Former Vice President Mike Pence on “Face the Nation,” July 2, 2023
The following is a transcript of an interview with former Vice President Mike Pence that will air on “Face the Nation” on July 2, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Former Vice President Mike Pence made a visit to Ukraine last week and joins us now as he makes his way back to the U.S. Good morning to you, sir.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Good morning, Margaret. Thanks for having me on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to start on some domestic news. As you know, it has been an incredible week with Supreme Court decisions. And you have voiced support for 303 Creative v. Elenis which ruled that the First Amendment protects a designer from creating speech that she does not believe, which in this case would be a wedding website for a gay couple. What do you say to Americans who believe that this opens the door to discrimination?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well- well, Margaret, first and foremost, I would- I would say to every American that the freedom of religion is our first freedom, that’s enshrined in the First Amendment for a reason. And from the moment the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage, the court had made a commitment, and Justice Gorsuch did also in a prior decision, that as they move forward on that decision, that they would still respect the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience of every American. And- and in Lorie Smith’s case, she made it very clear that she would- she would take all customers in her website design, she just simply said that she could not create a website that would celebrate something that violated her religious beliefs. And as you know, I’m a- I’m a Bible-believing Christian. I- I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and I believe that every American is entitled to live, to work, to worship according to the dictates of their conscience. And I’m- I’m so grateful that a strong majority of the court, strengthened by the appointments during our administration, really gave a- gave a victory for the religious freedom of every American of every faith.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand you see this as religious freedom, but in other words, are you saying that you would not refuse services to people on the basis of their sexual orientation?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: No, look, I think this- this is not about the law of public accommodation. And this is, both- both of these cases came from Colorado, where the heavy hand of government came in and said, ‘look, if you have a public accommodation, whether- whether you’re a cake baker, or a webmaker, that- that you’re required to- to take all customers,’ that’s what a public accommodation is, Margaret. But what the Supreme Court said here, and as they did in the Jack Smith (sic) case, by a 7-2 majority, is that you can’t compel the American people to create products that- that violate their conscience or their religious beliefs. I think, as I said, I think it- it was a victory for faith, it was a victory for religious freedom and- and I couldn’t be more grateful to see the three justices that our administration appointed to the court join the majority and- and affirming a real commitment to our first freedom.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But to the public, for those who do hear some concern here, as president, how do you assure them that you will provide equal treatment to all?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, look, I- I believe in the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience of every- every American. It’s- you know, I’m a constitutional conservative, Margaret, and I believe in upholding the language of the Constitution. I believe the Supreme Court did- did this in Lorie Smith’s case and I also believe the Supreme Court did this in Jack Smith’s case. Remember, Jack Smith (sic) [Phillips], the cake baker that- that also was subject to the heavy hand of the Colorado government. He- he said that he’d make a cake for any couple of any background and any preference, but he said he just couldn’t- he couldn’t create a cake that celebrated something that violated his faith. The Supreme Court said in Jack Smith’s (sic) [Phillips] case that they respected his freedom of religion and they said it in Lorie Smith’s case. And- and I believe that’s- that’s, that’s how America works. You know, we’re gonna celebrate our freedom over this long weekend. And it’s about respecting the freedom of every American, whether they hold the same religious beliefs as I do or not. But in this case, I think the Supreme Court drew a clear line and said ‘yes’ to religious liberty.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about the ruling on affirmative action. Fundamentally, do you believe that there are racial inequities in the education system in the United States?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, I- I couldn’t be more proud of the progress, even in- in our lifetime, Margaret, that we’ve made toward a more perfect union. I mean, to- to see the progress we made, the Civil Rights Act, to see so many years ago, when- when the Supreme Court upheld an effort by universities to make sure the doors of our schools were open to everyone regardless of- of race, I think- I think all represented real progress, but- but, I’m- I’m so grateful that the Supreme Court of the United States here recognized what, frankly, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said back in 2003, was that affirmative action was a temporary solution. It was an- it was designed to make sure that we opened doors that hadn’t been opened before. But she herself said that she expected it to go away within 25 years. It went away more quickly than that. I think that’s a tribute to our nation. It’s a great, great credit to the extraordinary accomplishments that minority students have had on our campuses. And- and I really do believe that- that- that we can move forward as a country and- and- and embrace the notion that we’re all going to be judged not on the color of our skin, but on the content of our character, and in this case, on our GPA.