again.” What does this mean for Mike Pence’s role as VP? We look at his record as Indiana governor.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, “War, Peace and the Presidency.” I’m Amy Goodman. According to The New York Times, Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., called Ohio Governor John Kasich’s adviser, asking if the governor wanted to be “the most powerful vice president in history” and promising Kasich, the Ohio governor, would be in charge of both domestic and foreign policy. This was over the summer, before the Republican National Convention. Donald Trump’s son reportedly said that his father’s role as president would be simply “making America great again.” Well, Kasich says he turned that offer down.

But we’re going to turn to the man who accepted the offer. He’s the person who introduced Donald Trump last night at his victory party.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT MIKE PENCE: The American people have spoken, and the American people have elected their new champion. So let me say, it is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you the president-elect of the United States of America, Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was the vice president-elect, the current governor of Indiana, Mike Pence. John Nichols of The Nation, tell us who he is. And I put that together with John Kasich because it suggests what kind of role Mike Pence might play.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, we don’t know exactly what kind of role he’ll play, because we—I don’t think—I really genuinely think Trump is just now wrapping his head around the presidency. But let’s understand Mike Pence. He is the—he is the antithesis of everything Trump said he was about. Mike Pence is a career politician. He’s run dozens of times for public office in primaries and general elections. He got beat, he came back, he got beat, he came back. You know, this is a real political guy. And he is a—he was, for years, a talk radio host, a right-wing talk radio host, funded and helped by many of the networks set up by the Koch brothers. He, as governor—no, understand that. And now, as governor, when he came in as governor, viscerally anti-LGBTQ, right? I mean, really aggressively in the front of that. Aggressively anti-labor, aggressively right-wing on his budgeting to such an extent that the roads in Indiana are a disaster. He was losing his re-election campaign in Indiana. Now he’s popped up here.

Why is he here? He is here for—

LINDA SARSOUR: Anti-women.

JOHN NICHOLS: Oh, yes. I mean, I’m sorry, I was just doing the shorthand. And I apologize. And believe me, I’ve written about this guy a lot; you could go on for days.

But this is the important thing: Why is he vice president of the United States, coming in as vice president of the United States? He was brought on to comfort the extreme right, the social extreme right. And he was brought on to comfort the corporate right. These are the two groups that he has been intimately involved in for decades. His role is to take the Republican platform, which I’m not sure Donald Trump has read, but the Republican platform, which is the most right-wing Republican platform in history and is very detailed, and to implement that. He has worked closely with Paul Ryan. He was a member of the House. He has worked closely with Mitch McConnell and other key players there. This is—he will be the point man. And I want to warn you about something. And I don’t know how to say this, except there may be moments where Donald Trump is the reasonable man in the room.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Mike Pence and the legislation he signed off on amidst enormous opposition—

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, he had to back off, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —even from the corporate community, I mean, which were taking out tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, the sports community—the anti-gay legislation.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah. What—you know, we’ve had this—as marriage equality has come online, we have had this argument that somehow Christians who do not want to serve people who are gays and lesbians getting married, that somehow they’re being discriminated against. And Pence moved through a law that, in almost every sense, said, “Yeah, that’s cool. You go for that.” It wasn’t even, you know, like a—you have an exemption. This was an aggressive piece of legislation. It caused a massive outcry from some of the more conservative corporate people in America, many of whom are in Indiana because it’s a right-to-work state, it’s a very pro-corporate state. And they said, “Well, hold it. This is too much.” Pence himself was forced to back off, to some extent, on this. But—

AMY GOODMAN: After just tremendous pressure that at the beginning he was willing to bear, because of his—

JOHN NICHOLS: He was aggressive on this.

AMY GOODMAN: —beliefs.

JOHN NICHOLS: But I want to emphasize, that’s—that got the publicity. If you were in Indiana, the next week it was something else. This guy, in his aggressive assault on public employees, public education, public services—what we talk about with Paul Ryan, and we find—some of us find deeply unsettling, Paul Ryan’s close relationship with Wall Street, his determination—

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Paul Ryan comes from your state, Wisconsin.

JOHN NICHOLS: He does, indeed. Just down the road. But his close relationship with Wall Street and his passionate desire to implement a privatization agenda that is of great service to Wall Street, Mike Pence is the embodiment of that. And to the extent that Donald Trump is off doing whatever unsettling thing he is doing, leaving Mike Pence to do foreign policy is what’s—or domestic policy? That’s scary.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke to Columbia University law professor Katherine Frankereligionimpacts, who directs the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. She spoke about Governor Mike Pence and his record on reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood.

