Mike Pence talks Trump, abortion, faith, the midterms and his political future Former Vice President Mike Pence tells Morning Edition that he and former President Donald Trump have gone "our separate ways." Pence looks back on pivotal moments and ahead to what he might do next.

Mike Pence, pondering a presidential run, condemns Trump's rhetoric on Jan. 6

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep in Indianapolis. We came here to talk with former Vice President Mike Pence. He's the man rioters tried to find as they attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, Mike Pence? We're coming for you, too, [expletive] traitor.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Where is Pence?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Bring Pence out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Where is Pence?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Bring him out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Bring out Pence.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Bring him out.

INSKEEP: Mike Pence was in the Capitol that day presiding over the ceremonial vote counting for the presidential election. President Trump had lost and publicly denounced Pence for failing to reject his defeat. Pence said he had no constitutional authority to do as Trump demanded.

MIKE PENCE: He had a gaggle of outside lawyers that were telling him that as vice president, I had unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes to count, which no vice president in American history had ever claimed that authority.

INSKEEP: Pence has now recounted that experience and much else in a book called "So Help Me God." As attackers disrupted the vote count, Pence and his family retreated to an office and then to a parking garage. But he refused to leave the building.

PENCE: I just was determined to stay at my post.

INSKEEP: Once police cleared the Capitol, Pence and Congress returned to work. We talked about this in his home state of Indiana. We met at the state capitol, where he once served as governor. In particular, we sat beneath the ornate chandeliers of the building's law library. The law was what he said he upheld at the United States Capitol January 6.

PENCE: When the tweet came across from the president saying that I lack courage, it angered me. But I really didn't have time for it. It was a moment where it was clear to me the president had decided to be a part of the problem. I was determined to be part of the solution. And we convened the Republican and Democrat leaders of the Congress and started to work to get the response from the Pentagon and the Justice Department to support all those remarkable people in the Capitol Hill police that were holding the line against the angry crowd.

INSKEEP: Which, in fact, you did. It took all night, as I recall, before you got home. But the work was done. I want to ask about the period leading up to that because, of course, there was a period of several months leading up to that...

PENCE: Right.

INSKEEP: ...In which the president first predicted and then claimed a stolen election. You write something very interesting in this book. You say that, I believe, on November 7, two months before the attack on the Capitol, the race had been called for Joe Biden. And you spoke with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and said you were not convinced that there had been sufficient irregularities to change the election. In the period that followed, did you consider yourself saying something in public or even conceding the race yourself, because you were on the ballot, too?

PENCE: Well, let me clarify something. Even at that early point, I was not convinced that there was fraud sufficient to change the outcome of the election. And of course, evidence of widespread fraud would never come. But I was concerned about the voting irregularities that had taken place. And I said so all the way up to my correspondence to Congress on January 6. I mean, there were a half a dozen states around the country, Steve, that in the name of COVID had changed the rules around elections, sometimes through executive action, sometimes through an attorney general's decision.

INSKEEP: Sure.

PENCE: And in many cases, they were changes that seemed to benefit Democrat candidates in those states above Republicans. I thought it was important that we have that debate, was one of the reasons why I made it clear going into January 6 that I thought a fulsome debate about irregularities and any evidence of fraud that may emerge would be useful for the country, if only to set the stage for future reform, which I'm glad to see is happening in states around the country.

INSKEEP: Laws have changed. But did you think about or discuss doing as Attorney General Barr did, I think, on December 1 and just say, listen; there's not sufficient evidence here of anything major?

PENCE: For my part, I thought it was important that we just continue to support both the legal challenges as well as the legal processes that are established under federal law. I told the president that if the challenges in the court didn't play out, he should simply accept the result, support a peaceful transfer of power. And if he wanted to run again, he could run again.

INSKEEP: Granting that your advice to the president is private, could you have told us what you knew at that point?

PENCE: I think it was important in that moment that we let the courts...

INSKEEP: OK.

PENCE: ...The states through certification and then the Congress work entirely through that process, uphold the Constitution, uphold the laws of the country, and move our country forward under the rule of law.

