You’d be remiss to disregard the vice president as a decorative position or simply as an individual who waits in the wings—especially when they’re supporting someone as overbearing as President Trump. The role of the veep has become increasingly impactful over the last 40 years. (Remember Dick Cheney?) Vice presidents now play a significant advisory role to the president, which means that their individual agendas matter. This is particularly true if you look at their policies and perspectives through a wellness lens, as just about everything the highest leaders in the land say or do affects your ability to be safe, healthy, and happy.
Understanding where Vice President Mike Pence stands on any number of issues is a critical step toward voting in your best interest. Below, a look at his take on everything from abortion and LGBTQ+ rights to gun safety and the pandemic.
Here’s how Vice President Mike Pence views issues related to your health and well-being
1. The pandemic
In late February, Vice President Pence was named chair of the task force overseeing America’s pandemic response. His first big move in the role was to shut down the cruise industry in mid-March, though some critics say he did not act quickly enough to slow the spread of COVID-19. His pandemic task force has held daily coronavirus briefings on and off since then, but Pence has mainly worked in the background with state, industry, and public health leaders to manage the crisis, though the primary criticism of these efforts remains that Pence is too slow to act given such an urgent threat.
Today, more than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19. This is one of the top ten death rates per capita in the world, which essentially means that Pence, as the person in charge of these efforts, is not doing a good job. Recently, Pence’s former aide on the Task Force, Olivia Troye, publicly criticized the Trump-Pence administration’s pandemic response.
Pence has some history of dealing with a public health crisis. In 2015, he handled an HIV outbreak as governor of Indiana. Though critics say he was slow to act then, too, he was ultimately credited with effectively triaging the outbreak by green-lighting a program to provide clean needles to drug users.
2. Health care
Although he voted against the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Vice President Pence was one of the first Republican governors who agreed to expand Medicaid in his state when ACA passed, after negotiating unique terms with former President Obama. This move was deeply unpopular among his fellow Republicans. Pence’s Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 required low-income adults above the poverty line to pay for their insurance at a rate of 2 percent of their income instead of receiving it for free, as they would’ve under Obamacare as written. He was quoted as saying the plan “gives Hoosiers the dignity to pay for their own health insurance.”
As president of the Senate, Pence has since voted to repeal the ACA and, along with President Trump, continues to promise a replacement plan that has yet to materialize.
3. Climate change
Vice President Pence has not acknowledged climate change as a threat. In 2014, he said publicly that he did not think the science had been “resolved.” While serving as a representative for Indiana in the House, he twice voted against limiting greenhouse gas emissions and, as governor of Indiana, refused to comply with Obama’s Clean Power Plan and enthusiastically supported the Keystone Pipeline. As a part of the Trump-Pence administration, he is responsible for the significant roll back of environmental protections at the federal level.
Vice President Mike Pence has a history of policies that do not support the LGBTQ+ community. During his 2000 congressional campaign, he opposed marriage for LGBTQ+ couples, and in 2004 he co-sponsored an amendment to the constitution that would define marriage as existing only between a woman and a man. In 2007, he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which aimed to make it illegal for individuals to be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation. In 2010, he voted against the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which required service members to hide their LGBTQ+ identity. In 2014, he supported a bill to add an amendment banning same-sex marriage to Indiana’s Constitution. In 2015, he signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which afforded legal protections to businesses that refused to serve LGBTQ+ individuals (though he later revised the bill, under pressure, to protect the LGBTQ+ community). Mike Pence’s wife, Second Lady Karen Pence, teaches at a school which prohibits staff from engaging in homosexual relationships.
Since taking office, the Trump-Pence administration has mostly taken aim at Obama-era policies protecting transgender individuals. They’ve also made it a priority to stack the Supreme Court with conservative judges, and Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s most recent nominee, has signaled disagreement with marriage equality and transgender rights.
Pence does not (publicly) employ the racist public rhetoric of his boss. He supports the president’s “law and order” message, but he’s reportedly met with Black conservatives, pastors, and others to strategize on the administration’s response to Black Lives Matter protests more inclusively. That said, he was unable, as of July 2020, to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism.
Vice President Pence may actually be, privately, more moderate than Trump on immigration (which isn’t saying much, given that Trump’s immigration views are extremely conservative). During his time in Congress, Pence introduced a proposal that offered a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants. “As the grandson of an Irish immigrant, I believe in the ideals enshrined on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor,” Pence wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed at the time. “America always has been, and always will be, a welcoming nation, welcoming under the law any and all with courage enough to come here.”
