Full transcript: Fmr. VP Mike Pence's interview with Scripps News

Former Vice President Mike Pence discussed numerous topics, including laws targeting transgender Americans, the 2024 presidential race and January 6.
Former Vice President Mike Pence
Posted at 1:19 PM, May 24, 2023

Former Vice President Mike Pence sat down for an exclusive interview with Scripps News Political Director Andrew Rafferty on Tuesday. 

Read the full transcript:

Rafferty: Mr. Vice President, thank you for joining Scripps News. 

Pence: Thank you, Andrew. Good to be with you. 

Rafferty: I want to ask about one of the reasons you're in Iowa, and that is parental rights. 

Pence: Right. 

Rafferty: It is an issue that's driving conservatives across the country and here in Iowa, the idea that they should, parents should have more access to their children's education, what they're reading, as well as conversations about identity and gender. And so I'm interested in know, what do parental rights mean to you? 

Pence: Well, you know, I'm a father of three. I'm a grandfather of three. And there are no more important rights, Andrew, than the right of parents in this country to make the most important decisions about their children. It's one of the reasons I'm so enthusiastic about what Iowa has done, what Indiana's done and a handful of other states, in extending universal school choice. I mean, now here in Iowa, as in my home state of Indiana, parents are able to choose where their children go to school, whether it's public, private, parochial or even home school, and let the taxpayer dollars follow them. I think this is an idea whose time has come. It's an issue I've championed for many years. But I think in the wake of COVID, when many parents saw what their children were learning on those laptops at the kitchen table in real ways, they hadn't seen them before. It enlivened the desire of parents around the country to take greater control of their children's education. And frankly, the radical gender ideology that's been advanced in many public schools, including here in Iowa, have been very troubling to parents. I mean, the our foundation in Washington is involved in a lawsuit of a school district where literally here in Iowa, a student would be required to have a written permission slip to get a Tylenol from the health department at the school. But they could get a gender transition plan without ever informing their parents. And as a parent, as a grandparent, that's just not acceptable, Andrew, and it's one of the reasons we're pushing back. We're advancing parental rights, but I think ultimately letting parents choose where their children go to school is an idea whose time has come. 

Rafferty: I want to pick up on that idea because if a minor with their parent's consent and their doctor's consent decides that gender affirming treatments are something that they want to pursue, should they be able to do that without government interference?

Pence: I support legislation in our home state and around the country that would prevent that. Andrew, look, you can't get a tattoo under the age of 18 in most states in the country. And this idea that we would allow children to go through either chemical or surgical transition treatment really before they've come of age, before they have a full appreciation for the decisions that they make and the long term consequences — so I've supported measures in my home state and around the country that would simply ban gender-transition treatment for young people. And I think that's in our children's best interests.

Rafferty: And I think a lot of Americans agree with the idea of not allowing minors to have access to stuff that cannot be undone later down the road. But my question is more on the idea of hormone blockers, puberty blockers, stuff that is endorsed by major medical associations. If a doctor says that it is safe, is a way to allow children to have more time to kind of figure out who their gender identity is, is that something that you would oppose as well?

Pence: I just, I don't think we do our children right by allowing them to make decisions until they've become fully-formed adults. Look, my faith informs me that male and female— who created them. I don't believe there's multiple genders in America. I believe there's male and female. And I think what we're seeing, particularly in women's sports, is very troubling to Americans who agree with me. I think in the vast majority that participation in women's sports ought to be limited to the gender at ones birth — out of a sense of fairness and common sense. But this idea of allowing children to engage in either medical treatment or even surgical treatment before they've really come of age, before they become adults and have a real appreciation for the long-term consequences of their decisions. I don't think it serves our kids and I think it serves our families. 

Rafferty: There could be parents who are watching this who think, 'Listen, if this is a decision I make with my child and our doctor, why does the government have any role in this?" What's your message? 

Pence: Yeah, I understand that. Look, I think it's, I think it's always the role of government to look after the health and safety of the American people. And minor children have always been a special category. We've always limited what children under the age of 18 are able to do whether, whether it's get a tattoo, whether it's enter into a contract. And even criminal law deals with minors, in most cases, in different ways. So, I think there's justification for protecting our kids very, very broadly. And I think we can do that in a way that still preserves the broad mainstream of parental rights in this country.

Rafferty: The Trump administration banned transgender Americans from serving in the military. Is that something that you would try to reinstate? It was undone by Joe Biden a couple of days into his new administration. But is that something you would reinstate as president? 

Pence: You know, look, I think we've got to focus our military on the mission of defending this nation and anything that erodes what our military calls "unit cohesion" is antithetical to that. And look, you're talking about an adult that goes through a medical treatment that — I'm a person to make their own decisions, whether I agree with them or not — but I think we've always got to conform policies in our military to what is in the interest of an effective fighting force that's able to rise to the challenge of confronting America's enemies. And I just believe that the introduction of transgender soldiers in the military has not contributed to our readiness and ultimately is a distraction. And I'd stand by the policies of our administration. 

Rafferty: Okay. So you would reinstate that? 

