Arlington, Virginia - Vice President Pence in Fireside Chat with Mike Farris of the Alliance Defending Freedom:
MR. FARRIS: Well, Mr. Vice President, it is indeed a great honor to have you here with us today. And it’s a special treat for me —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mike. Good to be with you.
MR. FARRIS: It’s wonderful to be with you. As you know, we have our team here from all over the world, and we deeply appreciate your advocacy for many of the issues that we work on — you know, both you and the President and other members of your administration.
So my first question for you today is: We are, as you know, like you, dedicated to preservation of the right to life. I have two related questions for you. First, will you review for us some of the accomplishments of the Trump administration on this issue that’s of extraordinary importance?
And then, what do you see as the future on this issue in the days and years ahead?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Mike. Thank you for the question and thank you for the warm welcome today. And would you all join me in thanking Mike Farris for a lifetime of leadership on behalf of our values and our freedoms? (Applause.) We’re grateful to you. We really are.
Well, I will tell you, it’s — I love where you started because it is the greatest honor of my life to serve as Vice President to a President who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life. (Applause.) It’s true.
And I must tell you that, from early in this administration, in one moment after another, I’ve been there in the Oval Office when President Trump — you put into practice that commitment to protecting the unborn. Literally, it was in the first days of our administration when the President reinstituted the Mexico City Policy, preventing taxpayer dollars from being used to promote or provide abortion overseas, around the world.
And in the last two years, we’ve actually expanded that — the scope of that — around the planet. I know there’s people that work on behalf of our values around the world who are here today, and I’m extraordinarily proud of that.
This is a President who’s also put his signature on a bill that I was — I had the privilege of casting the tie-breaking vote in the United States Senate to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood. (Applause.)
I’ve always believed the largest abortion provider in America should not be the largest recipient of federal funds under Title X. And because of the President’s leadership and our allies in the Congress in our first two years, we were able to move that legislation, and now states have that flexibility. I’m sure all of you active in the cause of life know about the other efforts our administration has taken and will continue to take.
I’ve long believed that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable — the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. And I promise you, this President, his Vice President, and this administration will always stand for life. (Applause.)
MR. FARRIS: You recently spoke at the extraordinary event sponsored by Secretary Pompeo, the Ministerial on International Religious Freedom. And I know this has been an important issue for you for many years. Can you tell us what you think the state of the world is on religious freedom — not just for Christians, but for people of all faith?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first, let me again say how grateful I am that President Trump has made religious liberty around the world a priority for this administration. And Secretary Mike Pompeo, for the second year in a row, brought more than 100 nations together to affirm our commitment to the principles of religious liberty. It was deeply inspiring, and the President and I are both grateful for the work the Secretary of State is doing on behalf of religious liberty.
I gave an address at that gathering again this year, as I did at the last. And there are real challenges around the world. I expect ADF members, who work on the international scene, know as well as I do the challenges in China, with Xinjiang Province and the Uyghur population — the religious repression that we see taking place in China. But it’s not isolated to China.
We see, even in our own hemisphere, we see — in Nicaragua, we’ve seen the regime in Nicaragua literally, in effect, allowing violence against Catholic churches. I was never so moved. And it was at the First Ministerial Conference, Mike, I met with the parish priest who had sheltered students in Nicaragua who were involved in the protest against the regime. And bullets were flying through the windows of the church, but he kept them in. And, eventually, they were able to negotiate being able to leave peaceably.
And he told me a wonderful story about what a witness of faith can mean. He said, as they were walking out of the church, one of the young men who had sheltered there looked at this priest and said, “I don’t believe in God. But if I ever do believe in God, I’m going to believe in your God.”
But one instance after another, we see examples of not only repression but, of course, violence against people of faith. The Christchurch attack on the mosques in New Zealand was reprehensible and heinous, motivated by vile racism and vile hatred.
Karen and I also — even here at home — we were at the Poway synagogue in San Diego just a few short weeks ago, where a gunman had raced into the lobby. We stood there with the rabbi who had joined the President on the National Day of Prayer in the Rose Garden just days after the attack. But to hear about the courage of members of that synagogue and how they had repelled the gunman was extraordinary.
So, we have challenges, but in this administration we’re going to continue to hold up — hold up the high principle of religious liberty. We’re going to continue to engage nations to affirm our commitment to religious liberty and send a message around the world to people of faith — of all faiths — that the American people stand with them and pray for them, and always will. (Applause.)
