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CNN Live Event/Special

CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall With Mike Pence. Aired 9- 10:35p ET

Aired June 07, 2023 - 21:00   ET


DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Good evening, and welcome to Iowa, where the 2024 campaign for the White House is heating up.

We are live at Grand View University in Des Moines for CNN's town hall with former Vice President Mike Pence. I'm Dana Bash.

Tonight, we hear from a brand-new candidate in the Republican field. Former Vice President Mike Pence announced his run for the White House earlier today, a move unprecedented in modern political history, a former vice president running against the president he served under.

Pence enters a race dominated by that former boss, Donald Trump. And he will be battling a growing number of rivals for the chance to take on President Joe Biden. This evening's event is about the voters and the issues that will help them determine who wins the Republican nomination.

Tonight, Iowa voters will have the opportunity to question the former vice president directly, and I will have some questions of my own. This town hall is part of the Republican primary process. And so, by design, in the audience tonight are voters who say they plan to participate in the Iowa Republican Caucuses, both Republicans and also independents who plan to register as Republicans.

The audience comes from all over the state and is representative of Iowa Republicans. To find tonight's questioners, we reached out to Republican-affiliated groups, as well as business groups, farm associations, parent groups, young professional organizations, religious groups, and advocacy organizations.

In addition to the voters asking the questions, guests of the Pence campaign and the university are also in the audience. We have asked everyone here to be respectful, so that voters in the room and at home have a chance to hear from the candidate.

Now please welcome former Vice President Mike Pence.




PENCE: Thank you.


PENCE: Thank you all.


BASH: Hello, sir.

PENCE: Dana, good to see you.

BASH: Thank you. Good to see you. Would you like to have a seat?


PENCE: Thank you.

BASH: First, let's get down to business. Happy birthday.


PENCE: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: What a way to spend your birthday.

PENCE: Quite a way. It's one for the books.

BASH: Yes, absolutely.

So, I mentioned this. A vice president running against a president he served with is incredibly unusual. It hasn't happened in modern history. Why did you decide to run against your former boss?

PENCE: Well, first off, thank you, Dana. Thank you to CNN for hosting this town hall. And thank you to all the good people of Iowa for the warm welcome tonight.

It is a real privilege for Karen and I to be with you and to come here to the first-in-the-nation-state to announce my intention to seek the Republican nomination for president of the United States. We wanted to do it here in Iowa.


PENCE: And my reasons -- Dana, my reasons for running, first, look, I love this country. America has been so good to our family.

My grandfather immigrated from Ireland. He went through Ellis Island. I was named after him. My dad was a combat veteran. My mom and dad built everything that matters, a family, a business and a good name. We really lived the American dream. And I was raised to believe you give back. And I had the opportunity to do that.

We met in the years that I was in the Congress of the United States, when I was a leader among House conservatives. I was governor of the state of Indiana. It was my great privilege to be vice president of the United States. But the opportunities that we have had to serve, the experience that

we have developed informed very much our sense of calling in this moment, because I'm running because I think this country is in a lot of trouble. I think President Joe Biden and the Democrats have weakened America at home and abroad.

Literally, we have a crisis at our border. We have inflation at a 40- year high. We have a crime wave in our cities. And, frankly, that disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has emboldened the enemies of freedom around the world.

Now, more than ever, I think those of us that have the experience to bring back real change and to put America back on a track of commonsense, conservative principles have a responsibility to step forward. And that's why I'm running for president of the United States.

BASH: And we're going to get to a lot of those issues.

But I want to talk about something you mentioned more than one time in your kickoff speech today. You said that, on January 6, you -- quote -- "chose the Constitution" over Donald Trump and -- quote -- "Now voters will face the same choice."


So, just to be clear, are you saying that a vote for Donald Trump is a vote against the Constitution?

PENCE: I have said many times, including on this network and others, and in the book that I wrote last fall, January 6 was a tragic day.

But, thanks to the courage of law enforcement, the violence was quelled, we were able to reconvene the Congress the very same day and complete the work of the American people, under the Constitution. And I will always believe that, by God's grace, I did my duty that day to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the oath that I had taken.

But, as I said today in my remarks, I felt it was important, as we launch this campaign, to understand the president and I had a difference in the past, and that hasn't changed. But, also, there are profound differences about the future of this country and the future of the Republican Party that I articulated today.

When the president asserted that I had the right to overturn the election, I said today that I felt that he was -- he was asking me to choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution. And I always will.

It was a difficult day. I had, frankly, hoped the president would come around in the years since and see that we had done our duty under the Constitution to preside over the count of the electoral vote as dictated by our founders. But it's not to be.

I said today President Trump was wrong then, he's wrong now. But I truly do believe, I truly do believe that it's important to remember that those of us that would take the oath of office to serve as president of the United States really make one promise above all others, and that is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

And I pledge to the people of Iowa and the people of America that, if you give me that great privilege, I will always stand on the Constitution of the United States of America, whatever it means to me.


BASH: Sir, I want to go to the audience. We have a question on this issue.

Meet Keaton Newgren. He's a law student from Johnston who previously interned for Senator Joni Ernst.

PENCE: Oh, very good.

BASH: Keaton.


My question is, are you prepared to push back against the former president on allegations you could have overturned the 2020 election?

PENCE: Well, Keaton, I -- I would refer you to my speech today...


PENCE: ... to answer that question. And the answer is yes.

I think it's important, but not that I didn't think there were irregularities in the 2020 election. I did. And I said so on that fateful day. I had concerns that there were half-a-dozen states that had changed the rules in the name of COVID and that had undermined public confidence in our elections.

But once states had certified those elections, once the courts had reviewed them, once the Congress had considered any objections, I knew my duty was clear. The Constitution states clearly that the job of the vice president, as president of the Senate, is to preside over a joint session of Congress, where the Electoral College votes are opened and counted.

It says, they shall be opened and they shall be counted. And we did that. And I want the American people to know that I believe with all my heart that we did our duty that day.

The Bible says, he keeps his oath even when it hurts. And I know something about that. I know the disappointment of the 2020 election. You remember, I was on the ballot, right?


PENCE: But, at the end of the day, I think the Republican Party has to be the party of the Constitution.

I mean, we have had enough of Democrats trampling on our constitutional rights. We have had enough of Democrats wanting to pack the court...


PENCE: ... do away with the Second Amendment...

BASH: Mr....

PENCE: ... trample our religious freedoms.

So, now, more than ever, I think the American people need to be able to look to the Republican Party and say, that will be a party whose leaders are all men and women that are dedicated to preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution of the United States.

BASH: Well, sir -- sir, on that, Donald Trump says he is -- quote -- "inclined to pardon" many members of the mob who attacked the Capitol on January 6.

Those people were, of course, part of the same mob who built gallows and chanted about wanting to hang you. Would you consider pardoning any of them?

PENCE: On the day of January 6, I issued a tweet demanding that people leave the Capitol and end the violence. And I said that those that failed to do that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

And I continue to believe that today. We cannot ever allow what happened on January 6 to happen again in the heart of our democracy. And I will stand by the decisions and the due process of court and our laws. And I have no interest or no intention of pardoning those that assaulted police officers or vandalized our Capitol.


They need to be answerable to the law.