INSKEEP: I want people to know that you include some of your past speeches in this book in an appendix in the end, including your 2016 convention speech in Cleveland accepting the vice presidential nomination. I was in Cleveland at the time, watched that speech. It's a good speech. I appreciated reading it again.

PENCE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: In that speech, you say Donald Trump is a good man, not just that he was the man for the moment or the right man or a strong candidate, but a good man.

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PENCE: I've seen this good man up close, his utter lack of pretense, his respect for the people who work for him and his devotion to his family.

INSKEEP: Do you still believe he's a good man?

PENCE: President Trump was wrong on January 6 in arguing that I had the authority to overturn the election. But I'll always be proud of the record that we created for the American people, Steve.

INSKEEP: While you're proud of the record, you didn't just call him a good man again.

PENCE: Well, look; I truly do believe that only God knows our hearts. And I'll leave it to others to make their own judgments.

INSKEEP: Pence recounts meeting the president after January 6 and promising to pray for him. He says he sensed Trump was remorseful. But...

PENCE: Steve, when the president returned to the rhetoric he was using before January 6, began again to question those of us that have defended the Constitution, I just thought it was important that we go our separate ways. And we have.

INSKEEP: Pence says he will decide soon if he'll run for president. His memoir came out November 15. Coincidentally or not, that was the same day that Donald Trump chose to make an announcement.

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DONALD TRUMP: In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republicans are positioning to run. We asked Pence what his purpose would be if he runs. What would he want to do? And for the moment, he said, only service and unity.

PENCE: What I hear is people longing for leadership that reflects that same kind of civility and respect that I've always tried to aspire to.

INSKEEP: One of the reasons I ask why you'd want to do is because, as I'm sure you know, there's a debate about the future of the Republican Party. And there are some people who advocate what has been called national conservatism, which could be defined different ways. But one way to think of it is instead of going for small government and limited government, a kind of libertarian approach. Maybe you endorse a bigger or more active government that will promote or even impose traditional values. Do you support that way of thinking?

PENCE: Well, I'm not sure I've heard it put quite that way. But look; I'm Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order. But I'm a limited government conservative. You know, it all comes down to the limited government republic that our founders enshrined. And that's the foundation it rested on...

INSKEEP: So more of the Ronald Reagan idea than the national conservatism idea?

PENCE: Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, it's important to remember the states created the federal government. The federal government didn't create the states. I think we would do well as a country to seize a moment where we again encourage states to be those laboratories of democracy and innovation that our founders contemplated.

INSKEEP: They're now, of course, laboratories of debate on abortion. And abortion was on the ballot in a number of states this fall. In numerous states, people voted, in various ways, in favor of abortion rights. And it appears that candidates who supported abortion rights did well. What message did you take from that election?

PENCE: Well, let me say, I'm pro-life. I don't apologize for it. I'll always cherish the fact that I was vice president in the administration that appointed three of the justices of the Supreme Court that gave us a new beginning for life, that returned the question of abortion to the states and to the American people, where it belongs. And all of my life, I'll - whatever role we're in, I'll look to be a voice for the right to life.

INSKEEP: You don't think that this election is the signal of where the country is going on this?

PENCE: Well, I will tell you that the common denominator for me was that Republicans who articulated their position on the right to life did well. Republicans who did not articulate their position and allowed their position to be defined did not do as well. And the truth is that the Democratic Party today supports abortion on demand up to the moment of birth and taxpayer funding of abortion. Those are positions that are supported by about one out of four Americans. I truly believe that this is a pro-life country. We're still divided on the issue, Steve.

INSKEEP: I should mention, President Biden has said the Roe v. Wade standard is the one that he would approve, which is a little different than abortion on demand up to the moment of birth.

PENCE: It is - I will tell you, the Democratic Party have been very clear in their position on this. And I believe that the candidates that articulated their position on life - wherever that was, protecting the unborn - fared better than Democrat candidates in race after race. But, look; I want to concede a point that we have a ways to go in this issue. But I believe that in the most prosperous nation on Earth, we ought to be a nation that is grounded in the unalienable right to life.

INSKEEP: Mr. Vice President, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

PENCE: Steve, thank you. It's good to be with you.

INSKEEP: Former Vice President Mike Pence speaking here in Indianapolis on Monday.

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