MR. FARRIS: I’ve been a critic of many past administrations, including some Republican administrations, about judicial appointments. But everyone I know who works in this arena shares the view that I have that, for those of us who value constitutional originalism and the rule of law, your administration has appointed judges that are just consistently outstanding. Now, what can you tell us about this process that explains why your administration has been so uniquely successful in this way?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it all boils down to the fact that President Donald Trump is a man of his word. (Applause.) He is. I can tell you, serving with this President every day, conversations come to a quick end when the President says, “But that’s what I said I would do.” And that’s what it means to be a man of your word.
And in the campaign in 2016, I remember there was — there were questions about judicial nominees. There was an impending vacancy on the Supreme Court. And so what the President — then the candidate — said was that he would — he actually published a list of individuals, in close consultation with conservative allies and organizations like the Federalist Society, but it would be individuals that would be in the tradition of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who would be strict constructionists to interpret the Constitution as written and not legislate from the bench. And that’s precisely what he’s done.
And I think when I left the office yesterday, I think we were at 140 federal judges confirmed. (Applause.) And every one of them is a strong, principled conservative man and woman who meets that model.
I had the great privilege — the President asked me to interview, on both times, the finalists for the Supreme Court nomination. And I can tell you we’re incredibly proud of Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and know that they will continue to serve the American people with principle and great distinction.
But, pun intended, we’ve got a deep bench. (Laughter.) Wow. (Applause.) We’ve got some incredible people serving in our federal courts today. Some incredible men and women. And I just — I — Mike, it really is — this President says what he means and means what he says. And he said we were going to be appointing principled conservatives to our courts, and that’s exactly what he’s done. (Applause.) Thank you.
MR. FARRIS: Mr. Vice President, you receive frequent critiques from some in the media, some pundits, and some people who just don’t like what you’re doing politically. But our team is also under a regular attack from our critics. You handle this all with so much grace and character. It’s inspiring to me and to our whole team. What advice can you give to us about how to handle these kinds of attacks when we’re faced with them?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I’m very humbled by your comment, Mike. I appreciate it very much. And I would just say maybe a couple of things. Number one is: Spend more time on your knees than on the Internet. (Applause.) Is that okay?
I mean, the — you know, we’re — as a Christian believer, we’re charged to pray for our loved ones but also pray for our enemies. And I — you have lots of opportunities in politics to do that. (Laughter.) But I would say that forgiveness is a great gift. And I — my wife and I literally try and work through forgiving people who might speak willfully against us or might mischaracterize who we are or what our family is all about.
I mean, I’m incredibly proud of my wife. She’s a great Second Lady. She’s also a great art teacher at a Christian school here in the Washington area. And I was so impressed when Karen — actually, someone on television said, when it became kind of a thing — I don’t know, some of you mentioned it to me before — but it became a thing that she was teaching at a Christian school that held Christian beliefs. And —
MR. FARRIS: Shocking as it may seem.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. And Karen just took it all in stride. And I was incredibly proud of her and — but it was a remarkable thing.
I remember I saw one commentator on television that said, “Well, the Vice President should have assumed this was going to become controversial when his wife started teaching art at a Christian school.” (Laughter.) We honestly didn’t see that one coming. (Laughter.)
And our kids went to this school. They — when I was in Congress, our kids all went to this Christian school. They went to public high school. They — my son is a Marine Corps pilot and married. My daughter is an author. And my other daughter is going to finish law school next year. So they’re doing great. We’re proud of all of them.
But I think a lot of it is just extending grace. And finally, I just say, just focusing on the cause. You know, there — I really do think it’s important that we stay focused on things that are more important than ourselves, that are more important than any intermittent controversy that might arise.
And for me, that’s about being a part of an administration and standing next to a President that’s rebuilding our military; who’s revived our economy; who’s appointing a historic number of conservatives to our federal courts; who’s standing, as I said, for our first freedom, for religious liberty, for the right to life. And that’s — I get up every day and I just — I feel incredibly blessed to be a small part of an administration that is making America great again. (Applause.) So, focus on the positive.
MR. FARRIS: We’re living in an age where freedom of speech isn’t valued the way it used to be. Political correctness is becoming more and more aggressive. And the efforts to silence, belittle, and demonize anyone who disagrees with a particular agenda seems to run contrary to the central truth of the First Amendment.
We really appreciate your administration’s strong stance for free speech, especially on college campuses. What other thoughts would you share with us on the importance of free speech?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the President has made it very, very clear. We’ve sent a very strong message to campuses, universities, and colleges around the country that the freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, and we expect our institutions of learning to respect that and respect diverse views on our campuses, and create an environment that is conducive to learning.
