Vice President Pence joined me this afternoon for an interview Tuesday afternoon that aired in its entirety Wednesday morning:
HH: Vice President, Hugh Hewitt. Welcome back to the program.
MP: Hugh, it is great to be back with you. Thanks for having me on.
HH: Thank you for joining me. You’ve pinned wings on U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant Michael Pence two weeks ago. Congratulations to him, to you and Mrs. Pence. What kind of aircraft is he going to be flying?
MP: Well, he’ll be flying, he’ll be flying fixed wings. He is going to be a pilot in the Marine Corps. We couldn’t be more proud, but thanks again so much for having Mrs. Pence on the airwaves not too long ago. She’s been traveling across the country doing her part to stand with all of the military families and the spouses that stand by our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard, and I appreciate all the focus you’ve placed on that and the opportunity you gave Karen on the airwaves, Hugh.
HH: Well, she was terrific. Ours is a sea service family. And now yours is as well. Am I’m guessing that puts you with the Midshipmen during the Army-Navy game, the Secretary of State with the Cadets, and the President going back and forth?
MP: (laughing) Anywhere they let me. Anywhere they let me sit, I’ll be there and be proud to be there. But that’s for your family as well and your family’s service, Hugh.
HH: Now Mr. Vice President, U.N. Ambassador Haley’s announcement leaves us all a little bit stunned. Last time I saw you was at the swearing in of Richard Grenell to go to Germany. He is on the short list to replace her along with Robert O’Brien, Admiral Stavridis. When you talk to the President, what qualities as opposed to names are you going to urge him to look for in a U.N. ambassador?
MP: Well, before we look at the future, let me say how grateful we all are, the President and myself, our entire administration, for the extraordinary job that Ambassador Nikki Haley’s done for the United States at the United Nations. She is, she has, you know, taken the President’s America First agenda, carried it into the floor of the United Nations, and she’s traveled around the globe advocating American interests. And we will miss her in this role. She’s a personal friend of mine, and she and I spent a little bit of time after she was in the Oval Office with the President, and I just told her how personally grateful I was for not only the job she’s done, but the way she’s done it – with courage and character and grace. And we wish her and her family every blessing in the years ahead, Hugh.
HH: Very tough act to follow, so how do you follow it?
MP: Well, I think that’ll be a decision for the President. But there are a number of men and women that would be very qualified, very able to follow on in that role. But what I can promise you is the policies aren’t going to change. I mean, one of the things that is, I think, been most admirable about the job that Ambassador Haley did at the United Nations, that our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is doing now, and John Bolton is doing, is every single one of these folks gets up every day to carry the agenda that we were elected to advance on behalf of the American people, that America First agenda onto the world stage. And so we’re looking for folks that not only can follow in the big shoes that Nikki Haley’s going to leave at the U.N., but we’re going to be looking, we’re going to be looking to fill that spot with someone who comes in with just as much vigor to advance America’s interests, to advance the America First agenda, and to continue to see America respected again on the world stage. You know, Nikki made that comment in the Oval Office today, and I can tell you having had the opportunity to travel around the world over the last two years, Hugh, and I’ll be headed to the Asia Pacific here in about a month, as I’ve met with world leaders, as I’ve witnessed the response to President Trump’s leadership on the world stage, there’s no doubt that America is respected again, and that is a credit to the President, the entire team, and we’re so grateful for the contribution that Nikki Haley’s made to that cause as well.
HH: It does take some sparkle and some charisma like Ambassador Haley. That’s why I bring up Grenell, Robert O’Brien and James Stavridis. Do you agree with me we’ve got to have some sparkle there?
MP: Well, look, it’s, the United Nations is a big stage. And having the right talent there, all of those people are outstanding people. There are other people. There’s actually, there’s a great number of people that have already expressed interest in the position, but I can tell you I have every confidence that the President will make sure that the United States is once again well-represented on the floor of the United Nations, and continues to advance that agenda that’s making such a difference for the American people and for American credibility in the world.
HH: Now Mr. Vice President, I couldn’t be happier with our national security team, with the President and you, the Secretary of State, Defense, and Ambassador Bolton…
MP: Thank you, Hugh.
HH: …of course DNI and the rest, etc. I want to focus on China, but first, a question and a follow up on Jamal Khashoggi, prominent critic of our ally, Saudi Arabia. I saw that you tweeted yesterday your profound concern. It could be a worst case – a hit ordered by the King or the Crown Prince. It could be the best case – he shows up somewhere. Or it could be, and I don’t know, we’ll see if it’s someone like Henry II saying of Thomas of Becket, will no one rid me of this turbulent priest only to have some zealot run off and murder him, four zealots, in fact, doing the same thing to Khashoggi. What do you know at this hour about the disappearance of this individual?
