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The Yahoo News Interview: Mike Pence

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, showing a more whimsical side of himself, and right, making an emphatic point.
Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. (Photo illustration: Kelli R. Grant/Yahoo News; photos: Shannon Finney/Getty Images, John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Mike Pence still insists he hasn’t made his mind up about a 2024 campaign. But an interview with Yahoo News shows that he’s certainly started talking like a contender for the Republican nomination. The former vice president has ready-made critiques of his potential rivals, comparing Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to liberal Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, while also taking direct aim at Donald Trump.

“Look, we've got some major issues facing this country, but in the next election, I think the American people are going to be looking for problem solvers, not payback,” Pence says of his old boss.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Yahoo News:

I wanted to ask you about the issue of big government and small government conservatism to start. You've said in the past that you had concerns about the way that Gov. DeSantis handled the issue with Disney, and that you would've handled it differently. I know you said you had concerns. I believe you said that you wouldn't have gone that far.

So talk to me about your concern there, and how you would have handled that differently as Gov. Pence in Indiana, or as president?

Mike Pence:

I'm a limited government conservative, and I believe in private property, free enterprise. My concern more broadly was just simply about taking action against a company in the wake of a political dispute, where the company had taken a different position than the state.

I have concerns about that in Florida. I had the exact same concerns about California, pulling a $54 million contract from Walgreens because Walgreens announced that they'll not be distributing the abortion pill in 20 states where it would be illegal to do so. To me, it's the same kind of government activism — one on the right, one on the left, and both are wrong.

I think there's also First Amendment issues. Businesses have the right to take the stance that they take without fear of retribution from government entities. I think it's a worthy debate in the country today that as we're dealing with a lot of these large issues that bear upon the culture of the country that impact, in particular, traditional conservatives and families — I think we ought to vigorously take those debates to our school boards, to our state legislatures, to the halls of Congress.

Yahoo News:

Your concern is about precedent. I'm assuming that you're not as concerned about how Disney is run. I mean, you care, but your ultimate concern is philosophical, but also a precedent and where it leads, right?

Mike Pence:

Well, I do. Well, it's led to Walgreens in the state of California. California has announced that they are canceling a $54 million contract with Walgreens.

Yahoo News:

Where does it go after this?

Mike Pence:

I think that's the right question.

Yahoo News:

I'm curious. I was going to ask this later, but what do you think of the term “culture war”? Do you think culture war is necessary?

Mike Pence:

Well, I hold the view as a pro-life American, as a pro-family American, that for much of the last decade, the American left has been engaging in a consistent assault on religious liberty, on traditional values. I think the American people are right to fight back — and to do so through the democratic process and to do so through the courts.

I will tell you that I'm very confident that we have a strong religious liberty majority on the Supreme Court of the United States today. I also believe we have a pro-life majority, and we also have a pro-parents rights majority. So be willing to go to the courts to push back on what seems to have been a steady assault on traditional values and religious liberty. I think that is the right fight.

I do think, though, that I've always been drawn to that Bible verse that says, "Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, but do so with gentleness and respect." I think that whether we're talking about the right to life, whether we're talking about other traditional values, I'm someone that thinks we could do with more civility and more respect across the board in the American political debate.

Yahoo News:

My father's verse that he drilled into me was from the Book of James: “Everyone should be quick to listen.”

Mike Pence:

"Slow to speak."

Yahoo News:

And "slow to become angry." That's right.

You talk about the assault from the left. There are people on the right that talk about something called “commonsense populism.” Rod Dreher is one of the authors who's a part of that, and I wanted to read you something he wrote.

Here, I think, is the key quote: "State power is the only way ordinary people whose beliefs and ways of life are viewed with contempt by those power elites can be compelled to respect the liberties of these despised masses." What do you make of that?

Mike Pence:

Well, I think it's one of the reasons why we were leading the fight up more than a year ago against ESG. Environmental, social and governance investment rules that had taken hold in several of the largest investment firms.

Congress just passed, in the House and the Senate, measures that push back on ESG requirements being composed by the Biden administration in government plans. But I would often say to people, the battle against woke politics in one corporation got a lot of understandable attention, but the truth is, ESG is pernicious.

Yahoo News:

It's more systemic, is what you're saying.

Mike Pence:

It’s investment policy that is being driven by left-wing politics, where — literally — access to capital investment decisions have been being driven increasingly by an environmental, social and governance agenda.

I believe the corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits under the law, period. As somebody that believes in free market economics, I believe that the common good is advanced when businesses are pursuing that objective.

