Q. Have you and the president-elect discussed the role you will play in the administration? Any particular policy or program he has asked you to oversee?
Pence: I think the role of the VP is always defined by the president. My experience on Capitol Hill and as governor and the relationships that came from those things are among the reasons why he asked me to run with him and now to serve with him.
Q. But nothing specific, like school choice?
A. He and I went to Capitol Hill a week after the election. I've been up there several more times. I met with Senate Republicans this week at their weekly luncheon. I hope to play a role in communicating the president-elect's agenda in the run-up to the inauguration and then being a fairly frequent visitor to Capitol Hill.
You know, I have a constitutional role in the Senate. 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.
We'll start out of the box with repealing Obamacare, starting the process of replacing it, roll back excessive regulations, move legislation to end illegal immigration, establish border security, move an infrastructure bill, move a defense bill, and before we get to the spring we're going to lower taxes for families and small businesses, lower business taxes to make America more competitive, talking with members on a regular basis -- and not just members of the Senate.
I will work with members of the House on a regular basis. Two weeks after the election, I was invited to speak to the House Republican Conference and got a very warm reception. I hope, in addition to the other duties the president will have me serve in as vice president, to play a supporting role in communicating the president's agenda to members of Congress.
Q. In 1994, Republicans won the House for the first time in 40 years. Many think they viewed that as a mandate and moved too quickly on too many things. Resistance from the Democrats and general public was very strong. With all three branches of government under Republican control, do you think things are different this time and you will be able to accomplish your agenda, in light of predictable Democratic and probably media opposition?
A. I think our president-elect was given a mandate to bring real change to Washington, D.C., and to advance the kinds of policies that will make America safe again, make America prosperous again; make America great again. From the morning after the election, he has directed the entire team to go put that into motion. To be around him is to be around a leader of extraordinary energy, extraordinary optimism and a determination to keep his promises that he made to the America people. I think he got a mandate for that. Donald Trump, 30 out of 50 states. He won more counties than any Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan, and he undeniably reached Americas that Republican candidates haven't been reaching on the national level.
I saw it every single day on the campaign trail. I think what he made clear in Cincinnati last Thursday on our thank you tour, with thousands of people coming out, was we're here to say thank you, but he also said we are going to need all of you next year to advance the kind of agenda that will make America great again. He literally put everyone on notice that we're going to need your continued help and support. I've told Congress they will not simply have someone who will be coming to Congress to ask for less taxes, less regulation, more America energy, end illegal immigration, infrastructure, national defense, he's going to Congress and the America people...
Q. Like Reagan?
A. Honestly, I can't think of a president who took his case as effectively to the America people as Donald Trump has and continues to since Ronald Reagan.
Q. What about spending and the debt? Mr. Trump has listed a lot of new spending, from infrastructure, to rebuilding the military, to VA hospitals and the option of private care for veterans paid for by the government ... and even some Democrats are praising him and saying we can work with him on these ideas. If you do all these things while not cutting spending, aren't you going to add to the $20 trillion debt? Though he relies on economic growth, is that enough to whittle it down?
A. The president-elect, I think, believes everything begins with growth. addressing the ongoing needs, whether it is keeping our promises to seniors, our promises to veterans, meeting the infrastructure needs of the country -- all of it begins with getting this economy moving again. That's why he said first off he'll repeal Obamacare, which has put a crushing weight on the American economy and on American families and businesses large and small. People are looking for a 25 percent average increase in premiums next year, across the board, with some states over 100 percent. And also rolling back the excessive regulations that have been stifling American jobs and energy.
You can't ever find your way forward in meeting the obligations of the government, or setting a course for fiscal responsibility, unless you have a growing American economy. With regard to infrastructure, the president-elect's view is about doing two things that have not been talked about for a long time, and happening to some extent in places like Indiana, and that is encouraging public and private partnerships to meet our infrastructure needs, called 'p-threes' by the industry. Indiana has been a national leader in this area where you use private capital to build infrastructure. The second piece of that is reforming the way that states in particular can use infrastructure dollars.
Q. You had toll roads in Indiana.
A. Indiana did that. On the side of resourcing it, my predecessor leased a toll road in Indiana and was able to generate billions of dollars for infrastructure, without having to bill the taxpayers. And it was an existing toll road. Congress just did another highway bill, but unless you reform the regulations that have to be complied with to get the paving done and build those new bridges and roads you're talking five to 10 years before the first asphalt is poured. And so we are also looking at ways we can reform and get those dollars more quickly to meet the infrastructure needs around the country. I think you saw this week when he said cancel the Boeing contract for Air Force One. The president is absolutely committed to scrubbing the federal budget with the eye of a businessman, looking for efficiencies in every industry and looking for ways to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse and really meaning it.
Q. The chairman of Boeing just told Mr. Trump he thinks he can save some money on those planes.
A. (Laughs) Of course you can, 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.
Q. Anytime any Republican in the past has suggested cutting the rate of increase in spending, not the actual spending, but the rate of increase, they have gotten the 'starving granny' political ads and the media interviewing various 'victims.' Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already announced he will oppose any changes in Medicare, one of the programs that add to the debt. How do you get around that?
