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CNN Live Event/Special

CNN's Post-Analysis On The Republican Presidential Town Hall With Former U.S. Vice President And Presidential Aspirant Mike Pence. Aired 10:35p-12a ET

Aired June 07, 2023 - 22:35   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: CNN's coverage with Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper is next.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Well, tonight's CNN Town Hall with former Vice President Pence just wrapping up there in Des Moines, Iowa. Good evening from New York.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Not just a political event, but also a very eventful day for Mike Pence's former boss. We learned that Mr. Trump, who Mike Pence earlier today said never should be president again, has been informed by the Department of Justice that he is a target in the documents probe, the classified documents probe, meaning he could be indicted. The former vice president tonight dodging the question of whether he would support Mr. Trump this time if Trump wins the nomination.

COOPER: And Jake, Mike Pence was asked about a possible indictment tonight, specifically whether he thought the former president should be indicted. Here's some of his answer.


PENCE: Let me say this. Look, I don't know the facts of the president's case. I mean, I was very troubled last summer when -- when for the first time in history, there was a search warrant executed at the home of a former president of the United States. 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. That's not equal treatment.

BASH: 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, even enough potentially to indict the former president, do you think 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.

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: Let me be clear that no one's above the law.


PENCE: But with regard to the unique circumstances here, look, 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.


TAPPER: The former vice president just minutes ago in Des Moines.

With me here, CNN anchor and chief correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, CNN senior political correspondent and "Inside Politics" host Abby Phillip, CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, and CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero.

So it's interesting the line that the Vice President Pence tried to walk when it comes to this news. No one is above the law, and yet I hope they don't indict Donald Trump because that would be divisive.

ABBY PHILIP, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, I think that Mike Pence probably is going as far as he wants to go in terms of criticizing Trump when he has, I think pretty forcefully today and in the last couple of days, really condemned Trump, not just for his actions on January 6th, but also for what it says about his fidelity to the Constitution.

But that's about as far as he's willing to go. And that's probably his view of where the Republican Party is. He does not think that Republican voters really care the merits of some of these cases, whether it's the New York indictment over the hush money payments or perhaps this document case.

However, the devil will be in the details. I think he can say this now because we do not know what the facts of the case are yet, but it will be interesting to see whether his tune changes if the facts of this case become more serious and more detailed, especially as it relates to national security and those classified documents.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I think he's picking and choosing. He's willing to criticize him on the big things that he sees are big things, January 6 and whatnot. Obviously, he was very blunt about that today, but not so much on this. We don't really know how Republican voters will react to this.

We do know, though, that Trump's attorneys have gotten a target letter from the Justice Department saying, Your client is a target in this documents investigation. It seemed very clear that that's where this was headed, but we don't know what this looks like if he does get indicted. Obviously, that's what could potentially follow a target letter. We'll see if it actually does.


Pence, obviously, though, was being very careful there, but saying that you're committed to the rule of law, but then saying he shouldn't be charged or indicted with this, I mean, that's a clear, those two don't compute, obviously. And he also didn't answer about whether or not he would pardon Trump when Dana asked that question.

TAPPER: Yeah. I mean, there is this inherent contradiction. We saw it also when he said that Donald Trump should never be president again because he put himself above the constitution and he, Mike Pence, would never do such a thing. But then when asked, if Donald Trump is the nominee, will you support him? He said, yes, even though he had also said Donald Trump put himself above the Constitution. Again, an inherent contradiction.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So there are a couple of things here. It appears that to get on the debate stage, people are going to have to pledge that they will support the nominee. Let's see if that holds. But as Kaitlan, you were saying earlier today, there is sort of a fake pledge. been going on here. And the way he gets around it is he says, I don't think he's going to be the nominee. But I think what we saw from former Vice President Pence tonight was once again this balancing act that we've seen for a long time.

Even though he was blunt about January 6 and the Constitution, he knows that Donald Trump owns the base right now. He is by far the front runner. And some GOP voters who are with Trump see Pence as a traitor, and GOP voters who aren't with Trump aren't very attracted to Mike Pence. They rather look at someone else in the field.

TAPPER: And just as a factual matter, the ones who think he's a traitor are wrong.

GANGER: Correct.

TAPPER: He's not a traitor.

GANGER: Correct.

TAPPER: Carrie Cordero, as a legal matter, how serious is the idea that Donald Trump and his attorneys more specifically got a target letter saying that he is the target of a possible indictment. What does that mean? for our viewers out there.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure, so if someone is a subject of an investigation, that means that they are involved in the investigation in some way, but it doesn't necessarily mean that their conduct is the subject of the actual potential criminal violations.

The target letter is serious. The target letter means that this is an individual, that the investigation is targeting, is directed at him as an individual, not just the people around him, that his conduct is potentially the charged conduct.

And I think it does correlate to the meeting that took place recently where his lawyers went in. Sometimes the target letter can come out before the lawyers go in and sort of make their last case in front of the Justice Department prosecutors trying to dissuade them from even issuing the target letter. In this case, they had the meeting and then the target letter appears to be coming out after. But it does indicate that they are seriously considering charges.

COLLINS: One note about that meeting, that was at the Justice Department on Monday. Trump's attorneys were there for I think almost two hours. Jack Smith, the special counsel, was in that meeting, but we're told he didn't say a word, in essence, he walked in and said basically hello and goodbye, that was all that he was said you're not being.

TAPPER: Very interesting.

Anderson, we got a lot more to talk about in terms of the issues that were discussed beyond Donald Trump. Mike Pence clearly casting himself as perhaps the most conservative major party, I'm sorry, major candidate in the Republican race, but I'm throwing back to you.

COOPER: Yeah, with me here in New York are CNN political commentators from across the political spectrum, Van Jones, David Axelrod, Alyssa Farah Griffin, David Urban, Alice Stewart, and Scott Jennings, also CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Ellie Honig.

Oh listen, I mean, you know, to Abby Phillip's point, He went as far as he's willing to go on Trump. I mean, he's, he went farther today than he has in the past when he announced and tonight. But he wouldn't answer Dennis' questions about a pardon or a number of other things.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. He had, Pence had some strong moments tonight. He had a line where he said, that was a direct shot at Trump. He said, I know the difference between a genius and a war criminal, taking him on for refusing to call Putin a war criminal. He talked about meeting with Vladimir Putin. I was there when he did, indirectly confronting him about election interference.

