WASHINGTON—Former Vice President Mike Pence distanced himself Wednesday from the behavior of his former boss as well as at least one Trump-Pence administration policy during a CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa.
Responding to questions from Iowa voters and CNN’s Dana Bash hours after launching his 2024 presidential bid, Pence went back and forth between calling Donald Trump disqualified from the White House, saying he should not be indicted, declining to say if he would pardon Trump if indicted.
Pence has also tried to distance himself from both Trump and other hopefuls by emphasizing his conservative stances on abortion, transgender care, Social Security, TikTok and other issues.
Here are the highlights.
Pence doesn’t hope Trump is charged, mom pardoned
Pence said indicting Trump for his handling of classified records after leaving office would “send a terrible message to the whole world” from the symbol of justice to other countries.
“Hopefully the DOJ thinks about it better and resolves these issues without indictment,” Pence said. “I just hope there’s a way for them to move forward without the dramatic, drastic and divisive step of indicting a former president of the United States.”
Pence declined to answer when asked if he would forgive Trump.
“I don’t want to talk about hypotheticals,” Pence said. “I’m not sure I’ll be elected president of the United States,” he added with a laugh.
The former vice president was definitive, however, when asked if he shared Trump’s stated inclination to forgive those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“I have no interest or intention of forgiving those who assaulted police officers or vandalized our Capitol,” Pence said. “They must be accountable before the law.”
Pence will back GOP nominee – because he says it won’t be Trump
To participate in the GOP primary debates, Pence must pledge to support the eventual nominee. He said he would – but he also said Trump was disqualified from being president for pushing Pence to ignore the Constitution on Jan. 6.
“When the President said I had the right to void the election, I said today that I felt like 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 is wrong now.”
How does he reconcile this?
“I don’t think my former running mate will be the Republican presidential candidate and I’m very confident, very confident that I can support the Republican candidate,” Pence said. “And I hope that’s me.”
“Wait,” Pence tells transgender youth
Defending his position that states should be able to bar 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 you don’t let kids get tattoos until they’re 18,” Pence said. “At a minimum, we need to make sure that we protect children from making decisions that permanently alter their bodies and put their lives on a permanent difficult path.”
Despite his belief in parental rights, Pence said his position is the same even if parents support their transgender child’s choice.
When asked what he would say to a transgender teenager and his family who feels Pence is targeting them, Pence said he would put his arm around them and say he loves everyone.
“But before having any chemical or surgical procedure, I would say to wait,” he said. “Wait. Wait.”
Ahead of town hall, Pence told the Des Moines Register that he would support a nationwide ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors.
Pence wants to change Social Security
Pence left the door open to changing Social Security eligibility as part of his tough talk about the need to tackle the nation’s mounting debt.
Unlike Trump, who said Republicans shouldn’t touch Social Security and Medicare, Pence argues that popular rights programs need to be changed because they are big debt drivers.
When asked if he would raise the retirement age for Social Security, Pence said there “may be a change in eligibility” and young Americans may be allowed to invest a portion of their social security contributions in a private account.
Unlike Trump, Pence rules out bringing family separation back to border
In another difference from his former boss, Pence said he would not bring back the policy of separating migrant families at the border. Trump recently defended the practice, calling it an effective deterrent and not ruling out doing it again if he returns to the White House.
Pence adopted other aspects of the last administration’s border policy. He called for completing the border wall, forcing asylum-seeking migrants to stay in Mexico until their date in US immigration court, and bringing back Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic policy that has allowed the federal government to quickly deport migrants.
Pence wants to ban TikTok
Pence called for getting rid of TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned social media app, calling it incompatible with US privacy and security.
“They collect your personal information. And whatever Tik Tok gets, the Chinese communist government has access to it,” he said. “He shouldn’t just be banished from our government institutions. He should be banned from this country. Period.”
Pence said he has always supported exceptions for abortion bans
Pence, who has arguably the strongest pro-life credentials in the business, pointed to his fight “for the babies” as his motivating reason for applying for the job for the first time.
He said he would not rest or give in “until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in the land.”
When asked if a federal ban on abortion, which he supports, should include exceptions for rape and incest and the life of the mother, Pence said those are exceptions he supports. always.
Contributor: Bart Jansen
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Pence’s Town Hall: Former VP talks about Trump, Social Security and more