CNN town hall with Mike Pence

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Tori B. Powell, Shania Shelton and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 0406 GMT (1206 HKT) June 8, 2023
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11:59 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

Top takeaways from Pence's CNN town hall — and moments he broke with Trump

From CNN's Eric Bradner, Gregory Krieg and Jeremy Herb

Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 7.
Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 7. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former Vice President Mike Pence criticized his former boss President Donald Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin in a CNN town hall on Wednesday night.

Pence appeared at the town hall hosted by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, hours after he officially launched his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination from the same state.

Here are four moments Pence separated himself from Trump:

Vladimir Putin and Russia's war in Ukraine: One of Pence’s sharpest criticisms of Trump came when he was asked about the United States’ role in helping Ukraine to repel Russia’s invasion. After arguing that the US should accelerate its support for the Ukrainian military, Pence pointed to Trump’s description of Putin in a February 2022 radio interview as a “genius” for his invasion of Ukraine. “I know the difference between a genius and a war criminal, and I know who needs to win the war in Ukraine,” Pence said.

January 6 insurrection: Pence broke with Trump over the legal fates of those who rioted at the US Capitol on January 6 – and have since faced criminal charges and convictions. Trump said he would consider pardoning many of those rioters, who he said were being treated “very unfairly.” Pence, though, said the United States “cannot ever allow what happened on January 6 to happen again in the heart of our democracy.” “I have no interest or no intention of pardoning those that assaulted police officers or vandalized our Capitol. They need to answer to the law,” he said.

Social Security: Pence said Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed, saying both programs are tracking toward bankruptcy in the next five or 10 years. “It is also disappointing to me that Donald Trump's position on entitlement reform is identical to Joe Biden's. I mean, their policy is insolvency,” he said.

Immigration: Pence said he would not bring back his administration's controversial family separation policy to manage migrants at the US-Mexico border — breaking with Trump's comments during the CNN town hall last month. The “zero tolerance” policy encapsulated the lengths Trump’s administration was willing to go to deter migrants from coming to the United States, and Trump said it remained a strong deterrent. “When you say to a family that if you come, we’re going to break you up, they don’t come,” Trump said during the town hall.

And here are other key takeaways from the town hall:

Justice Department investigations: Pence urged the Justice Department not to indict his onetime boss, saying such an indictment would fuel division inside the country and “send a terrible message to the wider world.” While Pence said that “no one is above the law,” he said the DOJ could resolve its investigation into Trump’s potential mishandling of classified documents without resorting to an indictment, just as the department informed Pence’s attorney last week that there would be no charges brought in the case of the classified documents discovered in his home.

Transgender children: Pence repeatedly highlighted his support for “parents’ rights,” especially when it comes to schools. But he said the judgment of those same parents should not apply to situations when a minor is seeking gender transition care. “I strongly support state legislation, including, as we did in Indiana, that bans all gender transition, chemical or surgical procedures, under the age of 18,” he said – even when parents support their child’s decision to go forward.

Pro-life stance on abortion: Pence made clear he would not deviate from his anti-abortion position, saying, “We will not rest or relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in the country" and that he does not apologize for being pro-life. On the question of a federal ban on the procedure, Pence said he supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. He also offered qualified support for social spending programs to help support newborns and new parents but stopped short of specifically endorsing paid family leave for all Americans or subsidized child care.

Read more takeaways here.

11:42 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

Fact-checking Mike Pence’s claims during the CNN town hall in Iowa

From CNN staff

Former Vice President Mike Pence took questions from voters in Iowa on Wednesday night during a CNN town hall.

Here are some of the claims he made:

Inflation: Pence claimed at the town hall that “families are struggling right now with record inflation.” At two other moments, he claimed, in present tense, that inflation is “at a 40-year high.”

Facts First: Pence’s claim that there is “record inflation” is false. His claims that inflation is “at a 40-year high” are, at best, out of date.

The US inflation rate hit a 40-year high in June 2022, 9.1%, but that was not close to the all-time record high of 23.7%, set in 1920. And that 9.1% rate last June was not even close to the record for the modern era, 14.8% in 1980.

In addition, the current inflation rate is nowhere near that 40-year high from mid-2022. After hitting 9.1% in June 2022, the inflation rate has fallen for 10 straight months. The most recent available rate, for April, was 4.9%.