But the problem was Trump loomed large over the entire night. It was hard to look at what a future-looking, you know, Mike Pence presidency would look like because it kept coming back to, rightly so, January 6th, pardoning the former president. This is what he's going to have to deal with on the campaign trail. I'm not sure I have strong advice on how you avoid it because the two are so inextricably tied.

And I think for voters, the key thing he needs to do is draw a clear line and stick to it. He's never going to win over the super MAGA base. might as well appeal to the many of us who think that defending somebody who may soon be indicted, defending somebody who was behind January 6th is an unacceptable position. He's got to draw that clean line or he's going to always be playing clean up.

COOPER: David?


DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I totally agree with this. I think the risk for candidates like Mike Pence is not taking any risks. And this was a kind of carefully calibrated evening where he tried not to take risks.

COOPER: I mean, has he ever? I mean, obviously, on January 6, he took a risk and fulfilled a big duty. But but. Has he taken risks politically, I mean, in terms of breaking out of his persona?

AXELROD: No. And as I said before the town hall, you know, he has, he spent most of those four years defending Donald Trump's behavior on a whole range of things. But tonight, I think we saw the limit of where he's willing to go. And I think we also saw, and Scott referenced this earlier, his estimation of where the Republican electorate is willing to go.

He thinks that the Republicans will rally around Trump. They'll, as Scott said earlier, that Biden, they'll say Biden is getting different treatment and so on, which is absurd in many ways. But he did not want to wade in those waters. So you can say no one is above the law, constitution and so on, but here comes a case in which he's going to have to take a stand and apparently he's not going to do that.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I was listening as a Democrat. First of all, man, he's boring. I mean, it's really hard to, like, stick with him. But as I was trying to listen to him, he wasn't just --

COOPER: Now, why don't you say boring?

JONES: He talks real slow. It's just hard to follow. But the other thing is that he wasn't just tying himself into a pretzel around Trump. He could sell pretzels. The kind of conservatism he's playing forward is weird. He believes in parents' rights, unless you're the parent of a transgender kid, in which case the government should boss you around and tell you what you can and can't do. That's weird. He believes in freedom for the Ukrainian people, but not for American women.

He believes in the Constitution, the Constitution, unless you get charged with mass shooting, in which case summary executions. So this is a guy whose politics, I mean, he's nice, he's kind, he's warm, he talks real slow. But what he's saying is really, really frightening from my point of view. And I'm curious to know how Republicans listen to that stuff. It was weird to me.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it won't be weird to Republican voters in Iowa. I mean, what he said about all those issues you mentioned will ring true, particularly on the cultural issues around the transgender back and forth that he had with Dana. That's gonna ring really true to the average conservative or evangelical voter in Iowa. You know, I think Pence --

COOPER: And is that -- that's who he is.

JENNINGS: That's who he is. But that's just like -- there just aren't going to be any Republican voters out there who are going to say, well, I believe in parental rights so much that I think we ought to let this chemical castration go for. I mean, there's just no there aren't any there aren't any.

JONES: I'm listening.

JENNINGS: And Mike Pence is speaking today.

JONES: I'm you got I would love to hear how you guys see it. But I'm going to say it is really painful to hear, have somebody say, I'm a Christian, I'm a compassionate Christian, and then you just don't see the compassion in any of the understanding. But again, this is going to be your primary and not mine. So I'm curious.

FARRAH GRIFFIN: I'm also not totally sure I agree with that. Just really quickly, and I want to let you finish. I know it's a very animating issue on the right, the fear around gender affirming care, but there are Republican voters who have trans kids in this country. And I do think that those voters would believe they have a right to give it.

JENNINGS: I don't think there's a single Republican primary voter.

FARAH GRIFFIN: I literally know two Republican primary voters with trans kids.

JENNINGS: I'm just, I'm -- This is not a major coalition in our primary, Alyssa. I mean, in Iowa, for Mike Pence, if it's not gonna happen in Iowa, is not going to happen anywhere. And who he is speaking to, the people that are going to the Iowa caucus.

FARAH GRIFFIN: You're right. I just didn't want to paint with the box.

COOPER: So for Mike Pence, it's all about Iowa.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. Absolutely. Look, I've campaigned in all 99 counties more times than I can care to mention. I've talked to people in every corner of the state of Iowa. And I guarantee you, as to what Scott said, they are not standing around discussing the transgender issue in terms of the way that you are referring to.

The point that Mike Pence made that I think resonated with them was simply the fact that these decisions should not be made by kids under 18 and parent should be involved in such a life-altering decision. If it involves someone under 18, I think that's the point he made there. He did score some points when he talked about his pro-life position. He says he is pro-life and he's not apologetic about it. And he also made the important distinction that Republicans are concerned about protecting the sanctity of life, but also after that child is born, Republicans will be there and the evangelical community will be there if they choose to put the child up for adoption and well as crisis pregnancy centers across Iowa and the country of which I've been to many.

Here's the thing that I think is going to make a lot of the headlines, but I don't think it's particularly important to the people in Iowa. But he was so strong today on his comments about the President's decision on January 6 and saying if he's going to put himself before the Constitution, he should not be the President of the United States again.


I agree 100 percent with that. But when he was back and forth on the issue of these classified documents, in essence, making a moral equivalency or what aboutism regarding Joe Biden. He basically wiped his argument off the table in terms of, if you do the crime, you should do the time.

Donald Trump is more than likely going to be indicted on this. And if he did the crime, he should do the time. And the fact that Pence wouldn't say unequivocally that I'm not going to pardon him, that's going to make no sense.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I just have a stylistic comment, right, about, to Van's earlier point. No, I watched Tim Scott on "The View." I watched Chris Christie last night. They're dynamic speakers. They're dynamic candidates.

The complete opposite of what we saw tonight, right? I mean, I know this is not the Iowa caucuses we're talking about, but who people get behind, who do you get excited about? Are you going to get excited about what Mike Pence just said and did? I mean, Van's pointed it, or that Roger Stowe was tweeting out he'd like to have the no-dos concession tonight at the town hall.

