WASHINGTON−Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday distanced himself from his old boss’ behavior as well as on at least one policy of the Trump-Pence administration during a CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa.
Fielding questions from both Iowa voters and CNN’s Dana Bash hours after launching his 2024 presidential bid, Pence veered back and forth from calling Donald Trump disqualified from the White House, to saying he shouldn’t be indicted, to declining to say if he would pardon Trump if he is indicted.
Pence also tried to set himself apart from both Trump and other hopefuls by emphasizing his conservative positions on abortion, transgender care, Social Security, TikTok and other issues.
Here are the highlights.
Pence hopes no indictment of Trump, mum on pardon
Pence said indicting Trump for his handling of classified records after leaving office would “send a terrible message to the wider world” from the symbol of justice to other countries.
“I hope the DOJ thinks better of it and resolves these issues without an indictment,” Pence said. “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.”
Pence declined to answer when asked whether he would pardon Trump.
“I don’t want to speak about hypotheticals,” Pence said. “I’m not sure I’m going to be elected president of the United States,” he added to laughter.
The former vice president was definitive, however, when asked if he shared Trump’s stated inclination to pardon those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“I have no interest or no intention of pardoning those that assaulted police officers or vandalized our Capitol,” Pence said. “They need to be answerable to the law.”
Pence will support GOP nominee – because he says it won’t be Trump
To participate in the GOP primary debates, Pence has to pledge that he will support the eventual nominee. He’s said he will do that – but he’s also said Trump is disqualified from being president for pushing Pence to ignore the Constitution on Jan. 6.
“When the president asserted that I had the right to overturn the election, I said today that I felt he was asking me to choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution and I always will,” Pence said. “I said today: President Trump was wrong then, he’s wrong now.”
How does he square that?
“I don’t think my old running mate is going to be the Republican nominee for president and I’m very confident, very confident, that I’ll be able to support the Republican nominee,” Pence said. “And I hope it’s me.”
‘Just wait’ Pence says to transgender youths
Defending his position that states should be able to ban those under 18 from receiving gender-affirming care, Pence said states have an obligation to protect people’s health and well being.
“There’s a reason why you don’t let kids get a tattoo before they’re 18,” Pence said. “At a minimum, we’ve got to make sure we protect kids from making decisions that permanently alter their bodies and permanently set their lives on a difficult path.”
Despite his belief for parental rights, Pence said his position is the same even if parents support their transgender child’s choice.
Asked what he would say to a transgender teenager and their family who feels Pence is targeting them, Pence said he would put his arm around them and say he loves everyone.
“But before they had a chemical or surgical procedure, I would say wait,” he said. “Just wait. Just wait.”
Before the town hall, Pence told the Des Moines Register he would support a national ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors.
Pence wants to change Social Security
Pence left open the door to changing the eligibility for Social Security as part of his tough talk on the need to tackle the nation’s growing debt.
Unlike Trump, who has said Republicans shouldn’t touch Social Security and Medicare, Pence argues the popular entitlement programs have to be changed because they’re big drivers of the debt.
Asked if he would raise the retirement age for Social Security, Pence said there “could be a change in eligibility” and younger Americans could be allowed to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in a private account.
Unlike Trump, Pence rules out bringing back family separation at border
In another difference with his former boss, Pence said he would not bring back the policy of separating migrant families at the border. Trump recently defended that practice, calling it an effective deterrent and not ruling out doing it again if he returns to the White House.
Pence did embrace other aspects of the last administration’s border policy. He called for finishing the border wall, requiring migrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court date, and bringing back Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic policy that allowed the federal government to rapidly expel migrants.
Pence wants to ban TikTok
Pence called for getting rid of TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned social media app, calling it incompatible with both the privacy and the security of the United States.
“They’re collecting your personal information. And everything Tik Tok gets the Chinese Communist government has access to it,” he said. “It shouldn’t just be banned from our government institutions. It should be banned from this country. Period.”
Pence said he’s always supported exceptions for abortion bans
Pence who arguably has the strongest pro-life credentials in the field, emphasized that his fight “for the babies” was his motivating reason for making his first bid for office.
He said he won’t rest or relent “until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in the country.”
Asked if a federal abortion ban, which he backs, should include exceptions for rape and incest and the life of the mother, Pence said those are exceptions he’s always supported.
Contributing: Bart Jansen