MP: Well, what I can tell you is that it is a, it is as the President said yesterday on the South Lawn of the White House, and as I also reflected, it is a, it’s a great concern for the United States of America. The suggestion that this journalist, Mr. Khashoggi, was you know, was murdered should be deeply troubling to everyone that cares as a free and open press around the world. And as I said yesterday, the free world deserves answers. Violence against journalists should be condemned, but at this point, we don’t know what happened. We’ll continue to call for answers, and we’ll continue to express the genuine concern of the American people for this Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who has disappeared.
HH: And last question, the follow up, if the Saudis were to request our FBI dispatch technicians to the consulate, would they do so?
MP: I think the United States of America stands ready to assist in any way. But as I said yesterday, the free world deserves answers. And the reports that a Saudi Arabian journalist may have been tragically murdered in Turkey should be deeply concerning to everyone who cherishes a freedom of the press and human rights across the globe.
HH: Now to China…
MP: But we’ll continue to monitor it very closely.
HH: Now to China, Mr. Vice President. Walter Russell Mead wrote in the Wall Street Journal the hypothetical question – did Cold War II break out last week when no one was watching. He’d heard you give a speech at the Hudson Institute. And I want to talk about first, is the United States unequivocally going to recommit our defense commitments to the island nation of Taiwan?
MP: Well, let me begin by saying that it was my honor to express the position of the administration in an address regarding China last week. But the President a week earlier also raised the issue of China’s behavior at the United Nations. Look, Hugh, you’re a great student of foreign affairs, and your listeners know and appreciate your perspective on this. I, for my part, you know, I watched over the years as the United States established diplomatic relations with China. We opened our economy to China. In 2000, we agreed to bring China into the World Trade Organization. As you know, all of that was done with the hope that as China, as China experienced greater economic liberty and economic prosperity, that we would see political liberty and freedom expand in China. And as I reflected in my address last week, those hopes have gone unfulfilled. China has largely abandoned, has largely abandoned the pathway of more freedom. They’re building an unparalleled surveillance state even as we speak. I recounted last week the crackdown on religious freedom, shutting down of churches, burning Bibles. There’s nearly one million Muslim Uyghurs that are being detained in government camps. We continue to see China close its marketplace to the world, including the United States. Nearly half of our trade deficit today, nearly $400 billion dollars, was with China alone last year, and yet China continues to put up trade barriers and take no action to protect American intellectual property and take the kind of changes that would protect the interests of American free enterprise. All of that is fueling a massive military buildup by China, and as I said last week, the days of standing by while China continues to expand militarily while it continues to disregard the rules of the international marketplace in trade and otherwise, and while it continues to move further and further away from the advance of freedom for their own people, those days are now over. And President Trump and I, and our administration, are committed to taking the kind of action that will change the trajectory of this relationship. The president’s imposed $250 billion dollars in tariffs with the possibility of more. We’re rebuilding our military, making historic investments in our military. And make no mistake about it, we will continue to stand by all of our interests across the Asia Pacific. And when I travel to the region, when I travel to the region in a month to the APAC and ASEAN conferences, we’ll be reiterating, reiterating that very same message that the United States of America…
HH: So we have committed to defend…
MP: …is going to continue to see to our interests.
HH: We’ve committed to defend Taiwan against an attack. Is that commitment still good?
MP: We continue to stand firmly behind all of our treaty obligations in the Taiwan Act.
HH: We also…
MP: Now all of that, all of that is blended with the, all of that is blended, as you know, with the One China policy. And as I said last week at the Hudson Institute, we believe the democracy in Taiwan represents the best way forward and the best example.
HH: The Iranians have stopped harassing our ships because they know what a Trump-Pence response would be. The PRC is harassing our ships. Have we communicated to them that that will be on them if an incident occurs?
MP: Well, as you know, last week when an American warship was making its way through international waters in the South China Sea, literally a Chinese ship came within some 50 yards of that American warship. There’s also been similar acts of provocation. And what we made very clear is that we are going to continue to operate our Navy and keep the sea lanes open in all navigable international waters. And we will continue to recognize those.
HH: Good, good, good.
