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Mike Pence, pondering a presidential run, condemns Trump's rhetoric on Jan. 6

Former Vice President Mike Pence's new memoir recounts his life up to the moment when he refused to overturn the 2020 election defeat of then-President Donald Trump.

So Help Me God is the kind of polished life story that is often a preliminary for a presidential run, which Pence is considering. Coincidentally or not, the book's release date, Nov. 15, was exactly the date that Trump declared his run for the presidency in 2024.

Trump's announcement competed with but did not entirely drown out Pence, who has given interviews about his book to multiple networks and newspapers in recent weeks.

It was revealing that, after the midterm election defeat of numerous high-profile candidates who rejected the 2020 election results, Trump's announcement speech did not directly mention his claims about his defeat — a subject he'd discussed constantly for two years, including in a January interview with NPR. Instead, Pence is the one discussing it, saying that Trump was "wrong" and that they have gone "our separate ways."

Pence faces an extraordinary challenge as a political leader whose national reputation is closely tied to the record of the Trump administration but who says the Constitution and his conscience would not allow him to follow Trump's ultimate demand.

The former vice president met an NPR team at the law library of the Indiana state capitol: a fitting spot, both because he once served as the state's governor and because upholding the law is now at the center of the story he has to tell.

For part of the 42-minute conversation, Pence recounted the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when he presided over the ceremonial counting of electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election.

When a mob disrupted the proceedings, Pence retreated with family members to an office within the U.S. Capitol and then to an underground parking garage, but refused to flee the building.

"It just infuriated me," he said, and once police had restored control of the building, he managed that evening to preside over the completion of the vote count. Eventually he learned that many members of the mob, egged on by a tweet from the president, had chanted to hang him.

"President Trump was wrong, and his words and actions that day were reckless," Pence said. "They endangered my family and people at the Capitol building. And I'll never hold any other view."

That's a far cry from the speech that Pence, chosen as Trump's running mate, gave at the 2016 Republican National Convention, in which he called Trump a "good man."

Asked whether he still considers Trump a good man, Pence replied at considerable length without ever saying that he did. He said only that Trump had authored important achievements but was "wrong" on Jan. 6.

"I truly do believe that only God knows our hearts," he added. "And I'll leave it to others to make their own judgments."

Pence spoke with NPR's Morning Edition about his faith, his political trajectory and where he thinks he and his party might be headed next. The full transcript of that conversation can be found here.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Interview highlights

On the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade

I'm pro-life. I don't apologize for it. I'll always cherish the fact that I was vice president in the administration that appointed three of the justices of the Supreme Court that gave us a new beginning for life, that returned the question of abortion to the states and to the American people, where it belongs. ... I said in the wake of the Dobbs decision that we haven't come to the end — we've come to the end of the beginning. And I'm determined in however many years I have left on this earth to be a voice for the unborn and to work every day to restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law. ... Whatever role we're in, I'll look to be a voice for the right to life.

On the fact that midterm voters were generally favorable to abortion rights

The common denominator for me was that Republicans who articulated their position on the right to life did well. Republicans who did not articulate their position and allowed their position to be defined did not do as well. ... I want to concede a point. We have a ways to go in this issue. But I believe that in the most prosperous nation on Earth, we ought to be a nation that is grounded in the unalienable right to life and makes it possible for women in crisis pregnancies to go to term or raise their child or give their child up for adoption. But I also think it's just as important, as you see states advance pro-life legislation, that they advance legislation not just for the unborn, but for the newborn.

On why, as he says in his book, he thinks his faith has been "misunderstood"

When my wife was attacked for teaching at a Christian school, when one media outlet after another ridiculed our Christian faith from time to time, I was always struck by that. Because as I traveled around America, the words I most often heard, and I heard them every day, where people would reach out across a rope line or stop me on a street corner and say, "I'm praying for you." I mean, this is a nation of faith, of different faiths. I'm a born-again Christian, raised in a wonderful Catholic home. But the American people cherish faith in the overwhelming majority, and yet it seemed to be a subject of fascination by some in the liberal media.

On whether he thinks people misunderstand his stance on LGBTQ issues

I don't believe anyone should ever be harassed or discriminated against because of who they are, who they love or what they believe. But that being said, there are profound implications on this question, as Justice Kennedy wrote in the Obergefell decision, that bear upon religious freedom — and the courts have been sorting through that ever since. I will tell you, I've been encouraged that the Supreme Court has been striking a balance on the issues of religious liberty and individual rights, and I trust that the conservatives on the court will continue to do that. But if there's anything people don't understand well about the Pences is ... to know our family, we love everybody. My faith tells me to love your neighbor as yourself. And that's something we aspire to do every day, whether we agree with every view or every value of the people that we meet.

On what Pence would want to accomplish if elected president

Traveling around this country, what I've heard from the American people is they want to get back to the policies of the Trump-Pence administration: of a strong military, of free market economics, conservatives on our courts, America standing with our allies, standing up to our enemies. But I think they long for leadership that could unite our country around our highest ideals and demonstrate the kind of respect and civility that the American people show each other every day.

This interview was produced by Phil Harrell and Nick Michael and edited by HJ Mai. Rachel Treisman adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.