A. The president-elect has made a commitment to keep our promises when it comes to Social Security and Medicare. When we repeal Obamacare, part of the repeal and replace effort will be to block grant Medicaid to the states. That will allow states to do what Indiana began doing with the healthy Indiana plan: to allow states to redesign the Medicaid program around the unique needs of their own communities and population.
Q. How much would that save?
A. Consumer-directed health care is the wave of the future. It bends the cost curve, in some cases very dramatically. Indiana is the first state to scale consumer-driven health care into Medicaid. 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. We've seen emergency room care drop significantly in Indiana. People are learning how to lead healthier lives.
The long-term prospect for lowering the cost of health care in America is a healthier America. The president-elect is passionate about health savings accounts and the notion of giving people more ownership over their health care. What you see in the private sector are companies that have instituted consumer-driven health care and have seen the quality of life of their employees going up and the costs going down.
Q. The 'Never-Trumpers' continue to express concern Mr. Trump will not think through his words and actions before he acts as president. What can you tell the public about his caution when it comes to words and actions? Will the presidency change him? Have you had this discussion with him?
A. I think the president-elect has the leadership qualities and the strength to meet this moment in our national life. The American people know we can be stronger and more prosperous, they know the quality of life for many who find themselves caught up in failing schools and unsafe streets can be better. In Donald Trump they have elected a president who is going to fight for American workers and a stronger, more prosperous America.
I think it's exactly those qualities that led him to that historical election victory. These are also the same qualities necessary to move the nation forward. We live in a world that is unquestionably more dangerous today than the day Barack Obama became president of the United States. I believe that strength of leadership and his ability to communicate in his own unique way straight to the American people is exactly what the moment demands ... to rebuild our military, to restore law and order to our streets, to drive the Congress forward toward the kind of policies that will get the economy moving again for every American.
Q. John Dean walked into Richard Nixon's office and told him 'there's a cancer growing on your presidency.' Do you think you have that kind of freedom should you see President Trump doing things you think are bad for the country, or himself?
A. When I got the call last summer about whether I would be willing to be considered for this, I had shaken Donald Trump's hand twice. We really didn't know each other, but after six months on the campaign trail, campaigning with him and for him, we've developed a very close relationship. We literally talk every day and these days see each other almost every day. The thing you find being around the president-elect is that he is someone who is constantly asking questions of everyone around him. He is a person who is constantly asking people their opinions on issues and that is unique to me. To be around him is to be around an ongoing discussion. What you have to have to be an effective leader is the ability to make a decision and move forward. Not only have I grown very fond of him, I really admire his leadership style. There is an energy and optimism, a curiosity and a decisiveness that I think will make the president-elect a great president.
Q. One of the things that caused many evangelicals to vote for your ticket is your deep faith. The debate about church and state has gone on since the founding of the country. What do you believe are the proper roles of church and state and where should they not cross paths in a nation in which a growing number of young people respond 'none' when asked to name a religion.
A. I think number one I'm very humbled and encouraged by people, as we travel around, who say the sweetest words to us, like 'we're praying for you'. The president-elect made it clear he's committed to ensuring the ongoing vitality of communities of faith. I love the story about the (Lyndon) Johnson Amendment. It goes back to a meeting Mr. Trump had in New York with a group of pastors, many of whom expressed support for his strong pro-life views and his strong agenda. He said, 'Can you go back and tell people in your churches that you're for me?' and they all said they couldn't because of the tax laws that are in place and the limitations they put on pastors. A church could lose its tax exempt status, if it is seen supporting political candidates.
Q. Well, certain churches, others get a pass.
A. Yes, there is an uneven application of it, but I'll never forget my own experience. When I announced for Congress in 1999, Karen and I were attending a large evangelical church in Greenwood, Indiana. The pastor and his wife are dear friends. I was scheduled to share my testimony on a Sunday a few weeks after I had announced. It had long been on the calendar. My pastor called me and said, 'you can't speak at church because of the potential threat of the tax status of the church.' The Johnson Amendment has had a chilling effect on communities of faith to speak to public issues.
Most of the public speeches at America's founding were actually sermons. Harriett Beecher Stowe's father thundered about the abolition of slavery from pulpits. I've stood in the pews in Montgomery, Alabama where Dr. King drove America toward a more perfect union during the civil rights movement. Donald Trump has promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment and we're working with members of Congress to do that simply for the reason that I think he recognizes communities and the vitality of communities of faith is now, and has always been, a bulwark of American strength.
Q. Are you ready to be president should circumstances dictate?
A. I pray that I'm ready to be vice president. I get a little misty eyed when I think that my grandfather came through Ellis Island, drove a bus in Chicago for 40 years. I would often say on the campaign trail I could not imagine what that Irish man was thinking, except that he was right about America. He left everything he loved behind in Ireland; wouldn't see his mother for 25 years because my great-grandmother told him there was a future there for him, and she meant the American dream. So I'm working and praying every day to be ready to be vice president and to be prepared to discharge all the duties and responsibilities that attend that.
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Cal Thomas, America's most-syndicated columnist, is the author of 10 books.