When you look at Chris Christie who says, the only way to the presidency is through Donald Trump, and I'm going there. When you listen to Tim Scott say, You know, I'm looking through the windshield, not in the rear view mirror. My vision is happy warrior.

They're really big stylistic differences that I think will play out if we get to debate and, you know, and hopefully it will have these candidates on a debate stage.

COOPER: Do you think this read his delivery reads as authentic to people?

JENNINGS: No, it's the opposite. Yeah. Because I think every question cannot have a speech for an answer. If I ask you to pass the salt, I can't have you throw your brow and narrow your eyes. You just need to pass the salt.

COOPER: There are all of these dramatic pauses, I'm not sure if they're real or -- because these are things he's said a million times.

URBAN: Think about this, Anderson Cooper. He was in the Capitol being protected by the Secret Service while Donald Trump is sitting at his desk. Wondering whether Mike Pence is gonna be harmed like I can't understand on Mike Pence didn't go back to the White House and have to be physically separated by the Secret Service there, right? If you would have said there was a story that said Mike Pence gets in a fight with Donald Trump about it I think people would have been like wow.

AXELROD: It's not authentic.

URBAN: It's not authentic.

AXELROD: Authenticity is the coin of the realm at this level of politics even you know, nobody ever says Gee, I wish Donald Trump would speak his mind Okay, whatever you think about him.

URBAN: He's authentic.

AXELROD: Authentic candidates tend to win and there is an inauthentic, there's a studied kind of labored quality to his presentations that are different than when he's campaigning.

URBAN: He's generally a great guy, he's a very nice guy, he connects one on one.

FARAH GRIFFIN: I've campaigned all over the country with him, he's much better retail, one on one, smaller venues than he is on a big platform like this.

AXELROD: Can I just make one last point?

COOPER: Well the promise he's kind of running for (inaudible)

AXELROD: No. He is. The bottom line is all of these points that he's making on conservatism on cultural concerns on, he's not alone out there, there are a lot of people competing for that vote --

COOPER: We're going to break. When we come back, CNN's Daniel Dale with fact check on what we heard tonight, also the very latest on the smoke now covering more than a dozen states northeast when it might live.




COOPER: With tonight's CNN Town Hall with former Vice President Pence now in the books, it's time for a fact check and some of what he said. CNN's Daniel Dale is here with me now. So Daniel, the former vice president made a claim about the controversial family separation policy when he was in office. What did he say? How does it square with the facts?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Well, He tried to separate himself from the separation policy. Let's listen to what he said.


PENCE: The family separation policy actually began under the Obama administration. And then we continued it until President Trump rightly reversed course.


DALE: When President Trump said during his presidency, Anderson, that he simply inherited this family separation policy from Barack Obama and then eventually ended it, I called that a lie. And so I'm going to call it a lie again now that Mike Pence is saying it. It is just not true. Here is the reality. There was no blanket policy of family separation under President Barack Obama.

Rather, under Obama, children were separated from their parents at the border in rare and exceptional cases, like where the parent was being prosecuted for carrying drugs across the border, where human trafficking was suspected, where the authorities couldn't confirm the connection between the child and the adult they were with. So, rare and exceptional. What Trump and Pence did was way different. They created a whole new policy that made separation routine rather than rare.

In spring 2018, their AG, Jeff Sessions, announced it as a whole new separation policy. It was called zero tolerance. And it said that in a major change from the Obama days. all of the adults caught crossing the border illegally would be criminally prosecuted.

That resulted in those adults going to jail, their children were taken to other facilities. And so as a result of this new Trump-Pence policy, there was regular routine separation that absolutely did not exist under Barack Obama. In short, Anderson, Mike Pence here is dishonestly distancing himself from this policy, just like Donald Trump did.

COOPER: He also talked about abortion tonight. What did he say? How does it stand out?

DALE: Yeah, so our Dana Bash asked him about the important topic of exceptions for life of the mother, for rape, and for incest. And he made an assertion about where he had always, he said, stood on these questions. Take a listen.


BASH: Should any federal abortion ban also include exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother?

PENCE: Well, those are exceptions that I've always supported, Dana, as you know.


DALE: He was not telling the truth, Anderson, when he said he has always supported all three of those exceptions. M. Steck of CNN's K- File reporting team looked into this, and she found Pence's answers to an Indiana anti-abortion group questionnaire he filled out in 2010 as a congressional candidate. It's still online.

We'll post a link to it on tonight. And it asked, quote, "under what circumstances do you believe abortion should be legal?"


It gave Pence the option to select life of the mother only, rape/incest, or other. But Pence did not choose any at those. Instead, he selected the other option that stated abortion should never be legal. So, he was on record then in 2010 rejecting all exceptions.

And then when he ran for reelection again in 2012, he answered the same questionnaire, same option. There was a box for rape and incest. This time, he checked "only life of the mother." So, again, declining to support rape and incest, the other two.

He is free to say whatever he wants, Anderson, about his current position. People can change. But his quote, those are exceptions I have always supported, is just not true. And I will add in closing, it's worth noting that in Congress, he also cosponsored legislation in 2011 to tweak the Hyde Amendment to narrow the definition of rape. Anderson?

COOPER: Daniel Dale, appreciate it. Thanks. Jake?

TAPPER: Good to have Daniel Dale back. More reaction now to tonight's town hall. We're joined by Chris Wallace, host of "Who's Talking to Chris Wallace." Chris, good to see you.

You -- you say you were struck by the exchange, where Vice President Pence was asked whether former President Trump should be indicted if the Justice Department believes he committed a crime. Tell me, what did you think of his answer?

CHRIS WALLACE, BROADCAST JOURNALIST: Well, it's a hard one to square because on the one hand, he is saying no one should be above the law, on the other hand, he says that, I hope that they would find a way not to indict this president even if he has committed a crime, that it would be terribly divisive. It's a terrible message around the world.

I think there are a lot of people who have questions about whether or not they want to see a former president, even one who they think has committed a crime behind bars. But it's a hard -- just as a matter of logic, it is a pretty hard one to square.

What struck me tonight, Jake, about Pence's performance was the fact that he really does face some tremendous structural problems. In the latest CNN poll, 6% of Republicans, Republican-leaning voters nationally say they support Pence, 45% say that there is no circumstance under which they would ever support Pence.