From CNN’s Daniel Dale

Aid to Ukraine: Pence said that he and Trump “ended what was a ban during the Obama-Biden administration on any military resources at all” to Ukraine, whereas the Obama-Biden administration was providing “military meals and blankets.”

“We provided javelin missiles — all they were providing was military meals and blankets. We corrected that and Ukraine was better suited to be able to deal with this Russian invasion,” Pence said.

Facts First: This is not true, and reminiscent of comments frequently made by Trump, who has said that the Obama administration was only providing Ukraine “pillows and sheets.”

While it’s true that the Obama administration declined to provide weapons to Ukraine, it provided more than $600 million in security assistance to Ukraine between 2014 and 2016 that involved far more than meals and blankets (or pillows and sheets). The aid included counter-artillery and counter-mortar radars, armored Humvees, tactical drones, night vision devices and medical supplies.

From CNN’s Haley Britzky

Family separation at the border: Pence was asked about the Trump administration’s brief but controversial family separation policy, which triggered a crisis in spring 2018 when immigration officials separated thousands of children from their parents after they illegally crossed the US-Mexico border. Pence criticized the policy and – breaking from Trump – said he wouldn’t bring it back. But he also blamed Obama for its creation.

“The family separation policy actually began under the Obama administration,” Pence said.

Facts First: That’s not true at all. Yes, some families were separated under Obama, but that was the rare exception and not the rule. Trump changed things in 2018 and turned family separation into the blanket policy, and only relented amid a furious public outcry and with intervention looming from federal judges.

CNN previously debunked this claim when Trump repeatedly made similar comments during his tenure.

In short, during the Obama years, children were occasionally separated from their parents in rare situations, like if the adults were caught with drugs or there was a potential human trafficking situation.

But Trump dramatically changed things in spring 2018. He imposed a “zero tolerance” policy, where every adult border-crosser would be criminally prosecuted. With the adults being sent to jail, the children were separated from them and sent to detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

That systematic family separation absolutely did not begin under Obama, as Pence claimed Wednesday night. More than 3,900 children were ultimately separated under Trump, according to federal data.

From CNN’s Marshall Cohen

Read more fact checks here.

11:29 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

In pictures: CNN's town hall with Mike Pence

From CNN's Will Lanzoni

Former Vice President Mike Pence took the stage on Wednesday night for a CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa.

He criticized his former boss, Donald Trump, for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

See photos from the evening inside Grand View University:

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the crowd during a town hall on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the crowd during a town hall on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Audience members listen as former Vice President Mike Pence responds to a question.
Audience members listen as former Vice President Mike Pence responds to a question. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Mike Pence gestures while answering a question while on stage with CNN's Dana Bash.
Mike Pence gestures while answering a question while on stage with CNN's Dana Bash. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Mike Pence, reflected in the glass, participates in the town hall as audience members listen.
Mike Pence, reflected in the glass, participates in the town hall as audience members listen. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Mike Pence smiles as an audience member asks a question during the town hall on June 7, 2023.
Mike Pence smiles as an audience member asks a question during the town hall on June 7, 2023. Will Lanzoni/CNN

11:25 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

Pence says Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed

Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 7.
Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 7. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former Vice President Mike Pence said Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed, saying both programs are tracking toward bankruptcy in the next five or 10 years.

“It is also disappointing to me that Donald Trump's position on entitlement reform is identical to Joe Biden's. I mean, their policy is insolvency,” Pence said during CNN's town hall.
“I think we've got a moral obligation to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security and Medicare, and that means saying to Americans over the age of 40, we're going to keep the system that we have, but Americans under the age of 40, we got to work on the kind of reforms that will lessen the burden of debt and change these New Deal programs into a better deal for younger Americans,” he said to applause.

Pence declined to answer whether he would raise the retirement age.

11:04 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

Pence calls for swift capital punishment for mass shooters

Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 7.
Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 7. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former Vice President Mike Pence, when asked about the wave of mass shootings in the US, said he believed the rapid implementation of capital punishment for shooters will deter future incidents.

"We've got to get back to justice in this country that is swift and certain," Pence told CNN's Dana Bash at Wednesday night's town hall.

In response to a question about whether he believes in a national "red flag" law, he said: "We've got to be very cautious."