KATHERINE FRANKE: As governor, he cut all of the money, the funding, to Planned Parenthood in the state of Indiana, and it resulted in the closing of all of their clinics. What resulted from that? Since these clinics did reproductive rights work, certainly, and family planning work, certainly, but they also did HIV testing and counseling—and as a result of the closing of these—of the Planned Parenthood clinics, the HIV rate, infection rate, skyrocketed in Indiana. And this was in—all over the news. And so, the anti-abortion crusade has a ripple effect much farther out beyond just the issue of abortion itself.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Katherine Franke, can you say a little about Tim Kaine and, in particular, his Catholicism, in the context of positions he’s taken both on abortion and the death penalty?

KATHERINE FRANKE: Yeah, it’s such an interesting question. Both of these vice-presidential candidates profess, sincerely, to be devout Christians—Mike Pence, a evangelical Protestant, and Tim Kaine, a Catholic.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Mike Pence famously said, “I am a Christian, I’m a conservative, and I’m a Republican—in that order.”

KATHERINE FRANKE: “In that order,” that’s right. And what I think we’re seeing in these two candidates are two faces of Christianity in this country, one with Mike Pence, where Christianity is really being weaponized as a way to justify a range of discrimination, small-minded, mean, xenophobic thinking, and in the case of Tim Kaine, a different kind of Christianity, what I would call a more catholic way—with a little C—of thinking faith and thinking brotherly love, if you will, a Christianity of compassion, of care, of responsibility to those who are the weakest. You may remember that when he was in law school, he left for a year and went to Honduras to do volunteer work there. You know, if one my students said they would like to do that at Columbia, I would welcome it, whether they were Catholic or not. But I think Tim Kaine’s Catholicism runs very deep for him as a sense of—out of a sense of responsibility and public service. And what I see in Mike Pence is the way in which religion passes as a justification for thinking the world in old-fashioned, perhaps, ways that never existed before, but in narrow-minded ways and often hateful ways. And it’s a—it’s a real contrast between the two. Now, Kaine does say that in his own personal faith he’s opposed to abortion and he’s also opposed to the death penalty, but he also says that as a public official, as an elected official, his obligation is to abide by the law and the Constitution. I don’t see that from Mike Pence.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Katherine Franke, a Columbia University law professor. Linda Sarsour?

LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, I just wanted to bring to light, you know, as a person of faith and someone who is very unapologetically Muslim and very connected to faith, that faith played a role in this, too. And I don’t mean Donald Trump knows anything about God or even who God is. But the people that were voting for him, I mean, a huge Protestant evangelicals—I mean, for God’s sakes, Jesus was a Palestinian, like, Jewish refugee, like Jesus would not be proud of us right now. I don’t think he’d be approving of Donald Trump at all. So, I’m a little bit hurt by people who have the—supposedly, the moral higher ground, and they believe in Jesus and what he stood for, and they put their vote on Donald Trump. Like there’s just a contradiction there that is really unsettling.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, tweeted, “9/11, 11/9, two days the world changed, each for the worse. It’s time to truly pull together across every difference and build a better U.S.” Your thoughts on this and what organizing means?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Well, for me, I mean, for us at Define American—

AMY GOODMAN: Jose Antonio Vargas?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: We’re actually having a convening about this later this month here in New York, specifically about the intersection of these issues. I’ve been traveling nonstop for the past five years. I can’t talk about immigrant rights and not talk about Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, income inequality among all races, LGBTQ rights. All these issues intersect. All our lives intersect. And I think how we all relate to each other, what kind of work we need to do with each other, I think it’s going to be imperative that we do that. I mean, we’ve been saying all along that this is an election for us, that it’s all about defining what American is. And now I think we proactively need to do that now.

AMY GOODMAN: I keep going back to this Klan comment of the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, who lost the Senate—his race for the Senate, but said it was the best day of his life, the best election, because Donald Trump won for all of them, he said. And what this means for safety for people in this country? Nikole?