BASH: Sir, I want to ask about some breaking news tonight.

The Justice Department recently informed Donald Trump's legal team that he is a target of a federal investigation into possibly mishandling classified documents.

I should say you were cleared last week in your own documents case.

What's your reaction to the news about your former boss?

PENCE: Well, let me say that the handling of classified materials is a very serious matter.

And that was why, after the revelations at the president's residence and the revelations at the former president's residence, I took it upon myself to review our files, and we uncovered a small number of documents that had been inadvertently transferred to our residence in Indiana.

I immediately informed the Department of Justice. And I'm grateful, after our full cooperation, that they concluded that it was an innocent mistake.

BASH: Full cooperation. Do you see his case as different?

PENCE: But let me say this.

Look, I -- I -- I don't know the facts of the president's case. I don't know the facts of the former president's case. And -- but what we have got to have in this country is equal treatment under the law.


PENCE: And, Dana, you may not know, I mean, I was very troubled last summer when, for the first time in history, there was a search warrant executed at the home of a former president of the United States.

Surely, you know all the years I served on the Judiciary Committee. That's when you and I first met. I -- there had to be dozens of ways that could have been handled, other than that kind of behavior.

I mean, when I informed the Department of Justice that we had classified materials potentially in our home, they were at my home. The FBI was on my front doorstep the next day.

BASH: But isn't the difference...

PENCE: And what we found out was that, when Joe Biden apparently alerted the Department of Justice, 80 days later, they showed up at his office.

BASH: But, sir...

PENCE: That's not equal treatment under the law.

BASH: Sir, I understand...

PENCE: And we have got to end this two-tiered system of justice. (APPLAUSE)

BASH: I understand you're talking about equal treatment.

But the question is, allegation that an investigation into obstruction, which you clearly did not do, if that is something that investigators see as possible, and even enough potentially to indict the former president, do you think that that should go forward?

PENCE: Well, I would hope not. I really would, Dana.

I mean, there's several reasons for that. Number one is, I think it -- I think it would be terribly divisive to the country, at a time when the American people are hurting. I mean, to tell you, families are struggling right now with record inflation. We have a crisis at our border the likes of which we have never seen.

We have a flood of fentanyl coming into every city, large and small, in this country that's killing young people every day. We have threats abroad, a crime wave in our cities. I think, now more than ever, we ought to be finding ways we could actually come together.

BASH: And, sir, I -- we're going to get to all of...

PENCE: And this kind of -- this kind of action by the Department of Justice I think would only fuel further division in the country.

And let me also say, I think it would also send a terrible message to the wider world. I mean, we're the emblem of democracy. We're the symbol of justice in the world. And the serious matter, which has already happened once in New York, of indicting a former president of the United States sends a terrible message to the world.

I hope the DOJ thinks better of it and resolves these issues without an indictment.

BASH: Sir, I just want to clarify. What you're saying is that, if they believe he committed a crime, they should not go forward with an indictment?

You just talked before about committing to the rule of law.

PENCE: No. Let me -- look, let me be clear that no one's above the law.


PENCE: But with regard to the unique circumstances here, it -- look, those classified -- I had no business having classified documents in my residence, and I took full responsibility for it.

President Biden had no business having him in his residence from when he was vice president as well, and the same with former President Trump. But I would just hope that there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting a former president of the United States.

We have got to find a way to move our country forward and restore confidence in equal treatment under the law in this country. We really do.


BASH: Sir, if Donald Trump -- if Donald Trump is convicted of a crime, and you're elected president, would you pardon him?


PENCE: Well, I -- I don't want to speak about hypotheticals. I'm not sure I'm going to be elected president of the United States.

(LAUGHTER) But I believe we have a fighting chance. I really believe we do.


PENCE: And I would hope -- again, Dana, I -- you're as persistent as ever.


PENCE: CNN is living up to its reputation.

I look to the real issues American people are facing. And rather than talking about that, I want to talk about what the people here in Iowa are talking about which is the failed policies of the Biden administration.


PENCE: The need for us to have new leadership in the White House and in our party.

BASH: We have a lot of questions to get to. Just to be clear, you did talk about a lot of these issues in your intro speech.

But I do want to go to the audience. I want to talk about the issue of inflation, something that is top of mind for Americans.

Scott Math, you are somebody who works in hospitality, a board chair of the Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association, and a Republican from Des Moines.


SCOTT MATH, IOWA VOTER, WORKS IN HOSPITALITY: Thank you very much. And welcome back to Iowa, Vice President Pence.

PENCE: Thank you, Scott.

MATH: And as she said, my question does evolve around inflation and how it is impacting our businesses and main street.

PENCE: Right.

MATH: As a father of a recent college graduate, and she's embarking on her new life on her own, is commenting on the incredible prices of groceries at the grocery store and making decisions, fresh fruit or processed? What policies or plans will you champion in order to get the cost of these necessities back in line?

PENCE: Right. What your daughter's name?

MATH: Her name is Rachel.

PENCE: Well, give Rachel our congratulations on graduating from college.

She's sitting right behind you?

MATH: Yeah, exactly.

PENCE: Well done. Good luck.


PENCE: Well, look, I -- I'm so glad you're focused on this issue because inflation is at a 40-year high. And it all started when President Joe Biden and the Democrats passed a $2 trillion bill in the name of COVID that lit the pilot light of the worst inflation that we've seen in two generations. I mean, it was completely unnecessary spending, and they knew it.

You know, I'm proud of everything that we did during our administration to come alongside families and businesses in the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years. But here, these Democrats came in and they just used the excuse of COVID for a gusher of spending and a wish list of liberal policy priorities. And American families have been paying the price, Scott, ever since.

Well, the first thing we need to do, we need to get federal spending under control. I think we ought to impose a freeze on all nondefense discretionary spending across the board. And we ought to turn off all that unnecessary COVID spending in its entirety.

(APPLAUSE) BASH: Mr. Pence --

PENCE: Secondly -- secondly, and I want to say this. Secondly, I think we got to get the Federal Reserve back to doing its job, which is protecting the currency.

Ten years ago, when I was in the Congress, I authored a bill that ended what is called the dual mandate. We actually asked the Federal Reserve to focus on protecting the value of the dollar and full employment.

You know, we ought to look to the president, we ought to look to the Congress to promote policies that ensure full employment, right? We've been passing the buck to the Fed for too long. Let them protect the dollar, and let's hold our political leaders to account for keeping Americans working.



BASH: I just want to circle back to something you said about spending.

PENCE: Yeah.

BASH: You did urge Congress to pass stimulus legislation during the coronavirus pandemic.

PENCE: Sure did.

BASH: Several Republicans, including one of your rivals, Nikki Haley, when she was right here on the stage this Sunday criticized that spending.

Was it a mistake, especially given what you just said?

PENCE: You know, I'll always be proud of what the American people did during the course of the worst pandemic in 100 years. The end of February 2020, President Trump asked me to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

And one of the things I did immediately, you (ph) had a group of scientists that were working and specialists in the area. Some of whom became quite famous. But I immediately added economic officials -- the secretary of agriculture, our economic adviser Larry Kudlow, the treasury secretary, because I knew in advising the president, we would have to make sure he understood what the cost to the economy would be to what we'd done.