Yahoo News:

Is there anything in ESG about trying to incentivize or pressure businesses to maximize profits not just for the short term, or is it all the social policy or something?

Mike Pence:

It drives environmental policy and social policy. It's timely because in the last week, with our group very involved. … Our foundation bought ads in Montana and in Arizona and [Montana Democratic Sen. Jon] Tester voted for it, got it across the line. Now Biden has threatened to veto it.

To me, it's a major issue, and it was being driven by Wall Street firms that literally manage hundreds of billions of dollars and make capital available, so they can influence businesses all across the country to begin to advance these liberal policies.

To me, that's the right fight — making sure that capital is available without being filtered through a left-wing agenda. But, as I said, I think we wrote the first major piece on it a year ago, and others, I'm glad, have taken up the cause and made the fight.

We've given speeches on it around the country. I'm really proud of Congress for taking that step around the Department of Labor, but it's all part of a larger fight to hold Wall Street accountable.

Yahoo News:

Presumably, you'd have a similar concern with unelected members of this board down in Florida at Disney World, who have been appointed by a governor in retribution for political statements.

Mike Pence:

Well, I can't speak to that. Not as deeply. I want to be fair.

Yahoo News:

Do you think you have a contrast with Gov. DeSantis?

Mike Pence:

Yeah. I mean, my old friend and mentor, Newt Gingrich, would always say, the objective of conservatives should be a refereed private sector, and government should be wearing the stripes, not picking winners and losers, right?

Yahoo News:

Yeah.

Mike Pence:

If you believe Adam Smith — and I do — what happens, and it's the unbroken truth of Western history, is that when free markets are allowed to prosper, people's lives get better.

Yahoo News:

What do you make of Trump’s recent comment, "I am your retribution"?

Mike Pence:

I don't think that language belongs in the American political lexicon. I don't. Look, we've got some major issues facing this country, but in the next election, I think the American people are going to be looking for problem solvers, not payback.

Yahoo News:

Does a comment like that make you at all concerned for your own safety if you were to become elected president?

Mike Pence:

No.

Yahoo News:

Why not?

Mike Pence:

Well, I'm never concerned for my own safety.

Yahoo News:

In terms of deciding to run for president, what's your current timeline?

Mike Pence:

I’ve often told my kids, "The safest place in the world is to be in the center of God's will." I think if you're responding to a calling, you're given the opportunity to serve. I've never given it a thought. There's a lot harder jobs for America than anything I've ever done, and most of them wear uniforms.

I think my wife and I will have a very clear sense of our calling by the spring, but I think we have time. I really do.

Yahoo News:

Yeah, you've said that before.

Mike Pence:

I have, and I believe it. People around the country know us. They know what we stand for. They know our record as vice president to some degree, our record in Congress and as governor. I've been very heartened by the response to the book [his autobiography, "So Help Me God"], to be honest with you. It's actually been very humbling, the amount of feedback that we've gotten from people around the country.

Yahoo News:

Is there a chance you won't run?

Mike Pence:

Well, we've made no decision about what we're doing. Look, I think the country's in a lot of trouble, and I'm more concerned about America than I am about Mike Pence.

I think the Biden administration has failed at home and abroad. I think they have weakened our nation at home and abroad. Russia's on the move in Eastern Europe. China continues its provocations.

Then you look at the policies that have let loose the worst inflation in 40 years, the worst crisis on our border in history, and then the backdrop of a debt crisis that literally threatens the economic future of our children and grandchildren. I think it's a time when men and women that care about this country — and have the experience to serve it — ought to think deeply about doing something.

Yahoo News:

I kind of hate to ask you this, but Tucker Carlson said that you're so “flamboyantly pure, you won't have dinner with women who are not your wife.” Do you consider yourself flamboyantly pure?

Mike Pence:

I'm a sinner, saved by grace. Look, I must tell you, there's a lot of things that surprised me when I was elected to the White House, but none more so than the criticism that we took for a promise that I'd made to my wife when we were first married that I just simply said I would not dine alone with a woman who's not my wife.

Yahoo News:

There was a lot of mockery at first, but then #Me Too happened and people were like, “Oh, well, maybe it doesn't look so bad after all.”

Mike Pence:

The outpouring of support that we've encountered in the months and the years that followed that, very humbling to me.

There's nothing more important to me than my marriage and my family, but I think I'm a pretty ordinary Christian. I try and read the Bible every day and try and pray every day. But I don't think there's anything particularly different about our family than I think the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians across the country.