Pence: Well, certainly. Look, I look, I've got a son in the military. I've got a son-in-law in the military. What I want the military focused on is not politically correct politics. I don't like this woke politics that has taken place in the military today. We actually should be spending an awful lot more on national defense than we are today, Andrew. We ought to be providing our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Space Force the resources that they need. But also, it's the training, it's the readiness is to ensure that they're prepared for any challenge that comes to our freedom or to the security of our allies around the world. And anything that erodes that, anything that takes our eye off that mission, I don't think is in the national interest. 

Rafferty: I want to get to the other reason why you're in Iowa, and that is for the caucuses coming up next year. Scripps News has confirmed, my colleague in Florida, Forrest Saunders, Ron DeSantis (is) getting in the race tomorrow. He's going to do it via Twitter. What's your reaction? 

Pence: Well, you know, it's a free country and, you know, I respect the right of any American to step forward and vie for the highest office in the land. And but, you know, for me, for my family, I can tell you, I do believe that different times call for different leadership. I really think that. I'm proud of the record of the Trump-Pence administration. I was proud to run with President Trump not once, but twice. And I'm not sure anyone could have defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 other than Donald Trump. But I do think that different times call for different leadership. And, you know, just as an American, whether we're involved or not, I'd welcome anybody to that debate because I'm very confident of starting here in Iowa and in states around the country that Republican primary voters are going to choose wisely. We're going to choose the right standard bearer who will take on the failed policies of the Biden administration at home and abroad. I mean, Andrew, I mean, Joe Biden and the Democrats, during their time of controlling Congress, have virtually bankrupted this country. They've weakened America at home and abroad. They've trampled on the liberties they've advanced the liberal left wing agenda. And I think the American people are ready to get back to the policies that our administration was advancing. But I also think that they want to they want to see a style of leadership that at least has the possibility of bringing the American people together. 

Rafferty: And you've been critical of Governor DeSantis, specifically when it comes to the issue of Disney. We know he's going to run as a conservative who says he can win and has won. Do you have any concerns about his record as a conservative lawmaker and governor? 

Pence: Well, look, I like Walt Disney, not Woke Disney. And I fully support what Florida did in challenging a left wing agenda for children under third grade. In fact, I'd like to see them expand that in the interest of families in Florida. But where I took issue several months ago was, I, as a limited government conservative, I don't believe it's the role of government to then essentially go after corporations that differed with them in the political process. Look, Disney opposed Florida on that parental rights legislation. The governor and Republicans in Florida prevailed. It was a victory for the people of Florida. And I think all parties involved would do well to stand down and move on and let the political debates happen in the political process. But I think it should stop there. 

Rafferty: This week we've had Tim Scott, you know, Ron DeSantis tomorrow. People are asking, what is Mike Pence waiting for? What's the holdup?

Pence: I have to tell you, we're always very humbled when people ask. I mean, I'm a small town guy from southern Indiana. I grew up with a cornfield in my backyard. My grandfather immigrated to this country. I mean, to have people talk about you for the highest office in the land is very humbling. But we've taken our time over the last few years. We've been listening to people all over the country. We've been reflecting on the challenges this country is facing. And look, Andrew, I think the country's in a lot of trouble. And I really do believe that it's incumbent on all of us that have the experience and the background to turn this country around and reflect deeply on what role we might play. But I don't have anything to announce in Iowa this week, but I promise to keep you posted. 

Rafferty: I want to talk a little bit about foreign policy, because if you do get in the race, this could be a pretty big dividing line between you and the other top two candidates if they're Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. On the issue of Ukraine, how concerned have you been about the rhetoric from Donald Trump and DeSantis? DeSantis having to walk back that he said it was a territorial dispute, Trump being unable to explicitly say that he thinks Ukraine should become victorious — how big of a concern is that for you? 

Pence: America's the leader of the free world. We're the arsenal of democracy. During our administration, I'm proud to say that with what we invested in our national defense we unleashed our military against ISIS. The strong stance that we took around the world that Russia didn't even attempt to redraw international lines by force during our administration. They had done it in the two prior administrations, and now they did it in the Biden administration with the unconscionable and unprovoked invasion in Ukraine. And I think it's incumbent on the United States of America to continue to lead a coalition of the West to provide Ukraine with the resources that they need to repel the Russian invasion. And I have great concerns about voices in our party that have either been unclear or have tried to diminish what I think is a genuine threat to the cause of freedom. I mean, if we don't stop Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. I promise you, I've met Vladimir Putin. I've looked him in the eye. I've told him things he didn't want to hear. Vladimir Putin is not stopping at Ukraine if he over runs that country and and it would not take long for him to reach the border of a country that we would have an obligation under NATO to send our military in to contend with. I also think, Andrew, that by providing the Ukrainian military with the resources to repel and defeat the Russian invasion, we're going to send a deafening message to China whose military provocations across the Asia-Pacific have been constant over the last eight years, have been widening, and they've made their intentions about Taiwan very clear. But I think if they see the free world rally behind people fighting for their freedom in Ukraine, it would be the most effective way to restrain China's ambitions and contribute to a more peaceful world. 

Rafferty: Are those comments from Trump, from DeSantis, are those disqualifying? 