And I must tell you, I think all along the way, sure -- are there lessons to be learned for the day that this happens again in America? Absolutely.

BASH: Is spending one of them?

PENCE: And I'm willing to look at those lessons.

But I got to tell you, the way we did the Paycheck Protection Program I think saved tens of millions of jobs all across this country, including here in Iowa.


And I believe the help that we provided to American families was absolutely essential.

And, again, I'll always be proud of what the American people accomplished, but I'll always be open to learn and what lessons we can learn.

BASH: Let's go back to the audience. I want you to meet Mary Landhuis.

PENCE: Hi, Mary.

BASH: She's a mom and president of two manufacturing companies here in Iowa. She's a Republican from Clarinda, who serves on the state workforce development board.



First of all, I want to say thank you for your service and happy birthday.

PENCE: Thank you, Mary. Very kind.

LANDHUIS: You're welcome.

I have a very brief question. I just want you to share your thoughts on abortion.

PENCE: Hmm. You know, Mary, I'm pro-life, and I don't apologize for it.


PENCE: You know, when Karen and I were running for Congress 20 years ago, our kids were 4, 5, and 6. And I remember we looked at them, and we were trying to explain to our children why we're -- why we were selling our dream house, moving from our hometown, going to spend all of our savings and uproot all of our lives to run for Congress. And my wife Karen looked at our little ones and said, it's for the babies.

And all my time in Congress, I stood for the right the life. I authored the first legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, ever to pass the Congress in the United States.

(APPLAUSE) PENCE: When I was governor of Indiana, we -- we not only stood for

the right to life, but we promoted adoption reform because I believe if you're going to be pro-life, you need to be pro-adoption.



PENCE: But I will tell you, Mary, I couldn't be more proud to have been vice president in an administration that appointed three of the justices that sent Roe versus Wade to the ash heap of history where it belongs and gave America a new beginning for life.


PENCE: But now -- I think now, it's incumbent on us as Americans to bring both principle and compassion to this cause. Many states I'm proud to say have advanced pro-life legislation, but we have a long way to go to win the hearts and minds of the American people.

But I think that showing compassion and sensitivity and respect for one another, coming alongside women in crisis pregnancies as my wife Karen and I have sought to do at crisis pregnancy centers around the country is the way to do that.

But I promise you, Mary, I've had 64 times around the sun. However more times I get, me and my family, we will not rest or relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in the country.

(APPLAUSE) BASH: Sir, should any federal abortion ban also include exceptions

for race -- rape, incest, and the life of the mother?

PENCE: Well, I -- those are exceptions that I've always supported, Dana, as you know. I'm a strong supporter of the Hyde Amendment when I was in the Congress of the United States, which coincidentally, President Joe Biden was, too.

For years and years, he -- he opposed taxpayer funding of abortion onto the Hyde Amendment, but recognize those exceptions and those matters. But the truth is he abandoned that. He abandoned all of his position.

And the truth is as Republicans debate this issue in states around the country today, it's always important to remember that the Democrat Party's position is abortion on demand with taxpayer dollars all the way up to the moment of birth.

And as we talk about the possibility of national standards, a 15-week standard, which would put America more in line with most of the European Union, most of the European countries have either a 12 to 15- week rule on abortion. Our laws today are more in line with China, Iran, and North Korea. And for my part, if I have the great privilege to serve as president of the United States, I'll support the cause of life at every level, the state level, the local level with taxpayer dollars, and at the national level.

BASH: And just the person you're running against, or you want to run against if you get the nomination is President Biden. He says that codifying Roe versus Wade is his position. That means a right to an abortion until the point of viability, not up until birth.

But I want to ask you one further question on this. Do you think that states that ban abortion have a responsibility to financially support women who give birth to a child they didn't plan to have or maybe can't afford? For example, do you support paid family leave or subsidizing child care?

PENCE: Well, I -- this is what I mean when I talk about compassion.


The state of Texas recently passed a very strong pro-life bill. But what they got no credit for at all was that in the same bill, they approved $100 million in new funding for women in crisis pregnancies and for newborn care. That's the model for the future.

I truly do believe that if we're going stand for life, we have to care as much about newborns and mothers as we do about the unborn. And we ought to be providing support to women who bring children into the world, and we ought to come along side --


BASH: Does that include paid family leave?


PENCE: You better believe that (ph).

BASH: Does that include paid family leave, subsidizing child care?

PENCE: Well, we've advanced that principle in the administration for federal officials. And look, I -- I would -- but I wouldn't stop there.

I mean, I got to tell you, states around the country that continue to advance the cause of life I think are demonstrating a great generosity of the American people. And I -- I want to be a part of -- principle and compassion is the way to move forward and advance the cause of life here in Iowa, back in Indiana, and all across America.


BASH: Sir, let's go back to the audience.

This is Michael Banks. He is a retired photographer who worked at a local TV station here in Iowa. He is a Republican from Des Moines.


MICHAEL BANKS, IOWA VOTER, RETIRED PHOTOGRAPHER: Hello, Mr. Vice president. My question is, what is your view of the current situation in Ukraine? And what do you see as a resolution to this conflict?

PENCE: Well, thank you, Michael. Thanks for the question.

Look, I know that some in this debate have called the war in Ukraine a territorial dispute. It's not. It was a Russian invasion, an unprovoked Russian invasion.

And I believe the United States of America needs to continue to provide the courageous soldiers in Ukraine with the resources they need to repel that Russian invasion and restore their territorial integrity. Look --


PENCE: Michael, we're the leader of the free world. We're the arsenal of democracy. I hold to what we used to call the Reagan doctrine.

President Reagan expressing in a State of the Union Address back in 1985, he essentially said, look, our policy in the United States will be: if you're willing to fight the communists in your country, we'll give you the means to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here.

And that's the policy that we've approached here. And I want to say, President Joe Biden has been slow in providing military resources to Ukraine. I mean, they promised 33 Abrams tanks back in January. They're still waiting on them. We're still -- we're waiting on F-16s to be transferred from somewhere.

Our administration ended what was a ban during the Obama-Biden administration on any military resources at all. We provided Javelin missiles. All they were providing was military meals and blankets. We corrected that, and Ukraine was better -- better situated to be able to deal with this Russian invasion.

But I want to tell you, I think it's in our national interests to make this fight, to give them the ability to fight and win against the Russians for two reasons. Number one, I've met Vladimir Putin, okay? I've looked him right in the eye and told him things he didn't want to hear.

Anybody that thinks Vladimir Putin will stop if he overruns Ukraine has what we say back in Indiana "another think coming".

He has no intention of stopping. He's made it clear that he wants to recreate that old Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

BASH: Let me ask you a question -- about Vladimir Putin.


PENCE: And he may very soon cross over into a border where servicemen and women like my son in the Marine Corps and my son-in-law in the Navy would actually have to go and fight because he crossed into a NATO ally. So, that's first, is stopping Russian aggression and saying we're not going to allow Russia to redraw international lines by force.

But also, look, our greatest economic and strategic threat in the 21st century is China. And I believe the most effective way to discourage China's increasing military aggression and ambitions in the Asia- Pacific --

BASH: Sir, have I some questions about that.

PENCE: -- is to give the Ukrainians the ability to defeat Russia and drive them out. That will send a Russia to China that we're not going to tolerate them.