“Red flag” laws, found in more than a dozen states, are also known as Extreme Risk Protection Order laws – and they allow courts to temporarily seize firearms from anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

"I think we got to make sure and protect the due process rights of Americans," he said, referring to the laws. "We cannot allow laws like that or other laws like that or other laws to erode the constitutional right to keep and bear arms in this country."

Some background: There have been more than 250 mass shootings in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

President Joe Biden has taken more than 20 executive actions on guns since taking office, including regulating the use of “ghost guns” and sales of stabilizing braces that effectively turn pistols into rifles. He also signed a bipartisan bill in 2022 which expands background checks and provides federal funding for so-called “red flag laws” – although it failed to ban any weapons and fell far short of what Biden and his party had advocated for.

White House officials have been sober about the political realities Democrats face with the current makeup of Congress, where Republicans in control of the House have rejected Biden’s calls for an assault weapons ban. Even when both chambers of Congress were controlled by Democrats during the first two years of Biden’s term, an assault weapon ban gained little traction, in part because of a 60-vote threshold necessary for passage.

11:06 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

Pence on how he plans to unite Americans: We've got to get back to decency and civility

Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 7.
Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 7. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former Vice President Mike Pence said that he hopes to bring back decency and civility into politics when asked how he plans to unite Americans.

"You know, I think our politics are more divided than ever before — in my lifetime. But I'm not convinced that the American people are as divided as our politics," Pence said.

Pence reflected on his relationship with the late Civil Rights icon John Lewis and how despite their differences they were able to get along and found common ground in their Christian faith.

"But John and I, again, never agreed on much. But we could always talk. And I think that's what we have to get back to. When you think about the challenges we're facing in America, I just think we've got to get back to the kind of politics that reflects the decency and civility that the American people show each other every day. And I believe we will. And I hope to be part of it," he said.

10:48 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

Pence says he'd "take a step back" from approach of Trump-era sentencing reform bill

From CNN's Veronica Stracqualursi in Des Moines, Iowa

Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday.
Former Vice President Mike Pence participates in a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Former Vice President Mike Pence said he would “take a step back” from the approach of the Trump administration’s landmark sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act.

“I frankly think we need to take a step back from the approach of the First Step Act. We need to get serious and tough on violent crime and we need to give our cities and our states the resources to restore law and order to our streets. And I promise you, we'll do that, if I'm your president,” Pence told Dana Bash in CNN’s town hall in Des Moines, Iowa.

Under the First Step Act, thousands of federal inmates, most of them serving sentences for drug offense and weapons charges, were released from prison early either for good behavior or rehabilitation programs. The legislation also eased mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenders.

Pence was asked about 2024 rival Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ promise to repeal the First Step Act if elected president.

Pence again conceded that he would take a different approach than the First Step Act and said, “We ought to be thinking about how we make penalties tougher on people that are victimizing families in this country.”

Aligning with DeSantis, Pence also added that he would not defund the police, a popular sentiment that arose in 2020.

10:49 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

Pence says he does not believe Trump will be the Republican nominee for president

Asked repeatedly how he could commit to supporting former President Donald Trump if he were the GOP nominee for president, Mike Pence said Wednesday night he does not think Trump will be the Republican nominee and that the people of Iowa will recognize that "different times call for different leadership."

Pence once again said anyone who holds the office of president should never put themselves above the Constitution, referring to Trump pressuring him to overturn the 2020 election results.

"Anyone who puts themselves above the Constitution should never be president in the first place. And anyone who asks anyone else to put themselves over the Constitution should never be president again," Pence said to CNN's Dana Bash.
10:42 p.m. ET, June 7, 2023

Pence says failures of the Biden-Harris administration will help him reach Trump supporters

Former Vice President Mike Pence said that people's concerns with the Biden-Harris administration will help him reach out to "Trump or nothing voters."

Jesse Johnson, an Iowa Republican caucus voter, asked Pence how he plans on reaching "hardcore Trump or nothing Republican voters."

Pence responded: "I think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to be the great unifiers of the Republican party."

He went on to say that he does not worry about the unity of the party and claimed that everywhere he goes he hears how people are "deeply concerned" in the current administration's policies.

He added, when Republican voters play their role in the primaries, "I'm confident that whoever our standard bearer is, — and I hope it's me — is going to be supported by Republicans and independents and many Democrats around the country, who know we can do better, and we can bring this country back," Pence said.