Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post.
When Mike Pence becomes the 48th vice president of the United States next month, he will take on the role of a political lobbyist for Donald Trump's activist agenda.
In an interview I conducted with Pence in his transitional office next to a sandwich shop in Washington, he said he believed voters gave Donald Trump a "mandate." How can that be when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote? "Trump won 30 out of 50 states. He won more counties than any Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan, and he undeniably reached Americans that Republican candidates haven't been reaching on the national level."
To help Trump accomplish his legislative goals, Pence plans to attend the weekly luncheon meeting with senators and meet on occasion with members of the House where he spent more than a decade as a representative from Indiana.
"My years on Capitol Hill have convinced me that it is often the informal settings where you can learn where the opportunities are, what challenges need to be met. The agenda we are laying out is as energetic as the man who was elected president. We have a 100-day agenda, a 200-day agenda."
I asked about Trump's pledges to spend on infrastructure, rebuild the military, the option of private care for veterans, paid for by the government. All of these will cost money and add to the debt.
Pence responds: "The president-elect, I think, believes everything begins with growth." Trump, he says, is counting on economic growth from repealing and replacing Obamacare and liberating corporations from unnecessary regulations. He foresees a wave of prosperity that will not add to the debt, but produce more tax revenue, even as taxes are cut for individuals and businesses. He adds that in the case of infrastructure, "encouraging public and private partnerships" will reduce the cost to government.
"The president-elect is absolutely committed to scrubbing the federal budget with the eye of a businessman," Pence said, "looking for efficiencies in every industry and looking for ways to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse and really meaning it."
Like the issue of Boeing and the new Air Force One planes, which Trump has said he would cancel, unless the costs come down? Trump and Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing chairman and CEO, spoke by phone and Muilenburg reportedly said he is committed to controlling costs.
Pence laughed, "Of course you can (control costs), if someone asks you to. Washington, D.C., is not accustomed to having someone in the Oval Office who actually asks people to sharpen their pencils."
According to Pence, Trump is "passionate about health savings accounts and the notion of giving people more ownership over their health care." He believes "consumer-directed health care is the wave of the future. It bends the cost curve, in some cases, very dramatically." He added, Indiana "is the first state to scale consumer-driven health care into Medicaid (which a Trump administration will propose block granting to the states). "We now have over 400,000 Hoosiers who are at, or near, the poverty level making a monthly contribution to a health savings account. They have an incentive to engage in preventive medicine. They're out of emergency room care and into primary care. ... The long-term prospect for lowering the cost of health care in America is a healthier America."
What about the "never-Trumpers" and their refusal to accept him as president? "I think the president-elect has the leadership qualities and the strength to meet this moment in our national life," he said.
Pence promised a repeal of the "Lyndon Johnson" IRS regulation that has been interpreted to mean pastors cannot talk about political issues, or risk losing their tax exemptions. He acknowledges the rule is unevenly applied and needs to be eliminated. "Most of the public speeches at America's founding were sermons," he said, allowing that many of those who led civil rights movement were preachers whose churches never had their tax status challenged.
Is Mike Pence ready to be president should circumstances dictate?
"I pray that I'm ready to be vice president," he responds.
We'll soon know how that prayer is answered.
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Cal Thomas, America's most-syndicated columnist, is the author of 10 books.