MP: We’ve seen, as you know, we’ve seen China constructing, you know, islands on coral reefs. There were commitments made by President Xi to the last administration that they would never have military assets on those islands. I recounted last week that that is no longer the case, that there are military assets that have been deployed to those Chinese-constructed islands in the South China Sea. But all this is to say look, we are going to continue to stand strong. We’re going to continue to assert America’s interests throughout the Indo Pacific. And we’re going to continue to stand strong on behalf of the American people’s values of freedom and liberty, but also on behalf of the American economy. I mean, when you look at the course and direction of this relationship with China, we literally, as the President often says, we’ve literally built China over the last 35 years. And yet China is still listed in international organizations as a developing country, and continues to restrict the ability of American trade to move freely, and American goods to move freely into China. Those things have to change. Now all of that being said, let me say President Trump and I, and our team, continue to be hopeful that we will see change, not more words, but deeds, because truthfully, the President has forged a strong personal relationship with President Xi of China. They met in the United States last year. They met in China last year. I expect, you know, I expect that relationship will continue to go forward. And our hope is, our hope is on the basis of that personal relationship that President Trump has formed with President Xi that we’ll finally begin to see China take the kind of actions that will set it, that will set it on a pathway toward more economic exchange and greater respect, greater respect for nations around the world.
HH: Two more questions about China, Mr. Vice President. The President made an explicit promise of a 355 ship Navy in Philadelphia during the campaign on the deck of the Ford. That’s the only promise that has gone completely unfulfilled. There is no plan to get there before 2050. It’s the major failure of the administration that we do not have a plan to get to 355 ships. Will that be remedied soon?
MP: Well, what I can promise you is that working with this Congress, this President’s going to continue to rebuild our military. The $70 billion dollar increase in our military in our first budget, now we’ll be at $716 billion dollars total in the new National Defense Authorization budget that was signed by the President. But look, President Trump is absolutely committed to making sure that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard have the resources, have the equipment, have the training to accomplish their mission. And I promise you, we’re going to continue to drive toward that objective. I mean, we truly do believe in peace through strength. It is the governing philosophy that President Trump brought into the Oval Office like his predecessor, the 40th president. And we’re going to continue. The strength of America…
HH: He said 355, though. He said 355 again and again, Mr. Vice President. And there is no plan. It’s like the Navy and the DOD are stiffing it?
MP: Well, just stay tuned. We’ve got more ships being built. We’ve got more aircraft being built. We’re finally making the kind of investments that we need to make in our national defense. And I’ll tell you what. As a proud fighter of a United States Marine, I couldn’t be more proud to serve with a president who cares so deeply about the men and women in armed forces and is so determined to make sure that they have the resources, the equipment, the training and support that they deserve.
HH: Last PRC question. There are 351,000 PRC students on student visas in the United States. What sort of security issue does that present to us?
MP: Well, we recognize the fact that that number of students in our country represents an enormously important part of our cultural exchange. But as I said in my speech last week, and your listeners can review it, there, you know, there are indications that students are looking after students, that reporting back home, there’s troubling aspects that some of that, some of that impact in this country, economically, is creating pathways where intellectual property is being compromised. And so it’s something we’re being very vigilant about. As you know, the President recently signed legislation strongly improving our CFIUS legislation that oversees the protection of our national security technology and secrets. But look, vigilance is the answer, and we’re going to continue to be vigilant even as we look for greater, you know, greater opportunities for positive cultural exchange not just with China, but with other countries around the world. But we’re always going to put American security first.
HH: And my last question, Mr. Vice President. You are, you’re aware that Bob Woodward’s book came out. I interviewed him at length. A lot of people didn’t realize, but he told me he looked hard, hard, hard, and he found no evidence of collusion between the President and the Russians. Do you think the American people are finally coming to believe the Woodward conclusion and generally that we have seen nothing in public of collusion between the presidential campaign and the Russians?
MP: Well, I know the President has said that many times over. Leaders of the Senate investigation recently said that publicly. And I think what the American people are coming to appreciate is what you wrote about in your opinion editorial a little bit earlier this week, and that is this, you know, this president has been delivering on the promises that…
MP: …he made to the American people one after another – an economy that’s created more than 4 million new jobs, rebuilding our military, a record number of conservatives appointed to our federal courts of appeals, not even including Justice Neil Gorsuch and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, that one thing after another, people are seeing that this is a president that’s been working every day to keep the promises that he’s made to the American people. And I, for my part, I appreciated your editorial early this week reflecting on that fact, and we look forward to carrying that message all across our midterm elections between now and November 6th.
HH: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I enjoyed the time. Come back again soon.
MP: Thank you, Hugh. Always great to be on.
HH: Good to talk with you.
End of interview.