What struck me is that on a number of issues, Ukraine and the fact that he feels that we should be committed to it and cannot allow Russia to win, entitlement reform, social security reform and Medicare reform, he is very much and he talked repeatedly about being a Reagan Republican and signing on during the Reagan revolution.

The question, of course, is whether this is Ronald Reagan's party anymore. It seems to be more of Donald Trump's party, even if you don't end up for voting for Donald Trump, which you see Republicans saying there is no reform of entitlements, social security or Medicare, and also, an increasing number of them pulling back in terms of a kind of a blank check of support for Ukraine.

So, you know, I think he would be a very attractive candidate in the 80s with Reagan and Bush 41. Whether he's an attractive candidate in 2024, even for those who are looking for an alternative to Donald Trump, I am not so sure.

TAPPER: Yeah, Mr. Trump certainly reshaping the ideology, if not the makeup of the Republican Party. Also, there are a lot of states that are banning procedures having to do with trans health care for minors such as puberty blockers or sex reassignment surgery, etcetera, even if the parents and physicians and psychologist, et cetera, say this is what this child needs. Dana asked him about that. Let's play some of that.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I strongly support state legislation, including as we did in Indiana, that bans all gender transition, chemical or surgical procedures, for kids under the age of 18.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But what if their parents support that?

PENCE: You're talking about something that is absolutely transformational, and that we know from mental health experts, it 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 are going to protect kids from the radical gender ideology and say, no chemical or surgical gender transition before you're 18.

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

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



TAPPER: So, Chris, I had a trans girl and her father on my show, I think they are from Idaho, a few weeks ago, and one at the issues was the trans girl -- I basically said, this is -- you know, what do you think about this, just wait until you're 18? And she said, I would have killed myself. And I know that this is all relatively new in the national discourse. How do you think he handled that?

WALLACE: I think -- first of all, I think clearly, he believes it. One of the things that I think came through tonight, whether you agree with it or not, was the sincerity of this man and his deep beliefs that come -- a lot of it from faith.

I also -- as a political matter, I'm not saying this was a political calculation, but it has been mentioned before. For Mike Pence, he has got to win in Iowa or he is basically out of the race. And the Iowa Republican Caucus is, just as a matter of political fact, are dominated by Christian evangelicals.

So, whether it is his very strong position on abortion, his very strong position on school vouchers, and yes even his very strong position on not even allowing parents of children under 18 to have a say in whether or not there can be a gender transformation, I think that plays very well among the people who will be going to those caucuses early next winter.

TAPPER: Yeah. Let's not forget that Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus. He beat Donald Trump narrowly, but he beat him. Thanks so much, Chris. Anderson?

COOPER: Jake, we are going to take a step away from the town hall coverage. We will bring you some breaking news, news that is clearly visible across the northeast. Literally, that is the Manhattan skyline tonight, the Empire State Building. The view perhaps a little better than it was earlier, still hazy from all of the smoke being blown here from wildfires in Central Canada.

New York is one of the more than other states encompassing 75 million people with health emergencies now in effect. Earlier today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told Jake Tapper that the conditions in his state are -- quote -- "either bad or really bad, depending on where you are."

CNN's Miguel Marquez is near Manhattan's Union Square for us tonight. You have been out there most of the day. There were times today, Miguel, that New York City had the worst air quality of any major city in the world. People describe smelling the smoke, even tasting it. How bad is it now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. You can still smell it. I mean, what is amazing about that as well, as someone -- I'm sure you have covered many fires in the west, is that typically, when Los Angeles or San Francisco gets sort of smoked in by a fire that is nearby, it's 10, maybe 20 or 30 miles away. These fires are hundreds of miles away. These are such massive fires. To have this smoke this far south inundating a city like New York, even farther south, Philly, Washington D.C., all suffering the effects of this as well, just incredible.

In New York, major league baseball games have been postponed. A WNBA game and Broadway shows being postponed. There was an actor who was in the middle of (INAUDIBLE) who had to stop today because she was unable to go on.

So, health professionals are saying the best thing that you can do -- the air quality has improved, it is much, much better right now than it was earlier today, but it will be with us for the next 24 or maybe 48 hours where we will have this smoke. It may actually move farther west, to Pittsburgh and other cities in the west.

But health officials say that the best thing you can do now is stay indoors. If you have to go outdoors and you do have underlying issues with breathing in your lungs, a KN95 or N95 mask is the best way to protect yourself from the smoke that we are experiencing. But to see New York turn in to this sort of apocalyptic sort of orange haze, you see it in other cities, but to see it in New York, it is a much, much different thing.

COOPER: What's also creepy, even going inside -- I mean, even with the air conditioning, whether the central air or a window unit, it is inside the apartment. It is inside your apartment. It is inside your house.

MARQUEZ: Yeah, even in the buildings, even in the commercial buildings that have very good air filtration systems, we can smell it at work all day yesterday and today. There is no real way to be completely free of it. But if you can be inside with an air purifier and sort of stay away from the worst of it, that is the best.

We have been out all day. You can feel it in your throat. You can feel it on your skin. It is clear that there is something in the air and it's going to be here for at least another 48 hours.

COOPER: Yeah. Miguel, I appreciate your reporting. Thank you. Let's go back to Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Anderson. Turning back to tonight's CNN town hall in Des Moines, day one of Mike Pence's run against Donald Trump, historic, in the modern era. Specifically, we want to talk about how it is playing with the people who watched it in person.

And for that, let's go to CNN's Kyung Lah, who is in Iowa at the debate site.


And Kyung, you were in the audience this afternoon when the former vice president announced his candidacy, and again tonight at the town hall. How enthusiastic is the audience?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start by clearly and plainly stating that what we saw were not the crowds that would show up at a Trump rally. The images and the sound that in some ways we have become accustomed to in our modern political era, that is not this, that is not what the campaign wants or is seeking.

What we have seen throughout the day at both his first rally and here in at the town hall are crowds that are largely supportive of him. These are crowds that genuinely seem to really like him. We also saw them being very receptive, when we saw the former vice president talk about issues like faith. It really underscores the percentage of evangelicals among Iowa Republicans. We also saw them with him when he talked about issues like abortion, a lot of support there.