And this is — I must tell you: I feel somewhat encouraged not just because of the strong stand the President has taken, but because of the courageous stand that we’ve seen young people taking on campuses around the country, challenging these — what do they call them? — “safe zones” that emerged; you know, challenging speech codes that have emerged on campus. All of those things are antithetical to the process of learning.
That are — that, in fact, I would hold the view that when you send your kids to college, the hope is that they would be exposed to the broadest range of ideas, and then they can learn to discern as they prepare to be adults going forward in the world — not only deciding what they think, but hearing all sides. And yet, we’ve seen, increasingly, you know, an insular environment created on campuses.
The encouraging thing, Mike, is I see it’s not just conservatives that are speaking out against this now. It’s actually very encouraging that many liberals are recognizing the political correctness, the reality of speech codes and censorship on our campuses.
And so — and I know ADF has been involved in that debate, involved in litigation. And I want to thank you for that. It’s absolutely essential that the rising generation experience freedom in their college education so that they can carry a love and an appreciation for freedom into their lives as citizens. And so, keep up the great work. We’ll keep standing strong.
And we really do believe it’s absolutely essential not just to the process of learning, but also to people understanding citizenship and learning — learning to be a citizen in a free society, and what freedom looks like.
You know, I’m reminded, my kids — my kids often quote me. Whenever I was governor, or Vice President, or we see — I see somebody waving an unflattering sign or — you know, some people shouting something out — I always look at my kids and I say, “That’s what freedom looks like. That’s what freedom sounds like.” Right? And the ability to disagree. The ability to be critical of people that are in public life — that’s at the very center of what the people who founded this country had in mind and has been preserved through the generations. And we have to make sure it’s preserved on the campuses of America. (Applause.)
MR. FARRIS: Mr. Vice President, we so appreciate your time today. So this’ll just be the last question.
You have never been shy about your faith in Jesus Christ. And this is such an encouragement to those of us who share your faith. And often, we feel demeaned by some in the society just because we believe and just because we want to walk consistently with our faith — like your wife, there at the school, and here in Virginia.
What spiritual lessons have you learned since being Vice President that you want to share with us that might be encouraging to us in this vein?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I — well, thanks. And I’m — the second greatest day of my life was the day that I married Karen Whitaker and made her my wife. She’s been my wife for 34 years. But the greatest day of my life was — (applause) — the greatest day of my life was when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior in 1978. (Applause.) And — and His grace has sustained me and my wife, my family, and does every day.
I think, you know, the lessons I’ve learned in public life are — in terms of sustaining that — is to make time. Make time for renewing your mind. Karen and I try and spend a little bit of time in prayer and reading the Bible every day. And that’s a very renewing and important time for us.
I think it also, for us, it’s about balance. I used to say when I was in Congress that a lot of people go to Congress — I was in Congress for 12 years — it seemed longer — (laughter) — but in Congress, people would oftentimes try and to figure out how to vote on a particular thing, and I would always tell people, “Vote right and go home for dinner.” I mean, just do as you said you were going to do if you ever got here. And then keep your family first, right? Make a priority of your family.
And I really do think that being home for dinner, being there for your family, setting aside a day a week — which, for us, is Sunday — setting aside a day a week to the best of our ability, even in this role, that’s a time for worship and for family, and has been very key for us.
And so, you know, for me, it’s been about decisions I made in my faith, the decision I made to have Karen Whitaker become my wife, and just trying every day — trying every day to renew our mind, renew our faith, because, you know, men and women, we’ve got challenges in this country. I spoke about them from that podium. And we’re going to meet those challenges with principle and consistency.
But I also — I never lose sight of how blessed we are to be Americans. I mean, my — when I was in the Congress, I’d travel around the world on the Foreign Affairs Committee — many of you are serving in various places around the world. As governor of Indiana, I was — (applause) — I traveled a bit. Thank you. (Laughter.)
But in this role, the President has asked me to represent the United States in places all over the world. And I’ll tell you, there is nowhere like America. (Applause.) We’re always striving for a more perfect union. That’s our charge. And you all are our part of that march, advancing the principles of life and family and freedom. And we’re grateful.
But I think it’s also important: Never lose sight of the blessing that it is to be an American, the — that I really do believe that He who planted this miracle of democracy on these wilderness shores centuries ago has blessed America throughout our history and has blessed the world. And He will still bless America in the days ahead. (Applause.) So, thank you all.
MR. FARRIS: Thank you so much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mike.
MR. FARRIS: Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States.