BASH: We're going to get to China in a moment. But I just have to ask about something that your former boss Donald Trump said in his CNN town hall. He was asked whether he wanted Ukraine to win the war. And he would not say.

What message does that send to Vladimir Putin?

PENCE: Well, and frankly, when Vladimir Putin rolled into Ukraine, the former President called him a genius. I know the difference between a genius and a war criminal. And I know who needs to win in the war in Ukraine. And it's the people fighting for their freedom and fighting to restore their national sovereignty in Ukraine. And America, it's not our war, but freedom is our fight. And we need to give the people of Ukraine the ability to fight and defend their freedom.


BASH: You mentioned China, there have been a series of concerning military encounters between the U.S. and China in recent weeks. A near collision between warships in the Taiwan Strait, an aggressive intercept by a Chinese fighter jet. How would the Pence administration respond to such things?

PENCE: The Chinese Communists only understand one thing, and that's strength. The truth is, the Biden administration has been busy cutting military spending. And one of the -- one of my concerns about the recent debt ceiling deal was that once you factor in inflation, it actually represents a cut in military spending over the next year. I mean, China is floating a new battleship every month.

We've seen the provocations both in the air and on the seas just in the last week alone. They've built islands that become military bases in the South China Sea. I mean, look, China has a desire to drive the United States out of the Asia Pacific. And now, more than ever, we need a president who will marshal the support of the Congress and of the American people to build a military fitted to the times, to send a deafening message to China and any other power in the world that the United States of America will defend our interest and defend our allies and have the ability to do it.


PENCE: That's what -- that's the message to send. And I really believe that. It's -- but it's a very serious time. But I believe in peace through strength. I've long said that weakness arouses evil. And I think that the policies of the Biden administration capitulating to Iran, begging them to come back into the Iran Nuclear Deal, giving Russia back a Nord Stream 2 deal. And of course, the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan have literally emboldened our adversaries around the world.

We need to return to American strength. And I believe that begins with making the right investments in our national defense and giving our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and Coast Guard the resources they need to accomplish their mission and come home safe.


BASH: I know you support a federal ban on the Chinese owned app, TikTok. Have you ever used TikTok?


BASH: Have your kids?

PENCE: Let me get back to you on that. I haven't surveyed them about it. Look, a lot of young people like it, but what you got to understand, kids, look, they're collecting your personal information and everything TikTok gets, the Chinese communist government has access to.

I think TikTok is incompatible with both the privacy and the security of the United States of America. And it shouldn't just be banned from our government institutions. It should be banned from this country, period. Full stop.

BASH: Sir, we're going to have to take a quick break. We have much more with Republican Presidential Candidate, former Vice President Mike Pence, when we come back. Stay with us.



BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Republican Presidential town hall with former Vice President Mike Pence.

You speak a lot about your faith, and I want to ask you about that. You were raised catholic and you became an evangelical Christian when you were in college. I believe you're the only one of your six siblings who is not a member of the -- of catholic church and doesn't pray there. What's that like for you? I just saw you give your wife a look. Oh, and your brother.

PENCE: Yeah, my brother confirmed that.

BASH: Yeah.

PENCE: No, look, you know, I cherish my catholic upbringing. I really do. It's one of the reasons why I was so offended when the Dodgers invited an anti-Catholic group to be celebrated in Dodgers Stadium. I called them out. Look, there is no place in America's pastime for religious bigotry. Period. Full stop.



PENCE: But I had a wonderful Catholic upbringing, but candidly, Dana, I just lost interest in religion in my high school years. I'd had a little bit of social success, and I just thought religion was a crush that I didn't need. And so I walked away from faith. But it wasn't until I got to college that I started to meet some young people that just told me they were Christians.

They started to talk about having a personal relationship with God that was new to me. I started to attend a fellowship group on the campus, and it would be in the spring of my freshman year in college at a place called Asbury University in Kentucky, where I was sitting on a hillside listening to singing and preaching. And it was like I heard the words for the first time. That God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whoever might believe in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. And my heart was broken with gratitude for what had been done for me

on the cross. And I stood up and I walked down and I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. And my life has never been the same.


PENCE: But I still go to mass with my mom. We worship in a lot of different Christian churches and experiences, but for me, it's -- I hope it's the defining characteristic of our life. I've often said, I'm a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order. And I try trying to live up to that every day.

BASH: I want to get to the audience and I want you to meet Chas Weber. He's a retired business consultant and Republican from Ames. Chas.

CHAS WEBER, IOWA VOTER, RETIRED BUSINESS CONSULTANT: Mr. Vice President, thank you for being here. Your strong Christian faith has always been an indicator about your personal life and your political actions. How will your Christian faith guide you if you are elected President in relationship to government immigration programs and policies for the poor and targeted individuals, especially from Latin American countries?

PENCE: Well, it's a wonderful question, and thank you for affirming the importance of faith in our life. You know, I -- there are issues that I've served in, and I've spoke about one of them already tonight, about the sanctity of life that are deeply informed by my faith. Shortly after I made that decision to put my faith in Christ, I remember opening up the old book and reading, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And see, I've set before you, life and death, blessings and curses. Now, choose life so that you and your children may live. And that's when I knew that the cause of life was his cause and it needed to be my cause.

But more broadly, I like your question because it speaks about a heart of compassion that we're called to have as believers. And it's one of the reasons why, back when I was in the Congress in the United States, and Dana remembers this, I was the Chairman of the House Conservative Caucus. But I looked at what was happening on our border, and I felt a moral obligation as the grandson of an immigrant, to try and come up with a no amnesty immigration reform proposal. Not comprehensive immigration reform and amnesty, but rather to create new system that would allow people to come into the country legally in an orderly way. There was strong border security in it, strong internal enforcement in it, penalties for employers that hire illegal immigrants, but it also created a guest worker program.

I remember it was very popular among members of Congress, it was about 2005, and many members of Congress were fascinated by it. It was the idea that we would use private sector employment firms to work with the Department of Homeland Security and literally operate a guest worker program where people could come and go under the color of the law.

Believe it or not, we used to have a guest worker program in the 1950s. It was called the Bracero Program, but the Labor Union shut it down under President Lyndon Johnson. And not surprisingly, a few short years later, illegal immigration started to happen at our southern border.

And I truly do believe that we can fix a broken immigration system. We can build an immigration system that's built on the principles of merit and the needs of the American people. But we also can create a system where people that want to come and work whether it be in agriculture, where in other trades can come and for a short period of time pay taxes, participate in our economy and go home. But all of that was animated and motivated by my deep conviction that we can't walk by on the other side of the road.

The truth is the crisis at our border today, there's suffering on both sides of the border. The American people are hurting, but the cartels are literally exploiting millions of people for the greatest, most appalling program of human trafficking in human history. 5 million people coming across our border in the last two years, all being driven by the cartels and the failed policies of the Biden administration.

We can fix a broken immigration system. And I'm innovated by my faith. I'm innovated by being the grandson of an immigrant, to say that we owe the American people, we owe this generation and the next an immigration system --

BASH: So I want to ask you about, what happened during a town hall, again, the one I talked about before, that President Trump participated in. He said your administration's family separation policy was an effective deterrent and refused to rule out bringing it back as president. Would you bring it back?