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And- am I understanding you saying there in that answer that you do not believe there is racial inequity in the education system in America?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: I- I just, I- I really don’t believe there is. I believe there was. I mean, it’s- there may have been a time when affirmative action was necessary simply to open the doors of all of our schools and universities, but I think that time has passed. I really believe that the accomplishments of America’s students, particularly our minority students, the great achievements that- that African Americans have- have- have reached in this country on that educational foundation, I think tells us that- that we’ve opened those doors and minority students on our campuses have excelled and I’m confident those doors will remain open. And we’ll continue to move forward as a colorblind society, which is really, the aspiration I believe of every American.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The court also ruled that President Biden lacks the legal authority to forgive student debt for 40 million Americans as he had tried to do. In response, the president made the political argument that Republican officials couldn’t bear the thought of providing relief for working class, middle-class Americans. How do you respond to that?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, first it’s just factually wrong. I mean, frankly, the Supreme Court here upheld the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States that President Joe Biden held and that Speaker Nancy Pelosi held, you remember, Margaret. I mean, President Biden initially said he didn’t have the authority and he didn’t. Nancy Pelosi said it would take an act of Congress to do this student loan forgiveness. But they went ahead and did it anyway. But in defense of the separation of powers, the prerogative of the Congress under the Constitution, the Supreme Court struck a decisive blow. But the other piece of it here, Margaret, is I mean, come on. The majority of people that would have benefited from this student loan forgiveness are people with multiple graduate degrees. So you’re going to say to working Americans, to truck drivers, to people working in the trades, ‘we’re going to take your taxes and pay down a part of the student debt of doctors and lawyers and Ph.D.s.’ It’s just- it, nothing could be further than the truth. This was not about the middle class. The Supreme Court of the United States took a strong stand for the Constitution. And again, I- I really, I couldn’t be more proud that the three justices that our administration saw confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States, in all three of these cases, has been delivering on- on defending the Constitution, has been delivering on applying laws as written. And- and- and I really think, I think it’s been a great, great affirmation of the work our administration did to strengthen the rule of law in this country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You still have to get young voters to turn out and vote for you, sir. This is very politically popular issue for Democrats. So what is your pledge to young voters?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: My pledge to young voters is that we’re gonna get this economy moving again. I mean, when I talk to young people, they understand that we’re going through the, you know, the worst inflation in 40 years, the administration’s war on energy drove up energy prices to record levels. We’ve got this crisis at our border that’s seen millions of people come into this country. I mean, this country is in a lot of trouble. And the young people I speak to as I travel around the country since we announced our intention to seek the Republican nomination. They’re worried, they’re worried about this economy and unconstitutional government handouts are not what these young Americans are looking for. They’re looking for a growing economy and they know that by putting into practice the policies that we did in our administration, by extending those Trump-Pence tax cuts, rolling back regulations, ending the war on energy, securing our border, we’re gonna set- set the table for a boundless American future for them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There was some reporting in The Washington Post that President Trump, back in 2020 after the election, repeatedly asked you to call the governor of the state of Arizona, Doug Ducey, to get him to substantiate President Trump’s claims- false claims of fraud. The Post is reporting you did call the Arizona governor multiple times to discuss the election. Is that reporting accurate? And what did you tell Governor Ducey at the time?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, I think the record reflects that I did check in, with not only Governor Ducey, but other governors in states that were going through the legal process of reviewing their election results, but there was no pressure involved, Margaret. I was- I was calling to get an update. I passed along that information to the president and as I said, I think the- I think the record from that time, confirms all of that. Look, these states were going through a process after- after so much uncertainty about the election outcome in places like Arizona, in places like Georgia, states around the country, were going through the legal process of engaging in a- in- in a review under state law. I got updates on that, passed that along, and it was no more, no less than that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You are clearly saying you did not pressure the governor. But were you being pressured by Mr. Trump to get those- to influence Doug Ducey and did you talk about this with the Special Counsel?