And something else that we really notice in the crowd, after the rally, during the commercial break here at the town hall, is Mike Pence going into the crowd and shaking hands and spending real time talking one-on-one with people. He could've sat down during the commercial break and got water. Instead, we saw him take many commercial breaks by engaging.

And that is something that this campaign has been telling since the get-go will be a strength. That's what they want to get him out to all 99 counties. That's how they believe, in those living rooms, that he will be able to chip away at Donald Trump's lead, Jake.

TAPPER: Kyung, how did the audience react when Mr. Pence talked about former President Trump?

LAH: This is the challenge, this is going to be the challenge ahead, and the campaign plainly and clearly knows it, especially in the rally. You could not help but notice that this was a mixed reaction. When Mr. Pence tried to land some of his harshest criticism against Donald Trump, when he was most forceful, you saw some in the crowd stand up on their chairs, a standing O, but then a good portion of the crowd did not applaud at all. They stayed seated. This is a pro-Pence crowd.

So, it is going to be a high wire act. How does he separate himself from the man who was his president? He was the vice president to then being running on his own and trying to force his own path with those three or four years behind him as his legacy.

TAPPER: Interesting. Kyung Lah in Des Moines, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's talk more about this with my panel. Jamie Gangel, in the last three days, since Sunday night, I did a town hall with Nikki Haley, I interviewed earlier today Chris Christie, and Dana just did this panel on this town hall with Mike Pence.

Obviously, Donald Trump has a Donald Trump-sized lane for himself in the race, and that is big right now. How do you see the other three?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: A complete contrast. I mean, what we saw from Nikki Haley on Sunday night was someone who was quite poised on the stage. She talks about foreign policy. What I find most interesting here, though, is Pence versus Chris Christie. While Mike Pence says he is praying for Donald Trump, Chris Christie called him out as -- quote -- "lonely, self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog." I think this afternoon, he used the expression with you that he was a spoiled baby.

Let's say for the record, Mike Pence is ahead of Chris Christie in the polls. Chris Christie has a lot of work ahead of him. But the Republican sources that I talked to see an important role for Chris Christie in this campaign because they think he can go on the stage and take it to Donald Trump in a way that nobody else can. Certainly, not Mike Pence.

TAPPER: And one at the things -- I read a great column by Jonah Goldberg, one of our contributors who writes for "The Dispatch," the Overton window has something to do with like somebody -- when you open the Overton window, when you extend it, you're making something more acceptable. I know you know this. I'm explaining it to the people who don't, the Overton window.

And Jonah's argument was that Chris Christie is going to expand the Overton window as to what is acceptable to say about Donald Trump.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, his job is really to put some things on the table so that they are out there, that Trump can be challenged on them, asked about them. If he does not do that, it probably won't be a part of the conversation.

There is reason to believe that that is true because when you look at the other candidates, they are really tiptoeing around Trump still.


I mean, we spent about a week talking about Ron DeSantis and Trump going at it. But even that was sort of mild combat. Actually, you heard Mike Pence today talking about, you know, Trump talking about, you know, Putin and saying that he knows a dictator when he sees one. And in some ways, he is also trying to draw a contrast with Ron DeSantis who has tried to kind of not really go after Trump on some of the foreign policy issues.

But, look, I don't know -- you know, Pence and Christie, Pence might be ahead of Christie but it is not by much. I mean, we are talking about less than 10% of the vote.

And all of these candidates who are in that lane, let us call it the less than 10% lane, they are all really struggling to convince Republican voters that they matter really at all because I think that there is a sort of sense of almost irrelevancy that Republican voters -- they are like they are fine. You know, it is conservative principles and that is great, but there is something that they're missing that is really not getting them beyond where they are.

And even Ron DeSantis, who is very well-funded, very well-known, he gets a lot of good headlines, he is struggling to get past 30%. I mean, this is Trump's party and no one has proven the ability to really dislodge that up until this point.

TAPPER: And Kaitlan, in 2016, all the Republican rivals of Donald Trump like really held back, they hoped somebody else would take on Donald Trump and then those two will destroy each other, and Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, whatever, would emerge as the nominee. Now, they have that someone. It's Chris Christie. He is going to do it for them.

COLLINS: And also, did you see Marco Rubio the other day basically blaming consultants who told him not to attack Trump, go after Chris Christie, and Chris Christie is taking credit for how he handled Marco Rubio on the debate stage?

I do think that we are rethinking it. Obviously, it's unavoidable. It's also a different place than we were then given what has happened on January 6 and everything that happened from the years in the White House.

I know Pence has to say this, but tonight, when he was talking about the contradiction and saying Trump can never be president again, that he will support the nominee, he said he has great confidence in Republican primary voters that Trump will not be the nominee. But right now, he is far and away the frontrunner.

Two things that stood out to me tonight as Dana was asking her questions was he broke with a lot of the Republicans that are running on Ukraine, saying he would continue to fund Ukraine, and also on social security, saying that Trump has the same policy as President Biden, which is that there should be no changes to entitlement. Pence is saying we actually have to talk about this. There do have to be changes. Otherwise, there is going to be cuts.

I think that is where you're going to see them battle it out. They want to talk about that kind of stuff instead of talking about Trump all the time.

CORDERO: There were two specific areas following up what Kaitlan was describing on Ukraine where Mike Pence really did put some daylight between him and the former president. One was on the issue of potentially pardoning the January 6 defendants. Hundreds of people have been prosecuted in that case, including former military officers, including law enforcement officers, including may other people who engaged in serious violence, including leaders of domestic violent extremist groups that have been prosecuted in those cases.

Mike Pence says that is the rule of law. He wants to be clearly a rule of law candidate, and he says that he will not pardon those. That's a lot of space between him and Trump.

The other is on the Ukraine war. In that point, Mike Pence made a very, very strong defense of supporting Ukraine. Really, there was no daylight between what he was describing and what the current administration is doing in terms of providing substantial support to Ukraine. There is no indication that a future President Trump would do the same.

TAPPER: Yeah. I would observe this from interviewing Chris Christie today, that Chris Christie and Mike Pence are aligned on both at those issues when it comes to law and order, when it comes to January 6, and also a support for Ukraine.

We are going to have more on the pitch that Vice President Pence made and is making through Republican voters in Iowa and across the nation. That is next.