Yahoo News:

There was also a comment on Fox News recently about how Jan. 6 was not an insurrection. Did you see those comments? What did you make of that?

Mike Pence:

I will never diminish the violence that took place or the threat to our democracy that occurred on Jan. 6. I was there, and I fully support providing the American people with all the information to understand that day.

I've long been a champion of the public's right to know and a free and independent press. I think making information available to the American public is important. I think one of the failings of the Jan. 6 committee that became essentially a partisan committee in the Congress was that it's clear that they didn't look very deeply about a broad range of issues around that day. I'm someone that — having lived through it with my wife, my daughter and my staff at my side — I'd like to better understand what took place.

I'll never take a back seat to anyone in my admiration for every single one of the Capitol police officers who stood in the breach that day. But I do want to understand where the breakdown was in preparation.

Yahoo News:

That's your main question.

Mike Pence:

I've seen senior members of the Jan. 6 committee staff say that because there was so much focus on one aspect of that day that there wasn't as much focus on the breakdown in intelligence and the preparation. Again, I think everyone in the Capitol Hill police were heroes that day. I met many of them as they made their way through the parking garage where we were holding. I dispatched my White House physician to give some medical assistance to one of the officers who was bleeding from the encounters.

But I think understanding why there wasn't more National Guard deployed in the city, why the intelligence wasn't acted on, all of that information, ... so I fully support providing all the information to the American public and to the media around Jan. 6. But I will never, ever diminish the violence that occurred that day, the heroism of law enforcement, or the threat to our democracy, because it was real, and the American people know it.

Yahoo News:

You wrote in your Hillsdale College speech on March 1 that the country needs to rediscover our faith in God. If you're going to take that statement seriously, and not just as rhetoric, what does that mean? Does it mean America has lost its faith — or what are you trying to communicate there?

Mike Pence:

Well, you're shortening my speech. I said we need to have faith and faith in the American people.

Yahoo News:

You talked about faith in the Constitution and a number of things.

Mike Pence:

It's faith in our founding and faith in God. Faith in the American people begins with believing. This is a nation of some of the most principled, patriotic, compassionate, generous, industrious people in the history of the world. I like to say oftentimes when I'm traveling around, our challenge in going forward is just to have government as good as our people.

Yahoo News:

I saw that line actually, and I was struck by it because that's something that Jimmy Carter used to say.

Mike Pence:

Well, I didn't know that. But, to me, it's a reality. We need to have a government that is as principled and patriotic, as grounded in freedom, but also practices the kind of civility and respect the American people show one another almost every day.

Yahoo News:

If they're not on social media, yeah.

Mike Pence:

Look, social media notwithstanding, I like to tell people, you get 15 miles out of Washington, D.C., the people in this country actually get along pretty well most days.

Yahoo News:

Yeah. I mean, when they're talking to one another face to face, people treat each other as humans.

Mike Pence:

I think the American people long to get back to that, but it begins by just having faith that the American people are looking for leadership that shows the civility and respect that they show one another, as well as a commitment to principle.

The second thing is having faith in the American founding. I think the place we could bring our country back together is around the principles enshrined in the Declaration and the Constitution. These used to be the unambiguous hitching posts of the American people. Whatever else we differed on, we agreed on the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and I think the freedoms enshrined there.

The principles of limited government — we were talking about earlier — federalism, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to keep and bear arms, all this, 10th Amendment, all that represents. But the last is just faith in God. I would tell you that I can't really account for it other than I've always tried to be open about the fact that I'm a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order. I've tried to be open about my faith, while being respectful of people that may not share my worldview.

But I have to tell you the number of people who over the years when I was vice president, and since I left, who have made a point to connect with me on faith everywhere across the country convinces me this is a nation of faith. This is the American people, whether they share my particular religious views or not.

I think a place we can come together is the notion that we can say unambiguously that while there’s freedom of religion, the freedom of consciousness for every American to believe whatever they want to believe or believe nothing at all. This was founded and remains one nation under God, that we can speak plainly and openly about our faith in God. We've got God's hand on this country from its very inception.

Yahoo News:

So on Ukraine, the arguments against more involvement or against escalation tend to fall into two camps, or kind of follow a two-part argument.

The first part of the argument is that Russia's military's been degraded and exposed as not that formidable. For example, Gov. DeSantis argued that a military that cannot occupy more than a fifth of a non-NATO country on its border is not likely to be entering Warsaw anytime soon. So that's kind of the first part of the argument.