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: No, I don’t remember any pressure. Look, the president and I- things came to a head at the end, Margaret, I’ve spoken about very openly and the president and I continue to have a strong difference. I’ll always believe that by God’s grace, I did my duty under the Constitution that day in presiding over a joint session of Congress in the aftermath of the mayhem and the rioting. But in the days of November and December, this was- this was an orderly process. You’ll remember there were more than 60 lawsuits underway, states were engaging in appropriate reviews and that- these contacts were no more than that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You were not being pressured to influence state governors is what you are saying?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: No, no there was- there was the president expressed his- his strong belief that I had authority that I did not have under the Constitution in the closing days. But no, this was about information gathering, finding out what was going on. We passed that information along and, and otherwise just focused on the work at hand.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, well, we will continue to track the work of the Special Counsel. I want to ask you about some issues of foreign policy, because you did just make this trip to Ukraine. You were the only Republican presidential candidate to have done so and you met with President Zelenskyy. He is being very clear, that when NATO leaders meet this month, he expects clear steps and an invitation to join the Western military alliance. If you were president, would you make that pledge to a country that’s currently at war with Russia?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, I think you put your finger on- on the issue there. But first, let me say, you know, I went to Ukraine because America is the leader of the free world. We’re the arsenal of democracy. And frankly, I think President Joe Biden has truly failed to explain to the American people what our national interest is there. I- I’m someone that believes that it’s absolutely essential that the United States continue to provide military support to the Ukrainian military to push back on Russian aggression because if Russia were able to overrun Ukraine, I think it would not- it would not be long before Vladimir Putin ordered his troops across a border, that under NATO, we would be required to send men and women in uniform. So I think we have a profound national interest here also, you know, in- in less than two years, with American and Allied support for the Ukrainian military and their extraordinary courage, I mean, Margaret, Russia has gone from being the second most powerful military in the world to being the second most powerful military in Ukraine.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: You know, that- that’s real progress. It’s measurable. It’s in our national interest. What- it- it is not in our interest to send American forces into Ukraine, and I would never support it. And as I met with President Zelenskyy, he made it clear that he’s not looking for that. And I have reason to believe, Margaret, that when- when NATO meets in a few weeks in Vilnius, that- that President Zelenskyy would be open to a conditional invitation to membership in- in NATO, namely saying that Ukraine will be a member of NATO once the war is over, once the war is won. I mean, I really do believe it’s essential that- that America continue to lead, that our allies provide Ukraine with the support they need. I got a report that after a very wet spring, now the Ukrainian military is making steady advances over the last several weeks. But frankly, Joe Biden continues to be and this administration, continues to be slow. They promised 33 Abrams tanks back in January. Now they’re telling them it’ll be September at the earliest. We’re still dragging our feet on giving them F-16s and they were actually told that it’d be January before they- the U.S. would approve those aircrafts being released–
MARGARET BRENNAN: If you were president–
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: President Biden says ‘we’re there as long as it takes.’ It shouldn’t take that long, Margaret. And- and Joe Biden has been slow walking aid to the Ukrainian military. You give them what they need and those courageous soldiers I met, the brave and faithful families I stood with beside their homes, they’ll fight and they’ll win against Russian aggression.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you provide Ukraine with the type of long-range missiles that would allow it to strike into Russia? ATACMS, like Zelenskyy’s asking for?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: I think that we ought to provide them with the munitions to repel the Russian invasion. This was an unprovoked act of naked aggression by Russia that I- I actually think occurred because- because, from the outset, the Biden administration ended our practice of providing military support to Ukraine. I mean, under the Obama-Biden administration, they- they- they sent them blankets and military meals. We provided them with Javelin missiles.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: They ended that. And then the disastrous withdrawal in Afghanistan, I think, emboldened the enemies of freedom around the world. And I think going forward–
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask–