BASH: OK. He also opened his --


PENCE: Look, the family separation policy actually began under the Obama administration. And then we continued it until President Trump rightly reversed course. Look, we got to stop putting Band-Aids on the problem. We got to stop having small little fixes and programs. We've got to secure our border. We got to finish that wall. We got to put remain in Mexico policy back into effect, Title 42. We got to end illegal immigration and asylum abuse like we did in our administration, then we got to fix this broken immigration system once and for all.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Sir, I want to go back to the audience and bring in Laura Lyons, a nurse from Grand Junction who is her local city -- on her local city council, I should say, a Republican who voted for Joe Biden. Laura.

LAURA LYONS, IOWA VOTER: Thank you for having me and happy birthday.

PENCE: Thank you.

LYONS: As a mom of a teacher, what are your thoughts on the educational vouchers? And how do you feel this will affect public schools, specifically, small schools?

PENCE: Yes. Well, it's a wonderful question. I know you got to be proud of that teacher and your family.


PENCE: In fact, I've been remiss so far, I haven't introduced my favorite teacher. She spent 30 years in the classroom, 15 in Christian school, 15 in a public school, art teacher, second grade teacher, and actually turned out to be the best Second Lady of the United States of America has ever had, my wife Karen Pence is here with us today.


If you want to know Karen Pence, just think school teacher. That's what she is. And I'm apparently her prize pupil, 38 years tomorrow, together.

Look, we've got great challenges in education today. I mean, many of our most vulnerable populations are relegated to some of the most failing and dangerous schools in this country. And for a very long time, I have believed that parents ought to be able to choose where their children go to school, public, private, parochial or homeschool. We ought to get parents that.

But let me say very emphatically, on behalf of your daughter, she teaches a public school, my wife that taught in public education for half her career. I think -- I think educational choice that's expanding around the country, my friend Governor Doug Ducey actually passed the first legislation in America for universal school choice in Arizona.

In Iowa, you followed suit. In Indiana, I'm proud to say we followed suit as well, other states are following, and expanding the opportunity to choose where your children go to school, to every family in the state.

Now, for my part, I'm someone that believes in competition. I actually think by letting parents choose where their kids go to school, all the schools are going to get better. I have confidence that our public schools can compete with our private schools, and they will be more responsive to the goals and the values of the people of their community when they have to compete for those students.

So, you know, we're dealing -- in Iowa, we're dealing, and around the country, you're dealing with this issue of this radical gender ideology that's taken hold in a lot of our public schools. A group that I founded has been involved in battling against the Linn-Mar Community Schools case. It was a case literally where you could -- the viewers will have a hard time believing this, but a -- but a student would have to bring in a slip from their parents to get an aspirin from the school nurse, but they could get a gender transition plan without telling their parents.

Well, we're fighting against that in the courts, but I really do believe that by giving parents the ability to choose where their kids go to school, we're going to drive a lot of this politically correct nonsense out of the schools, and our public schools will respond and start respecting the value of every Americans.

BASH: Sir, I want to ask you about another issue related to this, and that is about what's going on in some legislatures. Some Republican controlled states have banned transgender children from receiving gender affirming care, even with the consent of their parents.

You talk a lot about parents' rights, you do it on the campaign trail.

PENCE: I do.

BASH: Or even before, you just did it now. So why do you believe it's the government's role to overrule what parents decide is best for their own children in this case?

PENCE: Well, I strongly support state legislation, including as we did in Indiana that by that bans, all gender transition chemical or surgical procedures for kids under the age of 18.

BASH: But what if their parents support that?

PENCE: I hear you. I hear you, but on this one, I got to tell you, Dana, and I'm talking as a father and I'm talking as a grandfather right now.


Look, I -- there's a reason why you don't let kids get a tattoo before they're 18, right? Because those of us that have been parents know that before they're 18, I don't want to say anything. My kids are watching.

But, you know, they think you're an idiot, and for everything, right?

BASH: But I don't think government regulates tattoos.

PENCE: Look, I'm just telling you, when you're talking about something that is absolutely transformational, and that we know from mental health experts, in more often than not, has profound negative deleterious effects on people in the long-term.

I think at minimum. It's proper for state governments and state officials to simply say, whatever -- however adults want to live, they can live. But for children, we're going to protect kids from the radical gender ideology and say no chemical or surgical gender transition before you're 18.

BASH: So I just want to be clear on this, because you are so adamant about parents' rights, but in this particular case --

PENCE Right.

BASH: -- parents who say that along with the doctors that what is best for their kids, what their kids feel most comfortable with doing is gender transition, that the parents should not be allowed to do that.

PENCE: Look, the state has the obligation to see to the safety and health and well-being of the people in the state. And I accept that. I -- look, I take your point, I take your point -- I take your point.

BASH: No, it's not a point, it's a question. It's question.

PENCE: Well, we have a foot in America as a radical gender ideology that has taken hold in our schools, has taken hold in our universities. It is afoot across the nation. And I think at minimum, we've got to make sure we protect kids from making decisions that permanently alter their bodies and permanently set their lives on a -- on a -- on a difficult path. So I hold to this view and that's where I'll stand.

BASH: OK. I just have one more question on this. Because -- and some -- sometimes it's easy. And you know, this is a policymaker, it's easy to talk about policies. But I want to ask you this question on a more human level.

What would you say to a transgender kid and their family who say that this is how I feel more comfortable, and I don't feel comfortable another way, and that they feel that you are targeting them?

PENCE: I would tell them that I love everybody. I put my arm around them and their parents. But before they had a chemical or surgical procedure, I would say wait, just wait.

I mean, there's some people -- maybe there's exceptions, but most people before you're 18 years of age, there's a reason we got that cut off for all kinds of categories in our society. You just don't really know what you want in life. You don't know who you really are. It takes time. Become an adult figure that out. And I just -- I put my arm around him to tell him I love him. Just wait. Just wait. And that's how we put the interest of our kids first.

BASH: OK. Thank you. We're going to have to take another quick break, much more with Republican presidential candidate, former Vice President Mike Pence when we come back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Republican presidential town hall with former vice president, Mike Pence. I want to ask about what we are seeing happening all up and down the Northeast right now, which is tens of millions of Americans are breathing toxic air today because of thick smoke coming from wildfires in Canada.

A report from your administration, the Trump-Pence administration in 2018 found that manmade climate change is making wildfires more severe and more frequent. Will the climate crisis be a top priority if you're elected president?

PENCE: Well, let me just say it, clearly, the climate is changing, not as dramatically as the radical environmentalists like to present, but there's change. Over the next century, there'll be modest changes in temperatures. What we have to do in dealing with this, I think, is bring American innovation to it.

I mean, the truth of the matter is during our administration, we actually reduce CO2 emissions beyond what the previous administration had committed to just through American innovation, through expanding American energy and natural gas.

And I really do believe that -- we've got to make sure that whatever we do with regard to being stewards of the land, and air, and water, cannot be done in a way that puts an undue burden on American families or American businesses. We've got to make sure that whatever we do, doesn't disadvantage the United States and competing on the world stage.