Then the second is that given that exposure of the Russian military and their bosses, risking open conflict with a nuclear-owned power is not worth it. How do you feel about that argument? How do you analyze that?

Mike Pence:

I embraced the Reagan doctrine. In 1985, in his State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan articulated what came to be known as the Reagan doctrine. It was a simple idea that said: 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. It was part and parcel of a policy that set into motion forces that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I've met Vladimir Putin.

Yahoo News:

Did you look him in the eye?

Mike Pence:

I've looked him right in the eye. Let me tell you, anybody that thinks if he took all of Ukraine that he would stop at Ukraine should think again. I mean, look, he moved tanks into Georgia under the Bush administration. He took Crimea under the Obama administration, and now he's moved against Ukraine. I mean, it's clear because he's made it clear: [President Vladimir] Putin's ambition is to reclaim the old Soviet sphere of influence.

Our administration was the only administration in the 21st century where Russia did not attempt to redraw international lines by force. I think that's because we demonstrated early on with Syria, with cruise missiles, not once but twice, letting our military take down ISIS and their leader, taking down Qasem Soleimani, and the historic increase in military spending under our administration: All sent a signal of strength.

I believe this administration's been sending a signal of weakness on the international stage, particularly following the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Russia is moving and China is continuing to menace across the Asia-Pacific. The only pathway toward stability in Eastern Europe is to meet the moment with American strength, give the Ukrainians what they need to repel the Russian invasion. That is also the most effective way to discourage China's ambitions in the Asia-Pacific, particularly with regard to Taiwan.

Yahoo News:

Trump has said we should negotiate an end to the war and get ourselves out of it. ... You talked about Putin wanting to take over the Soviet-era territories. What happens if we just negotiate an agreement or get ourselves out of it?

Mike Pence:

Look, the Ukrainian military has demonstrated their courage and their effectiveness. I believe that as the arsenal of democracy and the leader of the free world, America needs to continue to give them what they need to literally drive Russia out of their country. I simply believe that is the policy that's in the best interest of the United States, and I think it's in the best interest of stability in Europe and in the wider world.

But, again, I've met President Putin. I've met President Xi [Jinping]. If we don't meet this moment with American strength, the rest of the 21st century could look a whole lot more like the first half of the 20th century.

Yahoo News:

What's on your bucket list?

Mike Pence:

On my bucket list?

Yahoo News:

Yeah.

Mike Pence:

I don't know. It's great being home in Indiana, 5 acres and a pond and three grandkids.

Yahoo News:

What's your favorite thing to do on the property? Can you take walks? Do you clear brush like George W. Bush?

Mike Pence:

We got a lot of trees on the property, so I do a pretty regular round of limb retrieval. Got a big bonfire out back, but my favorite thing to do on the property is mow the lawn.

Yahoo News:

Is it a riding mower?

Mike Pence:

I got a John Deere 54-inch deck.

Yahoo News:

How much of the acreage do you mow?

Mike Pence:

I usually will get out and do about half of it when I'm mowing on any different stretch. I just enjoy it.

Yahoo News:

You just zone out.

Mike Pence:

I do. I love it. I love it! But our family is our life. We have a son in the Marine Corps. He and his wife are currently serving and just gave us our second granddaughter. I have a son-in-law in the Navy, a daughter who's a writer. They just had their first.

Yahoo News:

Watch out for those writers.

Mike Pence:

I got a daughter in the legal profession. Her son works in space, so any free time the Pences have is with family. Jon, that's another one. I think we have got to find ways to strengthen the American family going forward in this country, to affirm, to strengthen, to uplift, to encourage more young people to get married, to stay married.

I truly do believe that much of what ails today in this country would be solved by finding ways to lead and affirm and strengthen marriage and family across the country. We'll always be a champion for that.

Yahoo News:

Yeah. I mean, God knows I'm not a social scientist, but there's a lot of social science that has shown that the more thick your relationships are, the more commitments you have — generally, you're more healthy.

Mike Pence:

Well, if we end up in the national debate, we're going to be talking about American leadership in the world. We're going to talk about restoring growth, confronting a debt crisis facing our country, talking about the imperative of life, parental rights and religious liberty. But we'll also be talking about the American family and the importance of finding ways to affirm and uplift and strengthen and encourage the American family, because strong families make strong communities. Strong communities make a strong nation. I think it all begins at home.