According to reporting, Pence currently plays an active role in the Trump administration’s immigration dealings. And while the policies born under Trump have been extremely anti-immigrant, some allege that Pence is playing a moderating role as a conservative more interested in boosting the economy by allowing some forms of immigration than in barring immigration altogether. He has not publicly disavowed any of Trump’s immigration stances or policies, however, and in fact, he defended inhumane conditions at migrant detention centers in 2019.
Pence’s views on gender equality are regressive. He’s been instrumental in rolling back access to abortion and contraceptives. It’s been famously noted that he refuses to dine alone with women who aren’t his wife. In the late ’90s, he said that having two parents working out of the home led to “stunted emotional growth” for children. He has said that allowing women to serve in the military is a “bad idea.”
5. Reproductive health
“I long for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history,” said Pence on the House floor in 2011. The same year, he wrote the first bill in a long line of bills aiming to block federal funding to Planned Parenthood. In 2014, he signed a law as governor of Indiana that banned insurance coverage of abortion care unless the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or it threatened the mother’s life. In 2016, he signed a bill requiring that all fetal remains from miscarriages and abortions be buried. When the Supreme Court upheld the latter bill in 2019, Pence spoke up to commend the decision.
As vice president, Pence cast the deciding vote to overturn Obama-era protections for Title X, a grant program from the 1970s designed to help increase access to family planning and reproductive health services for low-income people. The following year, the Trump-Pence administration instituted a gag rule that prohibited clinics that referred patients for abortions—or even discussed abortion as an option—from providing Title X funding. According to the Guttmacher Institute, this has cut patient capacity in the Title X network by half.
On the campaign trail, Pence has been meeting with anti-abortion advocates to make the case for Trump as “the most pro-life president ever.” As mentioned, the Trump-Pence campaign has also been stacking courts with conservative justices, many of whom are not in favor of abortion freedom. This includes the newest Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, who described herself as “pro-life.”
6. Police and prison reform
The Trump-Pence administration is the “law and order” ticket, and both candidates are in staunch support of the police. At the Republican National Convention, Pence said that Americans would be unsafe under Biden due to the left’s calls for police reform. He has said that he does not believe that American policing is inherently racist, but he’s more recently acknowledged the need for conversations around the issue.
Pence has more of a record of taking a pro stance on criminal justice reform. In Congress, he supported the Second Chance Act, which awards grants to help former prisoners reintegrate into society. As governor of Indiana, he also reduced mandatory sentences on some crimes (though he simultaneously raised them on others). During the vice presidential debate in 2016, he noted the need for criminal justice on a national level. He is, however, in favor of the death penalty.
Most recently, Pence helped to shepherd the First Step Act, which gave judges more leeway around mandatory minimums, shortened some mandatory sentences, increased compassionate release sentence reductions, improved conditions for federally imprisoned pregnant women, and introduced measures to reduce recidivism (return to prison), and more.
7. Financial health
Pence consistently resists raising the national minimum wage. As a congressman, in 2007, he opposed raising it from $5.15 to $7.25. As governor of Indiana, he also blocked local governments in the state from requiring businesses to pay more than the federal minimum. Since taking office, the Trump-Pence administration has made no moves on the minimum wage at all, despite repeated promises regarding pending announcements. The admin has, however, sought to restrict Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, even in the midst of mass pandemic-related unemployment. This past January, they also moved to reduce Medicaid access.
Pence is a long-time supporter of tax cuts. As governor of Indiana, he pushed to lower individual state income taxes—even as they were already the second-lowest in the nation. He also eliminated estate taxes and inheritance taxes and lowered corporate taxes. In 2017, the Trump-Pence administration signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which decreased taxes for corporations and, mainly, the wealthiest of wealthy Americans.
8. Gun safety
Mike Pence has long opposed gun safety measures as a representative, governor, and vice president. In fact, he’s indicated that he believes gun ownership increases public safety. (It doesn’t.) In Congress, Pence voted for gunmaker immunity, so manufacturers couldn’t be sued for harms caused by their products, and concealed carry reciprocity, which would require states that don’t allow concealed carry to allow it. As governor of Indiana, he oversaw relatively lax gun laws that include the absence of background check requirements. He regularly receives A grades and endorsements from the National Rifle Association.