And I've been watching with great interest of the small -- we've got kids that are stationed out West and share the concern. But I will also say that with regard to forest management, we got to do a better job in this country. And we've got to -- we got to be able to tell some of the radical environmentalists that you've got to harvest some trees in the forest to keep the forest healthy, and it'll prevent these wildfires from taking place in our country. But I know this is Canada, but we've got to bring more common sense to forest management in the days ahead. And I'll be a part of that, I promise.

BASH: OK. Let's go to the audience. Susan Olson is a federal grant manager from Des Moines who serves on the AARP's Executive Council. She is a Republican who says she voted for Joe Biden. Susan.

SUSAN OLSON, IOWA VOTER: Thank you for having me.

PENCE: Thank you.

OLSON: My question is about Social Security.

PENCE: You bet.

OLSON: Mr. Vice President, how you protect Social Security for me, our future generations and how will you ensure that we received the benefits that we've earned?


PENCE: Well, I turned 64 today, so my interest in Social Security is growing.


PENCE: And I won't tell you how interested my wife is.


PENCE: Look, these are programs that the American people rely on, and we got to keep our promise to American people.

But the hard truth is that Social Security and Medicare are tracking for bankruptcy in the next five or 10 years. And under the law, there will be mandatory cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

That's why it's incomprehensible to me that Joe Biden refuses to even have a conversation with members of either political party about some commonsense reforms that would put Social Security and Medicare back on a solid foundation and end this avalanche of debt that we're bequeathing to our children and grandchildren.

It's also disappointing to me that Donald Trump's position on entitlement reform is identical to Joe Biden's. I mean, their policy is insolvency.

And the truth is, not only are we looking at mandatory cuts in these programs if we don't reform them and improve them, but, frankly, Dana, the $32 trillion national debt that we have today, which is the size of our nation's economy -- first time since World War II that we have debt the size of our economy -- that is actually set to grow, largely driven by the cost of entitlements, over the next 25 years from $32 trillion to $150 trillion.

And if we reach that point, by the time my three perfect granddaughters are in their early 20s, all of our choices will be bad. We will either be faced with cuts in these programs, which we would never want to allow, or we will be faced with having to raise taxes on the American people at a level that would never be imagined.

It's one of the reasons why I know it's not -- a lot of people say it's not -- it's not political to do it, but, for me, I think we have got a moral obligation to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security and Medicare. And that means saying to Americans over the age of 40, we're going to keep the system that we have.

But, for Americans under the age of 40, we have got to work on the kind of reforms that will lessen the burden of debt and change these New Deal programs into a better deal for younger Americans.

(APPLAUSE) PENCE: And we can do it.

BASH: Would you raise the retirement age?

PENCE: But it's going to take leadership.


BASH: Would you raise the retirement age?

PENCE: Look, I think the first thing that's got to happen, Dana, is that we have got to make sure the American people understand the nature of the debt crisis that's being driven by entitlements.

I mean, again, I -- it's incomprehensible to me that the first 80- year-old president in American history refuses to even talk about retirement systems and health care for seniors that are headed for bankruptcy and could literally bankrupt the country.

BASH: Well, as you said, Republicans are also saying, a lot of them, off the table.

PENCE: I -- I must tell you that I think it was right to leave it off the table for the debt ceiling deal, OK?

But, in the long term, I agree with you. I stipulate to your point. There's far too many Republicans, including my former running mate, that are also saying, we leave this off the table.

Look, I think, every time the American people have been given the truth about a challenge our nation is facing, and then given commonsense and compassionate reforms, which would include reforming the system -- it could be a change in the age of eligibility, but it also could include letting younger Americans invest a portion of their payroll taxes in a mutual fund, like the TSP program that 10 million federal employees are in today.

We could literally give them a higher return on investment in exchange for changing the benefit structure that they would receive under Social Security and staving off that massive debt. It takes leadership. You have got to engage the American people.

And I think we -- let me say this. I believe that democracy depends on heavy doses of civility.


PENCE: And I think we have got to produce leadership at the national level that has the ability to take on these kind of large problems, but has generated an environment of civility and respect for people across the political spectrum that allows us to get to the table and figure it out.

And, if I'm your president, I promise you that will be our aspiration every day.

BASH: Let's go back to the audience.

I want you to meet Mary Ann Hanusa. She works for a nonprofit helping children with mental health challenges. She's a former member of the Iowa Statehouse, a member of her county Republican Central Committee. And she is from Council Bluffs.


PENCE: Great.

MARY ANN HANUSA, IOWA VOTER: Mr. Vice President, thank you for coming back to Iowa, and thank you for your service to our nation.

PENCE: Thank you.


HANUSA: Americans have lost faith in our government, from the CDC to the FBI.

PENCE: Right.

HANUSA: If you are president, what will you do to restore a level of trust in our -- in the actions and the decisions of our federal government agencies?

PENCE: Well, first, I really want to agree with you very strongly that Americans have lost faith in our institutions broadly, and especially in the federal government.

But I tried to remind people today in my announcement here in Iowa that, while we have many problems in government, this is still a great nation with great people. We just need government as good as our people again, right?

And I think it all begins with recognizing that personnel is policy. It's one of the first things I learned when I arrived in Washington, D.C., about 20 years ago. And that is that the people you surround yourself with really define your capacity to serve and to advance the policies that you came to advance.

And I will tell you, I don't know precisely, Mary Ann, how I get from here to January 20, 2025. I will leave that to the good lord and the American people.

But I say this with deep humility, that, based on my experience in the Congress and the relationships I still enjoy there, based on my service as governor and the relationships I have with governors around the country, based on my four years as vice president, I promise you, I would know what to do and, more importantly, who to do it with to put this country back on track on day one.

It's about assembling a team. It's about bringing majorities with you in the House and the Senate. It's about having partners in statehouses around the country. And I would say, again, with deep humility, that the presidency is no place for on-the-job training.

And with the challenges that we're facing in the wider world today, the challenges we're facing in our economy, a crime wave in our cities, a crisis at our Southern border, an assault on our liberties, the American people, I think, will recognize in the days ahead that we need experienced leadership that can assemble not just an agenda, but a team.

And I promise you, if you give me the privilege to serve as president of the United States, we will assemble a team you will be proud of on day one.

BASH: Sir, I want to go back to the audience. You mentioned crime.

I want to ask Cheryl Math to ans -- ask her question, rather. She works at a family-owned hotel and is a Republican from Des Moines.


CHERYL MATH, IOWA VOTER: Good evening, Mr. Vice President.

PENCE: Hi, Cheryl.

MATH: My question is, how would you handle the increased crime rates in our major cities?

PENCE: Well, first and foremost, I would say we're not going to defund the police in this country.


PENCE: We're going to support the men and women in law enforcement at every level.


PENCE: I mean, I have to believe that the criminal element in this country has been emboldened by the radical left's defund the police movement, and, in a very real sense, has helped foment some of the crime that we see today.

But I also believe it's going to be important that we get a lot more serious about serious offenders. Look, I -- we passed the -- what was called the FIRST STEP Act at the federal level. President Trump signed it into law.

When I was governor of the state of Indiana, we -- we signed similar legislation. But, in the legislation that we passed, we not only created an opportunity to try and reduce recidivism, people going back to prison over and over again, to give them a new start in life, to make an honest living, but we also raised the penalties. We raised the penalties on serious offenders.