TAPPER: During this evening's town hall in Iowa, former Vice President Pence was asked about a comment he made earlier today where he said that anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president at the United States. He was obviously referring to former President Trump.

About an hour later, in an interview, he said he would support the eventual Republican nominee for president, whoever that might be. So, of course, the conundrum. If Mr. Pence thinks that Mr. Trump should never be president, how could he potentially support him as the nominee? This was his response.


BASH: 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, how can you say that you would support him if he is the nominee?

PENCE: Because I don't think Donald Trump is going to be the nominee of the Republican Party.

BASH: What if he is?

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

BASH: But what if he is?

PENCE: I have great confidence in Republican primary voters. 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. I truly do believe whatever the polls show and whatever the pundits are saying, when the time comes, the people of Iowa are going to take a fresh look at all of us to step forward.

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


TAPPER: I am joined now by our chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, how do you think Vice President Pence did differentiating himself from the former president tonight while also trying to court some Trump voters?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's a careful and difficult balancing act. You can see him in almost every word trying to walk this very fine line.


But it was notable how much more aggressive he was this afternoon in his announcement speech than he was to an audience of voters. That is something that he is going to have to square.

Yes, he drew some very sharp distinctions, he said he would not pardon the January six protesters, he said he would revisit the sentencing commission that the Trump administration did, he called out the former president on Ukraine, but he was not nearly as strong.

So, you kind of wonder, just using his own words, he said that voters want to look forward, voters want fresh leaders, does he fit that category, and does this a description sort of his midwestern, sort of sensibilities, Indiana nice?

In his mind, I think he think he is going after the former president pretty significantly. But we know and he knows, his advisers well know, that the Trump supporters are not available likely to Mike Pence.

So, is this strong enough for him? It is something that he has been working on really for the last year or more. We sort of seen this crescendo. He would say it privately than on camera. He's working up to it. I still think it's a very careful balancing act. And he's not the loudest voice in the room on this, Chris Christie is at this point. So, voters have other options here.

But he makes some feel accountable. He's a deep fiscal conservative. We'll see if that is enough for these Republican voters.

TAPPER: Yeah, Chris Christie is the loudest on this. I would say Governor Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas is second. There is a long drop, maybe Nikki Haley there.

Mr. Pence also said that ultimately, dislike of President Biden and Vice President Harris and their policies would ultimately unite the Republican Party. But is it ever really that simple, especially if it is a truly bruising primary?

ZELENY: Look, it certainly looks like we're heading towards a bruising primary. I am not sure if history is our best guide here because we have a former vice president running against a former president. We're in uncharted waters here. What if Trump does not become the nominee and does not accept the results? What would that do to the Republican Party?

So, this is a long conversation. Republican leaders are sort of dreading, but they know that they will have to have. I think the idea of a Biden administration, the idea of a Biden-Harris second term, will bring around a lot of Republicans but it depends who the nominee is.

So, I think that the next six or seven months or so are very complicated for this Republican Party, depending on how many Republicans are on the debate stage, of course. I don't think it's as simple as just saying, vote for us and not for them.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much. Anderson?

COOPER: Jake, back with the team here in New York. One of the things, Van, that the former vice president talked about was the First Step Act, which he seemed to tout initially as being sort of tough on crime and then backed -- walked away from when Dana pointed out that Ron DeSantis has been pushing against it.

JONES: Oh, yeah, more Mr. Pretzel man stuff. But I think the thing that is sad about this thing --

UNKNOWN: Explain what the First Step Act is.

JONES: The First Step Act was a criminal justice reform measure that passed on a bipartisan basis under Donald Trump. Eighty-seven U.S. senators signed on to it. That would've been 88 if Lindsey Graham got off the plane at the time. It was a massive success.

The thing about it is it worked. This is the crazy thing. Nobody is talking about the actual facts.

Usually, about half the people who come out from federal prison get in trouble again pretty quickly. With the First Step Act, it's not 50%, 45%. It is 12% of the people who came home under that got in trouble. It's a miracle.

And why? Because they took a set of categories of offenders -- of offenses and said with these folks, if you work hard, if you take classes, if you get ready to come home, we'll let you come home a little bit early.

UNKNOWN: While you're in prison?

JONES: While you're in prison. So, you earn your way home a little bit earlier by doing smart stuff, and they came home and they didn't get in trouble. Everybody from Nancy Pelosi to Donald Trump should be cheering about this. But instead, rather than Pence saying, this is the most I could have done for community safety, I made you safer with this, he backed away from it.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: He's was conflating the First Step Act would be tough on crime. He was saying -- they were asking, what would you do to make Des Moines safer? What are you going to do? Van knows --

JONES: You're on the frontline (ph).

URBAN: I worked with Van and think it was a pretty major step forward. By conflating the two, it is not -- it doesn't make anybody less safe. It makes people safer like Van said. So, it was a missed opportunity for the vice president.

AXELROD: Although DeSantis has -- he got bullied essentially into that position by DeSantis.

URBAN: The same thing on red flag laws and guns, right? He had an opportunity. I think the vice president had an opportunity. He was a little bit there, a little bit not there. But the first red flag laws have worked wildly successfully in the state of Florida. After Parkland, they were implemented by republican legislators, signed by Republican governors. In my county, Lee County, Florida, it's very successful republican support.

COOPER: I do want to bring in Elie Honig, who we haven't heard from, our legal analyst. Elie, I'm wondering what stood out to you tonight in the town hall.


ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Anderson, first of all, when Mike Pence tried to say, on the one hand, nobody should be above the law, on the other hand, even if DOJ thinks that there was a crime committed, they should not prosecute Donald Trump, there is simply no squaring those things.

The other thing that really stood out to me is I think we got a preview here of what the talking point is going to be within this republican field about a potential Trump indictment based on Mar-a- Lago.

What did Mike Pence say? He said, well, it's not fair because it's all the same, what Donald Trump did, what Joe Biden did, what Hillary Clinton did. The problem there is there are similarities, they all involved classified documents, but they are not the same and each case stands on its own.

I think the best illustration of that is Mike Pence's own case. The reason Mike Pence is not being charged even though he did have classified documents is he had no knowledge and he had no criminal intent. If that is different with Donald Trump, then we are going to see a different outcome.

So, get ready for those talking points as we go through this campaign, but I don't think they hold up as a matter of law.