Pence: Look, that's that's up to the American people. Look, our president announced his intentions to seek office, and I understand the governor's about to announce his. But if we enter this race, I welcome the debate. Look, I'm a Reagan conservative. I believe in the Reagan doctrine, which very simply put was if you're willing to fight the communist in your country, we'll give you the means to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. It's part and parcel, Andrew, of what brought down the Berlin Wall and resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union. To abandon that approach now in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression, I think not only would fail to meet our obligations as leader of the free world, but I think it would ultimately fail in providing the kind of leadership that ensures the long term security of the American people. 

Rafferty: And now Donald Trump did a town hall a couple of weeks ago, you may have heard about it, got some headlines. But in it, he said he did not have to apologize to you because you did, quote, did something wrong by certifying the election. So I'm curious, should January Sixth be an issue in this Republican primary? 

Pence: President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. I'll always believe by God's grace that we did our duty that day in ensuring the peaceful transfer of power. And I would expect that the president's position on that will be a fair topic of discussion whether I'm in the race or not. But also, I have concerns about the president's shifting positions on foreign policy. And President Trump's policy on Social Security and Medicare is identical to Joe Biden's. Joe Biden's policy is insolvency. Look, we have a national debt the size of our nation's economy for the first time since World War II. And I think it's unacceptable for the president, or for people that would aspire to that office, to simply walk by on the other side of the road and leave that problem to future generations like my three granddaughters. I think we need to square with the American people. We need to tell them the truth about the debt crisis that we're facing and then offer common sense reforms. So, if we enter the race, though, they'll be probably more than a few disagreements with my old running mate. And I'd welcome the debate. 

Rafferty: And on that topic, the negotiations going on in Washington over the debt ceiling. The president has been very clear, former president, that Kevin McCarthy, Republicans should not negotiate. How difficult a position do you think that put Republicans in? Do you think that is helpful or potentially harmful to the idea of... 

Pence: The Constitution requires that the United States meet the full faith and credit of our currency. We have an obligation to do it. But I commend Speaker McCarthy for taking this opportunity to make a down payment on fiscal responsibility. Look, the Biden administration has launched a gusher of spending that ignited the worst inflation in 40 years. And I think the American people are figuring that out. They're figuring that runaway spending and debt in Washington, D.C. is raising the cost of living and impacting the quality of their lives. And I think they're ready for leadership that will respond to that. Speaker McCarthy's doing that, but failure is not an option. I mean, this is where I differ strongly with my former running mate. We can't default on on the debt of the United States of America. But I'm confident that if Speaker McCarthy will continue to stand firm for these common sense initial reforms for fiscal responsibility that they'll ultimately prevail. Because I really do believe at the end of the day that even Joe Biden understands that we've got to uphold the full faith and credit of the United States. 

Rafferty: So it's OK if Republicans don't get everything they want? There should be some negotiation if it means... 

Pence: Well, I supported Speaker McCarthy's decision to take Social Security, Medicare off the table in these negotiations. But, with runaway spending in Washington, D.C. and a mountain range of debt we're putting on our children and grandchildren, the American people want to see this new Republican majority stand firm and deliver a down payment on fiscal discipline that can adjust on the margins. But at the end of the day, I'm confident they will stand firm and I'm confident we'll find a way to pay the nation's bills. 

Rafferty: And one last question for you, Mr. Vice President. Appreciate you being so generous with your time. I want to read you a quote from one of your supporters named Scott Reed. He's leading a superPAC to support you. And he said that part of his goal is to reintroduce Mike Pence to the country as his own man. "People know Mike Pence. They just don't know him well." And so what is it that the country does not know about you? What is it that you need to be reintroduced to potential voters? What is it that you're trying to get out to people being here in Iowa, spending time in New Hampshire and South Carolina?

Pence: You know, traveling across the country after leaving office, Andrew, I have come to the conclusion that I'm well known, but I'm not known well. Most Americans know me as that loyal vice president standing beside the president. And I was always loyal to President Donald Trump until my obligation to the Constitution and the oath that I took took precedence. But those four years, I always stood with the president in good times and in bad. And what I've come to understand is that for many Americans, that's what they know about Mike Pence as a loyal lieutenant, standing by the policies of our administration. But the truth is, long before that, I was a leader in the Congress of the United States. I opposed leaders of my own party when they tried to double the federal Department of Education. I led the fight against the Wall Street bailout as a member of Congress. I served in leadership in the Congress, and then I went home to Indiana, where we balanced budgets, passed the largest tax cut in Indiana history, doubled our educational choice program, and reformed health care in new and innovative ways that had never been tried before anywhere in the country. And so if I become a candidate for president, one of my aspirations would be that that people would not only know my story of public service, the totality of it, and the battles I fought as a conservative in the House and statehouse in Indiana and as vice president. But they also know that at the end of the day, I'm a small town guy from southern Indiana, raised by a combat veteran, the grandson of an immigrant, somebody that grew up in a family that lived the American dream. And the passion of my life is to continue to do my part, to make sure that that dream is available for every American for generations to come. 

Rafferty: Mr. Vice President, thank you for your time. 

Pence: Thank you. Good to be with you.