And I must tell you, with this crime wave in our cities that is claiming incomprehensible numbers of lives, I mean, we -- we have just passed through Memorial Day weekend. My parents both grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My heart breaks for Chicago and for the violence that's happening in that city alone, but it's happening literally in cities around the country.

I, frankly, think we need to take a step back from the approach of the FIRST STEP Act. We need to get serious and tough on violent crime. And we need to give our cities and our states the resources to restore law and order to our streets. And I promise you we will do that if I'm your president.


BASH: I just want to say, because I have heard other people talk about Chicago.

Just for the record, the ATF data shows that more than half of the recovered guns used to commit crimes in Illinois in 2021, you know where they came from? Indiana.


So, I just wanted to put that on the record.

But I want to ask about the First Step Act, because I'm not sure if you saw, Governor Ron DeSantis has said that if he's elected, he wants to repeal the First Step Act. What's your response to that?

PENCE: Well, let me say, I just said, I think we need to take a step back and rethink the First Step Act. And we've got a crime wave in our major cities. And I think now more than ever, we ought to be thinking about how we make penalties tougher on people that are victimizing families in this country. I -- so, on that point, I would agree with others.

But I also will tell you, it -- in the category of mass shootings, Dana, we've talked about this many times over the years, I've had enough. I've also had enough of every time one of these mass shooters claims innocent lives, it's happened again just a few short days ago. Washington, D.C. immediately squares off, everybody goes to their corners and we start talking about eroding the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, I will also stand for the Second Amendment right of the American people to keep and bear arms.


PENCE: But when I -- at a recent forum, I basically said, look, I think we've got to get a lot tougher on people doing these mass shootings. I think justice delayed is justice denied.

And I think if you engage in a mass shooting that claims lives, you should face execution not in years, but in months. We ought to have expedited due process that ensures that anyone that engages in a mass shooting in this country knows that they will meet their fate within a year and a half. I think that's closer to justice than anything that we have today.


BASH: I want to ask --

PENCE: I also think -- I also think we've got to get serious. I think -- as a country, and this is now, I'm talking as a grandfather now.

Karen and I became grandparents three times over in the last two years. And they're perfect. Incredible girls.

But I have to tell you, I have very good friends that are actually here tonight that have young children in school in Nashville. That shooter was brought down because of the courage of law enforcement that ran in without regard to their personal safety and took him down.

But apparently, he had a list that had my friend's daughter's school on it. It was just a couple of miles away.

I think the time has come for us as a country to end the discussion about school security and if it takes federal legislation and federal funding, we ought to fund and arm and train security guard at every public and private school in America. And we ought to do it now.


BASH: Can I just ask you about that, because what we've seen in Uvalde, what we saw in Parkland is that armed guards, they don't always work. They're not enough to stop mass shootings.

What do you say to that? I mean, we've seen it happen, where there have been armed guards and it didn't stop somebody with a semiautomatic weapon.

PENCE: Well, it's -- number one, that's why I always say train and arm.

You know, the state of Indiana, I was -- literally, I'd been elected governor, but I wasn't sworn in yet when Sandy Hook happened.

And we huddled with state legislative leaders and immediately provided funding for what we call resource officers, armed guards that are now in every school in the state of Indiana. And by God's grace, we haven't seen an incident like this in our state.

But they've got to be trained. I mean, this is the reason why -- if it takes federal funding, Dana, let's do it, right?

I understand state resources. I balanced four budgets when I was governor of the state of Indiana, okay? I understand there are limited resources at the state level.

That's why -- I just think we ought to end the conversation, and Washington, D.C. ought to just step up and make sure that there's funding available, not just to have an armed guard, but a trained guard who can also be a part of the school community. I mean, the fact is, having somebody that understands who the kids are, they know who they are, they can pick up a sense of where they are.

And the last thing -- and I've said this -- we have got to return our country to institutional mental health care.


PENCE: People that are a danger to themselves, and a threat to our communities. Too many families -- and I remember when the Parkland shooting happened. I mean, to hear how many times the shooter's mother went to law enforcement, begging for some help and was told, we have nowhere to take them, we have nothing we can do.

[22:15:01] I think -- you know, in the 1970s, we walked away from institutional

mental health care in this country. We've got to get back to that. Families that have young people that are dealing with the advent of serious mental illness have to have a place to go. And we need to make a national investment to do just that.

BASH: What about red flag laws? I know there's one in your home state. Do you think there should be a national red flag law? The idea of allowing law enforcement and the courts to temporarily remove guns from people who pose a threat to themselves or others?

PENCE: I think giving tools to law enforcement to be able to intervene, particularly those resource officers at schools, if they sense that someone is potentially a danger to themselves or others are useful.

But I think we've got to be very cautious about red flag laws going forward. I think we got to make sure and protect the due process rights of Americans. We cannot allow laws like that or other laws to erode the constitutional right to keep and bear arms in this country.

We never -- we never want to create, particularly at a time when there's so much distrust of institutions, including our Department of Justice, we never want to perceive to the American people that there's an opportunity for someone to come and take away firearms that you are lawfully possessing. So, due process I think has to be in the forefront.

BASH: Sir, we have to take a break, but I just want to quickly go back to something you said about expediting the processing of people who engage in mass shootings. A lot of people who are mass shooters, they go in with the intention to die. So, how would the threat of execution be a deterrent?

PENCE: Well, I -- I follow these stories, just as closely as you do, and, of course, our years in the White House, we saw one tragedy after another. And I know we hear that, and we see evidence oftentimes in the aftermath. That they went in without regard to whether they would survive.

But I just believe in the deterrent of the law. And I believe perhaps if we made it clear -- I mean, think about this, the Parkland shooter is going to spend the rest of his life in jail, in Florida. That's not justice.

You don't take the lives of nearly 20 young people and get three squares a day for the rest of your life. Okay? I mean, the old book says if you take a man's life, by man shall your life be taken.

We've got to get back to justice in this country that is swift and certain, and my hope, and maybe it's just common sense, my hope is that if we sent that deafening message, that you could -- these cowards that go into places that they assume people are not armed, and open fire on innocent civilians, would know that if they are captured in this, in the wake of this shooting, that they're going to -- they're going to face capital punishment and justice and their maker, in months, not years, I believe it would be a deterrent. Or so I would pray.


BASH: We have to take another quick break. More with Republican presidential candidate, former Vice President Mike Pence, when we come back.



BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with former Vice President Mike Pence. Sir, I want to get right to the audience and I want you to meet Jesse Johnson, a Republican from Adel. And he is an accountant and the Worship Director at his church. Jesse.


PENCE: Hi, Jesse, good to see you.

JOHNSON: My question is, how do you plan to reach hardcore Trump or nothing Republicans that supported the President's brash and bullying nature just as much as his policies?

PENCE: Well, look, I think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to be the great unifiers of the Republican Party.


PENCE: OK. Look, I'm running for President of the United States. We're going to have a spirited primary and I hope I come out on top. But I don't worry about the unity of the party.

Everywhere I go, I hear how deeply concerned people are with the failed policies of the Biden-Harris administration. It's extraordinary how far we've dropped in just two and a half short years. I mean, that disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan is where it all began. I mean, the chaos that's unfolding in the wider world and not just the war in Eastern Europe, not just provocations by China, but literally to see China now negotiating.