COOPER: Alyssa, do you think that is going to be (INAUDIBLE)?

FARAH: Yes. Scott Jennings said this earlier. I think that the most revealing part of this town hall perhaps was that the biggest applause line was him saying that, you know, no one is above the law, but then kind of back pedaling and suggesting that there is two tier system of justice, that Joe Biden was let go, he was let go, but Donald Trump maybe indicted.

And this is what is so problematic. If I were still briefing Vice President Pence, I would tell him, we don't know the facts of this indictment yet, if it is going to come down. We don't know what it might entail, if it might be under the Espionage Act. To jump to the conclusion that we are going to defend him in advance, it is also narrowing your own lane. To get nomination, you have to beat Donald Trump and you have to take him on. This is the safe place to be.

JENNINGS: The facts may not matter, though, when you consider the point about the double standard, which Republicans already believe, that if the Bidens get away with everything, the Clintons get away with everything, but Donald Trump gets blames for everything.

But when you look at the war that's being waged right now on the FBI by the House Republicans, there's news about that tonight, the committee under Jamie Comer is going to get a look at some documents. This fighting with DOJ and the FBI all further reduces any level of trust that any Republican will have in a federal indictment of any kind.

So, whatever the facts are, I think Pence gave us the preview. I mean, Donald Trump sent a mob to the Capitol to kill Mike Pence, and he is out here defending him on a paperwork case. I mean, pretty telling about what he is hearing from Mike Pence (ph).

JONES: Just to say -- I mean -- again, I am a Democrat, this is a republican night, but there is a two-tier system of justice, and it's against people who are poor, it's against people from wrong zip codes who can't afford good lawyers, who have brown skin. So, for the Republicans now to say that there is a two-tier system of justice and it is against Donald Trump and the rich wealthy elites, it's painful to hear. I understand that that is the conversation, but it's divorced from reality.

AXELROD: Well, let us just -- you know, it's -- Trump took his -- you know, he takes his (INAUDIBLE) on these panels and so on. He does have a (INAUDIBLE) genius for setting up these constructs.


AXELROD: His whole campaign is essentially built for this purpose in some ways, which is to say, when they come after him, this is the deep state trying to silence me.


He has got a whole lot of people following him. What you saw tonight was Mike Pence essentially acknowledging that and not wanting to take on the movement that Trump has built behind him.

STEWART: I think the bottom line is that the cake is baked really on his face. He is going to stand with him no matter what. If an indictment comes down in this case and any other legal jeopardy that he is facing, they are going to stand by him. If anything, they will be involved in. Let me just say one thing, big picture wise. We had a few great town halls, really opened up viewers' eyes to a lot of these candidates, and we'll have more. I'm just going to say this from the republican side of the table.

I think we have made a lot of progress in the last four years. In 2020, we had an embarrassment. This year, we have an embarrassment of riches. We have great candidates who are forward thinking, who are optimistic. And to David's point, they are charismatic and willing to go out there on the trail and work hard to win over these votes. Many of them are ready to turn the page. I am encouraged by the fact that we have many choices out there.




URBAN: Hey, Anderson, (INAUDIBLE). We are pretty jacked over here.


COOPER: -- how the vice president tried to use the war in Ukraine to attack two of his top rivals for the republican nomination for president, former President Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. We'll be right back.




TAPPER: One of the areas during tonight's town hall where former Vice President Pence tried to draw a sharp contrast between himself and his former boss, Donald Trump, was the war in Ukraine.


BSH: 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 as 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 country (ph).


(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: I am joined now by CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley, who is talking to us from Ukraine's capital of Kyiv. I know it is late there, Sam. Thanks so much. How do you think former Vice President Pence's answer will be viewed in Kyiv?


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it will be viewed very positively indeed, as I think will be the applause that followed his unequivocal statement there that he would be backing Ukraine. There are jitters. Not that President Zelenskyy, he is a very skilled diplomat will draw attention, too much attention to it, but there are very serious jitters within the Ukrainian administration about the future support from the United States if there is a republican presidency.

That, of course, is a long way off. They are very, very close indeed to the Biden administration. The American people under the Biden administration are very generous indeed to Ukraine. They know that without American support, they would probably -- I would probably be standing here under Russian (INAUDIBLE), certainly under Russian attack, Jake.

So, I think it will be very strongly welcomed indeed, this absolutely unequivocal position struck by Mr. Pence.

TAPPER: Yeah. We heard the similar thing from Chris Christie in my interview with him earlier today and from Governor Nikki Haley in the town hall we had with her on Sunday, all three of them having that position.

What is your sense of how the Kremlin will view the comments of Mike Pence and Chris Christie and Nikki Haley, all of whom have been very much in favor of the Ukrainians and very much opposed to Putin and his war?

KILEY: I think that they will have a favorite in this race. Without question, that will be Donald Trump. Definitely, top of the list of Vladimir Putin's preferred president of the United States.

I think almost somewhat rattled in the Kremlin that there does seem to be this unity among so many of the other potential candidates in the primaries because this -- the Kremlin has been rather banking or hoping to be able to bank on Republicans putting pressure on -- fiscal pressure on the funding (INAUDIBLE) that supplies the much-needed weapons here, particularly air defenses, and quite probably helping to pay for F-16s, for example, some very hefty items on the federal budget that they would be hoping that Republicans would shy away from signing off on.

So, with a relative level of unanimity with the exception of Donald Trump, it's very, very clear where the Kremlin will stand on that.

TAPPER: All right, Sam Kiley, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Next, back to the debate. We touched on this a moment ago. More on what the former vice president said about crime and criminal justice in the United States. Our John Miller will join Anderson for that right after this quick break.




COOPER: Welcome back. I discussed this a bit with our panel earlier, the former vice president's position on the First Step Act. Here's what he said about his crime policy if elected, and what he called the "step back" from first step.


UNKNOWN: 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.


We are going to support the men and women in law enforcement. We passed what is called the First Step Act at federal level. President Trump signed it into law. When I was governor of state of Indiana, we signed a 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.

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.

BASH: Governor Ron DeSantis has said that if he is elected, he wants to repeal the First Step Act. What is your response to that?

PENCE: Well, let me say, I just said that I think we need to take a step back and rethink the First Step Act. And we 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. So, on that point, I would agree with others.


