This Friday, the 10th of February, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Section 4 of this piece of legislation states that if Congress comes to the conclusion ‘that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President.’
With so many protestors, pundits and politicians raising questions and concerns about President Trump’s competency for such a position of power, it could become seriously important to consider Vice-President Mike Pence’s own adeptness for the role.
In many ways, it seems Pence, perhaps expectedly as Trump’s second-in-command, holds views that are almost as schismatic. Despite not being as brazen about views on abortion, LGBT rights, refugees, race relations, climate change, press freedom and women - a Pence administration, it seems, would be similarly catastrophic.
Speaking about Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision allowing women the right to abortion, he has made clear on several occasions that he wishes to ‘send [it] to the ash heap of history where it belongs.’ Pence also cosponsored the Ultrasound Informed Consent Act, a bill intended to enforce a requirement on abortion providers to perform an ultrasound scan on any woman seeking an abortion. This would be a requirement regardless of whether the scan was medically necessary, and the provider would have to describe the embryo in detail to the woman. He also cosponsored another bill which would disallow federal funding for abortion, except in cases of ‘forcible rape.’ What other kind of rape is there?
And perhaps even more difficult to conceive, as governor in 2011, Pence signed a staggering $3.5 million contract with Real Alternatives, an anti-abortion organisation, and this was funded through money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families federal assistance program.
It gets worse.
During his campaign for Congress in 2000, Pence suggested that gay and lesbian Americans should not receive equal recognition or legal protection under the law. Pence proposed that funds should be diverted away from organisations working in HIV and AIDS prevention, and instead, towards those encouraging ‘ex-gay’ therapy. He asserted that taxpayers’ money should no longer be ‘given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus’, as resources would be better directed ‘toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.’
As governor of Indiana, he also signed a bill that would allow businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of ‘religious freedom’, as he said ‘many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.’ So, Pence sought to bolster the American ideal of freedom, by defending so-called religious liberty, at the cost of the civil rights of citizens of the USA that just so happen to be homosexual. In 2007, he opposed a bill that would ‘protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination’, and another in 2009 that aimed ‘to expand the definition of a hate crime to include the victim’s sexual orientation.’ And, as you might expect, he believes that same-sex marriage should be banned through a constitutional amendment, to prevent ‘societal collapse’.
Furthermore, he called for a replacement of the already discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, which barred openly LGBT Americans from military service, but would tolerate those who were closeted. He called instead for a complete ban on gay service members, as ‘homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.’
Another important issue, especially within the current climate of public outrage sparked by President Trump’s “Muslim ban”, is that of immigration and refugees. When acting as governor, Pence too took action against refugees; preventing a Syrian family with a 4-year-old son from settling in the state of Indiana. He forced the local resettlement agency to find a replacement and they were relocated to Conneticut, feeling ‘rejected’ and ‘depressed’, having arrived thinking that America was ‘a country with freedoms.’
In an ominously similar way to Trump, Pence defended such attitudes with the assertion that these refugees might be terrorists. In addition to this incident, he has also tried to prevent humanitarian refugee agencies working in his state from receiving federal aid. Thankfully, this attempt was thwarted, as US Circuit Judge Richard Posner aptly expressed that it’s ‘the equivalent of his saying (not that he does say) that he wants to forbid black people to settle in Indiana not because they’re black but because he’s afraid of them.’
Coincidentally, and perhaps not surprisingly, his record on race is not much better either. During his 2016 campaign alongside Donald Trump, Pence deflected enquiries surrounding racial inequality, and the crucially relevant issue of bias in law enforcement, asserting that those raising such issues were proliferating ‘the rhetoric of division.’ He said ‘Donald Trump and I believe that there’s been far too much talk of institutional bias or racism within law enforcement,’ and added that ‘we ought to set aside this talk, this talk about institutional racism and institutional bias.’
This came in a year where, according to a project by The Guardian, the US police killed at least 258 black people, 39 of whom were unarmed. The most recent census data shows that white people make up around 62 percent of the US population, but only 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers.
Also like Trump, he is a climate change denier, stating quite outrightly that ‘global warming is a myth.’ He has credited the whole concept of global warming to ‘the quiet expansion of the liberal environmentalist agenda…that will cost thousands of jobs.’ Stemming from these firm beliefs is his vehement opposition to emissions regulations on greenhouse gases. In 2009, he voted against a bill that aimed to limit carbon dioxide emissions and invest in clean energy, and in 2011, he voted in favour of a bill that would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
In the first week of Trump’s Presidency, many were taken aback by the fact that in the first time his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, addressed the American public, he spoke prescriptively about what journalists should, and shouldn’t be covering. Again, in an all-too-similar fashion, Mike Pence once attempted to create a state-funded news outlet that would be ‘overseen by political staff.’
He has even expressed political views about the 1998 Disney film Mulan, labelling it the work of a ‘mischievous liberal,’ and in fact, drew justification for his views on banning women in the military from it - as ‘young Ms. Mulan falls in love with her superior officer!
If anything, a Pence administration presents an even more daunting reality than that which we seem to be braving currently. At least Trump is open, and loud. His questionable views don’t manifest themselves in quiet signatures scrawled in darkened rooms, surrounded by ardent conservatives, but in the Oval Office surrounded by photographers and news crews. The world is fully aware of Trump’s ideas, and has manoeuvred a counterposition through either protest or political discourse, while Pence is comparatively overlooked. It may seem that as Vice-President he takes a backseat in federal government, but could he become a “backseat driver”?
What happens if Trump, a man with absolutely no prior political experience or visible competency, decides he is no longer able to ‘discharge the powers and duties of his office’? What if, after record numbers of public protest, he is impeached by fellow politicians? It doesn’t look good.
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