Agreements between Iran and Saudi Arabia. I mean, there is a vacuum of leadership on the international scale. The American people know it and they see it. And then here at home, the burden that we've heard about from families here in Iowa just trying to make ends meet.

I remember being at a gas station, Dana, in Hobart, Indiana, a mom there, we were doing a thing about high gas prices, and there were a couple of those people around. She had two little kids in the backseat. And I looked at her and said, how you holding up with high gas prices? She said, oh, we're doing OK. She said, we only have to go to the food bank once a week now.

And I looked at her and I said, are you out of work? She said, no, no, my husband's got a job and I'm home. But she says, we only have so much money for groceries. With gasoline prices being where they are and grocery prices being where they are, we just go to the food bank.


I mean, you've reported many times about two-thirds of the American people are living paycheck to paycheck. And so when you talk about divisions in the Republican Party, what -- look, we're going to have a very spirited debate. And as I said today in my announcement speech, not only the president have our differences that have continued from the past, but a different vision for our party. I'm somebody who believes in American leadership in the world.

Our party needs to lead on fiscal responsibility and stand without apology for life. We'll have those debates. But I think once people of Iowa will play your role and Republican primary voters play their role, I'm confident that whoever our standard bearer is, and I hope it's me, it's going to be supported by Republicans and independents, and many Democrats around the country who know we can do better, and we can bring this country back.

BASH: Another thing that you said in your announcement today, you said, quote, anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States, clearly referring to former president Trump.

An hour later, you pledged to support the eventual Republican nominee. So if you think that Donald Trump should never be president, how could you commit to supporting him if he is the nominee?

PENCE: Well, let me say what I said today, was that anyone who puts themselves above the Constitution should never be president in the first place. And anyone who has anyone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president again. I had hoped that President Trump would come around on our difference about that tragic day and about my role. And I still hope he does.

I mean, we'll have differences that are worthy of debate, but at its very core, it's important to remember, the President of the United States takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and faithfully execute the laws. But at the core of that is a willingness to submit to the collective wisdom of generations of Americans enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.

And I hold the view that it should be a prerequisite of any man or woman that would ever hold the office of president that you would agree to never put yourself above the Constitution.

My son is a Marine. He flies -- the Joint Strike Fighter in the Marine Corps. And around the time of that fateful day, I'll never forget, my son looked at me and he said, dad, you took the same oath I took. Nothing else matters. I mean, the men and women of our armed forces take the very same oath to support and defend the Constitution. We don't give them the option to decide whether it's in their interest or not. We give them the assignment and they go without regard to their personal safety.

And I think whoever is president of the United States, that man or woman should have no other view. But let me say that with regard to supporting the Republican nominee, look, I started in politics as a Democrat. But as soon as I heard the voice and ideals of the 40th president of United States, I joined the Reagan revolution and never looked back. And I've always supported the Republican nominee for president in the United States. And I'll support the Republican nominee in 2024, especially if it's me.

BASH: Well, but I just -- I just need to follow up on this, because you also say, and I've heard you say this for years, I'm a Christian, I'm a conservative and a Republican in that order. You just spent a lot of time both here and earlier today explaining why you think that the former president did not uphold his oath to the Constitution. So then how can you say that you would support him if he's the nominee?

PENCE: Well, because I don't think Donald Trump's going to be the nominee.

BASH: Well, what if he is?

PENCE: I don't think he's going to be the nominee.

BASH: What if he is?

PENCE: I have great confidence in Republican primary voters. We have a -- we have a field of strong and experienced candidates that grew by one today. And I truly do believe that people here in Iowa are going to recognize the challenges that we're facing and understand that different times call for different leadership.

The American people don't look backwards, we look forward. And I truly do believe whatever the polls show, and whatever the pundits are saying that when the time comes, the people of Iowa are going to take a fresh look at all of us that have stepped forward.

I don't think my old running mate is going to be the Republican nominee for president and I'm very confident, very confident that we'll be able to support the Republican nominee for president of the United States, and I hope it's me.

BASH: I want to go again to the audience and I want you to meet Sabetha Mumm. She is a Republican from Ankeny who owns a dance studio, a board member for the National Association of Women Business Owners. Sabetha.


SABETHA MUMM, IOWA VOTER: Thank you, Mr. Vice President for coming to Iowa and listening to Iowans.

PENCE: Thank you.

MUMM: My question. Although I voted Republican in the last presidential election, I was very encouraged when I heard President Biden say in his inaugural speech, he was going to focus on uniting both parties and America. Unfortunately, that has not happened. In my opinion, in fact, the

parties and the country are more divided than ever. And I, as a mom, as a coach of young children, and as an American, I'm tired of the fighting. What specific steps would you take as president to bring all parties to the table and bring Americans together to end the divisiveness in this great country?

PENCE: Well, thanks for the question. And something that's very meaningful, because I share your aspiration for our country. Look, I said before, I think democracy depends on heavy doses of civility. And over the last 20 years of my career, we've always tried to aspire to that ideal.

My faith requires me to treat others the way I want to be treated. And while earlier in my career, the first time I ran for office, I didn't live up to that. Ten years later when the opportunity came around, we've -- we sought to do just that. And quite frankly, over the course of my years in Congress, and as governor and as vice president, I've always -- I've always tried to reflect that.

You know, I think our politics are more divided than ever before in my lifetime, but I'm not convinced the American people are as divided as our politics. You know, Karen and I moved home to Indiana, we bought five acres and a pond after we left the White House.

But I have to tell you, you know, one of the things I've learned and you get 15 miles out of Washington, D.C. The people of this country actually get along pretty well. Right? I mean, the American people show respect to one another. People here in Iowa, people in Indiana, people with whom we differ. We show civility and respect most days.

I just think we need government as good as our people. And when I think of the challenges are facing America today, a world that seems to be more dangerous every day, inflation, crisis at our border, crime in our major cities, which seems to be an assault on our values, failing schools in so many of our major cities and towns across the country. And now more than ever, we need to create an environment in politics that allows us to talk to one another.

You know, I wrote a book about my career reflected on this. And I will tell you, taking that approach in my career, I was able to forge relationships with people in Congress that I agreed with a nothing. One of them was the late John Lewis, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and the right hand man of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

John and I differed on everything, except that I knew he was a great man. And we recognize the importance of our Christian faiths to both of us.

And I'll never forget, when I was leading the House Republican Conference, John Lewis called my office and asked if Karen and I would co-lead the annual civil rights pilgrimage to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with him. The very bridge where years and years earlier he had -- he had been beaten to within an inch of his life. By his suffering and struggle, he'd advanced a more perfect union in America. It's one of the great privileges of my life that Karen and I and our

three children walked across that bridge with John Lewis. And I mourn his passing. It's a sense of personal loss when he left us.

But John and I, again, never agreed on much, but we can always talk. And I think that's what we have to get back to when you think about the challenges we're facing in America. I just think we've got to get back to the kind of politics that reflects the decency and civility that the American people show each other every day. And I believe we will, and I hope to be a part of it.

BASH: Former vice president, Mike Pence. Thank you so much for being here this evening.

And thank you to our audience, everybody here at Grand View University and you at home as well. Be sure to tune in on Monday at 8:00 P.M. Eastern for our next CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie. CNN's coverage with Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper is next.