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: –it’s in the interest of freedom, it’s in our national interest to give them what they need to win this fight and drive the Russian military out of Ukraine.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So maybe on that, on the Afghanistan issue, I’m glad you raised it because the State Department just released a report Friday, an after action report that did fault the Biden administration for a number of missteps but it also faulted the Trump administration, saying the Trump administration had ‘insufficient senior-level consideration of worst-case scenarios’ when it agreed to the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2020. President Trump signaled his desire to end the military presence before even reaching a deal with the Taliban. There was no plan or effort to help at-risk Afghans or plan for what to do with diplomats after withdrawal happened. Just a lack of planning. Do you accept that the Trump administration bears some responsibility for this chaos?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Margaret, I don’t because I know what the deal was that was negotiated with the Taliban. It was made very clear. I was in the room when President Trump told the leader of the Taliban, said, ‘Look, you’re gonna have to cooperate with- with the Afghan government. You don’t harbor terrorists. And you don’t harm any American soldiers.’ We went 18 months without a single American casualty to the day at that Kabul airport that we lost 13 brave American service members. The- the blame for what happened here falls squarely on the current commander in chief. And under our administration, I promise you, that while- while it was our- it was the intention of the president, the former president to pull our troops out, when the Taliban broke the deal and moved into Mazar-e-Sharif and Joe Biden did nothing, that set into motion the catastrophe that- that became Afghanistan and the heartbreaking end to 20 years of conflict.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying you would not have- you would- are you saying there that you would have kept the troops beyond the 2020 deal? Is that what you’re saying?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, look, candidly, it was always my belief that it would be prudent to keep a couple of thousand American forces there to support our efforts against terrorist elements, both in Afghanistan and in the region. And I- I think we ultimately would have done that. Just as the president announced we were- the former president announced we were pulling troops out of Syria, you remember I was- I was sent to Turkey to negotiate a cease-fire. And- and ultimately, there’s still American forces in Syria today. I think we would have landed in that place. I will tell you with deep conviction that that disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan would never have happened under our administration, because we would have held the Taliban to the deal. And I believe at the end of the day, Afghanistan would be a much different place today. And frankly, our- our- our security and our long-term interests would be far better off. No whitewash from the Pentagon is going to change that. The responsibility for that disastrous withdrawal falls squarely on President Joe Biden and the American people know it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about China as well. Do you agree with President Biden that Xi Jinping is a dictator?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: I think it’s a statement of fact, Margaret. But look, I also want to say with regard to Ukraine, because a lot of people will say, ‘well, China’s the real issue.’ And I, you know, I gave the first major speech in our administration, on changing U.S. policy on China, at the Hudson Institute back in 2018. Look, we changed the national consensus on China, but people need to understand that- that among our- our interests in the region, standing- standing for freedom, repelling Russian invasion, preventing Russia from going into a neighboring country where our soldiers would have to fight, I think there’s no more effective way to send a deafening message to communist China to check their military ambitions in the Asia Pacific, then by giving Ukraine what they need to repel the Russian invasion. I know China’s watching. They forge this unlimited partnership with- with Russia, but I gotta note, I’ve met President Xi, I’ve also met President Putin. I guarantee you President Xi is watching what’s happening in Ukraine very carefully. We give the Ukrainians, much more quickly than Joe Biden’s doing now, we give them what they need to win this fight to repel the Russian invasion, I think- I think it’ll- it’ll- it’ll lay a strong foundation for restraining the military aggression and ambitions of China in the Asia Pacific, like- like almost nothing else.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So to be clear, you as president would commit U.S. troops to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, I would- I would say to you that I’m somebody that believes that it’s no advantage to say what you would or wouldn’t do. I thought one of the catastrophic errors that President Biden made before the Russian invasion in Ukraine was he signaled that if it was just a- if it was just a small invasion, that maybe we wouldn’t send troops or we wouldn’t respond. Look, Margaret, we- never say what you’ll never do. The United States of America should continue to be providing with- Taiwan with the military means to defend themselves. What we want is a policy of deterrence. And, frankly, the Biden administration with regard to Ukraine, once they- they capitulated to Russia on Nord Stream 2, they were begging Iran, still are, to get back in the Iran nuclear deal, then that disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, I think that eliminated the deterrence that existed in our administration. You know, our administration–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Russia had troops in Ukraine during your administration, sir.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: –is the only administration in the 21st century where Russia didn’t attempt to redraw lines by force.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Russia did have troops within Ukraine during your administration, sir. You acknowledge that?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: They- they had the troops in Crimea. They rolled into there during the Obama administration. And, but look, I want to be clear with you, I think peace comes through strength. And the United States of America, whether it’s in the Asia Pacific or in Eastern Europe needs to be the leader of the free world, the arsenal of democracy, make sure people that are standing for their freedom know that America and our allies are with them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you for your time today, Mr. Vice President.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Thank you, Margaret.