COOPER: CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller was watching the debate. He joins us now. I wonder what stood out to you, particularly on the First Step Act.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, clearly, Anderson, he prepared for the question, but he is also trapped in some of the conundrums of, you know, standard republican platform, which is, you know, full support of the police. He comes out for stiffer sentences for criminals, a swift capital punishment for school shooters --

COOPER: He talked about accelerated due process leading to execution.

MILLER: That's right, and more police in schools. On the other hand, you know, when you talk to him about, and he brought this up, the south side of Chicago, Memorial Day weekend, 45 shootings, 10 people dead, his parents grew up there, he said it was very sad for Chicago, but not in favor of sweeping gun control measures, assault weapon bans, red flag laws, which really relates to the active shooters, the mass shootings. He said, you know, we don't want to take guns away from people who lawfully possess them.

So, with the full support of police, you know, there are places where he finds himself at odds with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the national --

COOPER: He also pointed out that from Chicago, a lot of the guns come actually from his state of Indiana.

MILLER: That's right. And --


COOPER: But didn't go over particularly well.

MILLER: No. And I mean, this is a -- this is a thing where you also have to ask, what are you prepared to do as president? It's going to be different. But also, what effect, you know, a president can have on laws that are largely controlled by state legislatures and elected district attorneys about enforcement.

COOPER: I really appreciate it. Thanks so much. Jake?

TAPPER: Anderson, thanks so much. Some final thoughts now from our panel. Let's talk about the criminal justice reform because, first of all, Donald Trump himself has criticized the criminal justice reform bill. We have Mike Pence separating from it. Ron DeSantis called it like a pro-jail break bill or something. What do you think?

CORDERO: Well, I think one of the questions is beyond just the issue of criminal justice. Mike Pence had an opportunity tonight to talk about the crisis in policing. He talked about not wanting to defund the police, which is one political talking point.

But the real crisis in policing is one of police leaving the police forces and recruitment. The Fraternal Order of Police says there is an absolute crisis in police recruitment. Nobody wants to become a police officer right now because the environment is so difficult, the job is so difficult. It's in part related to the gun problem because many police chiefs are actually in favor of some level of gun safety laws --

TAPPER: Sure. The cops are outgunned.

CORDERO: -- because it makes them unsafe.


CORDERO: And then also just the environment that has made it more difficult for policing in general and the criticism of police that have come in response to acts of police brutality. So, there is a real problem in policing. Mike Pence, maybe in the future, he will talk about it a little bit because it's an issue that some candidate is going to have to address if this country wants to make forward progress on safety in cities.

PHILLIPS: I think what you will hear on the campaign trail from a lot of Republicans is that the answer is just that police are being demonized and that's the end of the story. But it's obviously a lot more complex than that. The solution will be more complex.

I will also say that on the First Step Act, it is not particularly surprising to see Pence walking that back. I covered the Trump administration when they were trying to pass this, and Republicans by and large were really never fully on board with this. This was always something that the likes of Senator Tom Cotton had been vocally against. The attorney general, Bill Barr, at the time was privately against it, publicly very lukewarm on it.

But it is sad because I think some of the cases that they cite are actually quite rare. The First Step Act was supposed to speak to more broadly the need for the criminal justice system to be responsive to people turning their lives around, to people getting sentences that were disproportionate to the crime or not even proportionate to other people of different races who committed the same crimes. But that's not the kind of nuanced conversation we're going to have in this cycle.

I also think it represents a huge turnaround. Trump wanted to do that because they thought they could make inroads with Black voters and with voters of color. This cycle, I think we're going to see kind of an equal and opposite force. I think the cultural wars are back with a vengeance, and Mike Pence walking that back is the clear sign, I think, we have seen thus far. That is exactly how this race is going to be run.

TAPPER: By the way, Donald Trump did make inroads with Black and Latino voters. It is just that he lost all those white voters in the suburbs. You are covering the White House when Trump signed that into law.

COLLINS: But it's one of the areas where Trump who normally has pretty good instincts, where the republican base is, clearly, we saw that in 2016, was not alive in the sense of how majority of Republicans felt on Capitol Hill.

But this is what is going to be so interesting to watch when they're on the debate stage, how Pence, who is running now against Trump, distances himself from things that they did while he was very much his vice president. It's not just on this. It's also on guns. You heard him talking about red flag laws earlier. He also distanced himself from things that he and Trump were pushing for, mainly Trump, after the Parkland shooting, things like red flag, potentially raising the age to buy guns like AR- 15s. Those are things that Pence has now come out and distanced himself from.

So, how do you -- how do you cite your experience as a vice president but also distance yourself from the decisions that your administration made?

PHILLIP: Also, a question for Nikki Haley, who I think is largely going to be in a very similar boat on some of the Trump era policies.

TAPPER: Yeah. It does seem, though, very clearly, Jamie, that Donald Trump is not going to be the most conservative candidate in the race. Ron DeSantis is to his right on many issues. Mike Pence is to his right on many issues, even more to the right of Ron DeSantis when it comes to more traditionally republican positions on foreign policy.

GANGEL: But none of them are Donald Trump.


And right now, that is what the republican base wants. They are -- I mean, the difference in the numbers, 29, 30 points? He is leading by with all of the baggage of January 6, with all of the indictments, and --

TAPPER: And some pending.

GANGEL: And some banding. By the way, I will just say a former senior Justice Department official said to me when we heard about the target letter today -- quote -- "buckle up." So, there is a sense in that community. This is going forward.

But I just want to go back to something we discussed earlier, which was former Vice President Mike Pence said, I have no interest or no intention of pardoning anyone who broke the law, no one is above the law, but with regard to -- with Donald Trump unique circumstances here --

TAPPER: Right. So very law and order wakes up when it comes to one man.

PHILLIP: And let's remember, I mean, Trump is also under investigation about January 6.


PHILLIP: So, this will be another opportunity for Pence to weigh in on whether or not he should face charges in that case as well and whether he would pardon him.

TAPPER: Very, very interesting. My thanks to the panel with me here in Washington, D.C. and everyone else out there for staying up. So, goodnight from here.

COOPER: And Jake, the best thing about staying up late is you can catch the (INAUDIBLE) edition of tonight's town hall, which is next. Good night.