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Yeah, I mean, I think—I’ve been hearing from friends and people since last night, all this morning, who are devastated and who are afraid. And I think when we look at what’s going to happen now, when you have both houses of Congress—one of your viewers asked, “What happens with the Voting Rights Act?” Clearly nothing. You’re going to have a Supreme Court that has a vacancy and will likely have one, maybe two vacancies. And I think the ramifications of that for—

AMY GOODMAN: Or will be filled.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: —communities of color are going to be pretty devastating. So, I think, on the one hand, where you see at a rally someone saying, “Kill Obama”—and I think one of the pollsters on—

AMY GOODMAN: Not a rally, actually at—

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: At his victory speech.

JOHN NICHOLS: Victory celebration.

AMY GOODMAN: In the midst of him speaking.

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: Oh, right, not a rally, at his victory celebration, which I’m assuming you get an invitation to. And one of the Republican pollsters on CBS This Morning, who said Trump supporters want vengeance. And I think about that, and I think there’s a lot of fear around the country, and really a lot of devastation, that when I wrote a piece about what Trump got right, which is that the Democratic Party has taken black voters for granted, what I said is that black voters have always, since we got the right to vote, had to be one-issue voters, and that issue was protecting our basic citizenship right. And so, I think that is the fear, is that we will see a further erosion of that. And I think we may very well be entering the second nadir.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: I mean the first nadir comes after the end of Reconstruction, where you see this massive withdrawal of rights. We’ve already seen, you know, affirmative action, it’s on its dying breath. We’re seeing attacks on the Voting Rights Act. We’re seeing redistricting. That means even in states where Democrats are getting the popular vote, they can’t win in houses of Congress. We’ve seen the resegregation of American schools. And now we’re seeing a Supreme Court that likely is going to solidify that retrenchment of rights. So I think it’s a very scary period for a lot of people.

JOHN NICHOLS: And we have not talked a lot about foreign policy in this whole discussion. I’m not going to take us down that road, but I will suggest to you that if you look at the history of this country, in moments where we have moved into frightening foreign policy developments, as to some extent Ben Jealous was referencing with his two numbers there, that is a moment where civil rights, civil liberties—


LINDA SARSOUR: Go out the window.

JOHN NICHOLS: —become even more assaulted.


JOHN NICHOLS: And Donald Trump, I will point out, through this entire campaign, has said things as regards foreign policy, foreign interventions, nuclear weapons—

LINDA SARSOUR: Bomb the—out of people.

JOHN NICHOLS: —that are—that suggest a great likelihood that we could have a moment of that sort that jars and shakes this country in fundamental ways, and then we bring it back home with assaults on civil rights, civil liberties and—

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: The press possibly. I mean, he’s made it very clear.

JOHN NICHOLS: The press—well, he doesn’t like the press very much.


JOHN NICHOLS: And I just—I just want to circle it around and say that we have to understand the genius of Kimberlé Crenshaw when she spoke of intersectionality. And the reality is that if we want to care about our civil rights and civil liberties, we better look for the people who are going to be most threatened most quickly, and rally around them, because that moment is going to come where all those rights and liberties up that ladder become threatened.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, again, Donald Trump, it looks like he won the Electoral College but not the popular vote. Interesting that in 2012 he tweeted, “The Electoral College is a disaster for democracy.”

JOHN NICHOLS: He’s very right.

LINDA SARSOUR: Everything’s a disaster until it works for Donald Trump.

JOHN NICHOLS: No, but he was right about it being a disaster.

LINDA SARSOUR: Yeah, I mean, I agree with him on that. But I will—

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: There’s two things he was right about.


LINDA SARSOUR: I will say this, Amy, as—and to Ben’s point that he was making, I mean, I’m a Muslim American. And just knowing what my community has went through since 9/11, and it’s 15 years after 9/11—it’s way worse than it was even days and weeks after 9/11. And even before Donald Trump became the president, right here in New York City, a Trump supporter, avid Trump supporter on Facebook, attacked two women here in Brooklyn. A Trump supporter, avid public Trump supporter, burned down a mosque in Fort Pierce, Florida, just the day before a [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

LINDA SARSOUR: So this is already—this is already happening. So we have to be—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being here. Of course, we’ll continue this discussion. Tomorrow, among others, we’ll be joined by Bill McKibben in studio, co-founder of Donald Trump called climate change a Chinese conspiracy. We’ll discuss the gravity of climate change.

That does it for the show. Thanks to John Nichols, Jose Antonio Vargas, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Lee Fang, as well as Linda Sarsour.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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