Vice President Mike Pence joined me from my broadcast from the Old Executive Office Building this morning:
HH: Mr. Vice President, an honor to have you, sir. Vice President Mike Pence back live on the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you.
MP: Great to be here, Hugh, welcome back to the White House.
HH: It is good to be back in the Old EOB. It’s been a while. In my years, I was down on the first floor with Fred and those gangs, but let’s get serious, Mr. Vice President.
MP: You bet.
HH: Have you had a chance to talk with the President and the Secretary of Defense, yet, about Kurdistan?
MP: We’ve had discussions on an ongoing basis about the progress that we’ve been making in the region. And first and foremost, I think every American should be encouraged that working with Iraqi forces, working with the Peshmerga in the Kurdish region, that ISIS is on the run. We are very close to achieving the objective that President Trump set out in the campaign last year, which was to crush ISIS and completely eliminate their capacity to threaten people of this country, to threaten our allies in the region. And we couldn’t be more proud of the American soldier in the field and all of our allies.
HH: Even as we succeed against ISIS…
HH: We see Iran’s General Soleimani in Kirkuk over the weekend. Has the United States guaranteed the autonomy of Kurdistan?
MP: Well, as you know, the United States took a strong position against the recent referendum that took place in the Kurdish region. We cherish our relationship with President Barzani. We cherish our relationship with the Kurdish people. They are great fighters, great allies. But as the President said yesterday, we’re going to continue to work with Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces to resolve the issues and differences that they have peaceably and move forward together.
HH: I know he refused to take a side, the President did yesterday…
HH: And you were against independence referendum, but Kurds are our friends. The President told me that personally…
MP: Are great friends.
HH: Are great friends. So they will remain autonomous in your view, Vice President Pence?
MP: Well, as you know, the debate over the territorial integrity of Iraq has been going on a long time.
MP: No one’s a better expert on that than you, Hugh. But we want to see, we want to see these issues resolved, and we’ll continue to work with diplomatic means and through various, all of our very strong military relationships to resolve these issues peaceably. But the American people should be most encouraged with the progress that our soldiers working with the Peshmerga in the Kurdish region, working with Iraqi soldiers, have made in literally running ISIS out of existence. There’s still more work to be done. There’s encouraging news this morning from Raqqa, but President Trump set one objective in that region, and that was to hunt down and destroy ISIS. And I couldn’t be more proud of the American soldiers in the region, couldn’t be more proud of our allies in the region, that we’re very close to achieving that objective.
HH: Yeah, whenever ISIS or a branch of Islamist extremism strikes anywhere in the world, as it did in Somalia earlier this week to great and terrible effect, the American media says why hasn’t President Trump issued an expression of condolence. Actually, you could be doing that every single day. What do you make of the media’s sort of sudden turn every story has to be about your boss?
MP: About what?
HH: About the President. Every story becomes about the President, and no matter what it is. It becomes about the President.
MP: Well, to some extent, in the modern era, it kind of comes with the territory. And fortunately, we have in President Donald Trump a leader that has the strength of will and the broad shoulders to be able to endure it and to stay focused on the mission. You know, America is standing tall in the world once again. And I mean, the progress that we have made, and you’re a great expert on foreign policy, Hugh, the progress that we’ve made on the world stage, I think, is tantamount to nothing short of we once again have a president who stands without apology as leader of the free world. We see NATO stepping up doing more for our common defense than they’ve ever done. I met yesterday in this room with the deputy prime minister of Japan as we’re moving forward on an economic dialogue. But we also talked about the fact that with Japan, with South Korea, and even with China, we’re isolating that rogue regime in North Korea, economically and diplomatically, in ways that they’ve never been isolated before, more pressure being brought to bear. My recent trip to Latin America, I heard one leader after another expressing support for America’s commitment to this hemisphere, to expanding the strength of emergent democracies and free market economies. I mean, America is leading again. And what the message we’ve made clear on the President’s behalf is America first doesn’t mean America alone. But it means America leading in the world.
HH: Vice President Pence, let’s turn to your job at the Senate. You are the president of the Senate by dictate of the Constitution. If Senator Menendez is convicted, should the Senate move quickly to expel him?
MP: I think that’ll be a decision for members of the Senate. But having a convicted felon in the United States Senate, I think, would be altogether inappropriate and wrong. And, but I want to be respectful of the processes and the traditions of the institution. But you know, our focus right now in the Senate and in the House is on the kind of tax cuts and tax reform that are going to continue the tremendous momentum that we see in this economy, Hugh. I mean, I remember during the campaign when President Trump said that we could get back north of 3% after spending eight years below 2% in economic growth, that that was unrealistic. Well, we posted more than 3% growth in the second quarter based just on what we’ve been able to do rolling back red tape and on the confidence and optimism of American businesses large and small. But we put tax cuts on that, we let Americans keep more of what they earn, we allow American businesses to be more competitive by cutting our 35% corporate tax rate down to 20%, you’re going to see this economy take off and that continues to be our focus.
HH: Tax cuts and judges dominated the Rose Garden yesterday. I want to talk about judges for a second.
HH: I reread Hamilton’s Federalist 68 about the role of the Vice President, and I read the Senate’s own history on the role of the Vice President. Many vice presidents have considered themselves scrupulous guardians of the Senate’s written rules. Now John Calhoun, I have no admiration for, but he disdained its unwritten customs and practices, according to the Senate. One of those is the blue slip. You’re the president of the Senate. Why not just call on the members to vote that the blue slip does not exist? You could actually call that up as the president of the Senate.
MP: Well, it’s, it is a worthy thought, Hugh. It really is. I mean, the American people elected this president, and in electing the president, fortunately, the rules of the Senate were changed a few years back to allow a simple majority vote on judges. But this tradition of a member of the Senate being able simply to issue the proverbial blue slip to hold up someone, a qualified man or woman appointed to our federal district courts, is just, it’s not consistent with that tradition in the Senate. And so, but it’s something we’ve seen. I do want to commend, as the President did yesterday, the Senate at this point has confirmed 182 various nominations not only to our cabinet, but to the judiciary. They worked very earnestly against a really unprecedented level of obstruction by Senator Schumer and others in the Senate. But look, we, the American people voted for Republican majorities in the Congress. They voted for a Republican president. And filling these vacancies in the judiciary, getting past these arcane practices that stand in the way of a fully-deployed judiciary in the country is something that we ought to reconsider.
HH: And I don’t want to throw fuel on the fire between Senator Corker and the President, Mr. Vice President, but if Senator Corker is really worried about World War III, would he have a hold on a bunch of ambassadorial appointments like Rick Grenell to Germany? That is not consistent with being worried about World War III.
MP: Well, you know, what I will tell you is that when you look at this president’s leadership, you look at the leadership he’s provided on the world stage, I note he has his critics. But when you look at the results, ISIS is on the run. North Korea is being isolated. We put Iran on notice. The President made it clear he’s not going to recertify the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. You look at the way the world is stepping up and responding to American leadership, I think, as I travel around the country, the American people sense our economy is back. But as I’ve traveled around the world, I have to tell you, Hugh, I’ve heard from one leader after another how grateful they are to see strong American leadership, high American expectations around the world. We’re standing with our allies. We’re standing up to our enemies. And frankly, the world welcomes that.
HH: Let’s talk about North Korea, Mr. Vice President. When Harry Truman became president because of the death of FDR, he did not know about the Manhattan Project. It was a shock to him. Are you fully read in? Do you feel like you know all of the plans and contingencies with regards to North Korea?
HH: And given that you do, is it possible to have a preemptive non-nuclear attack on North Korea that would disable their ability to have a second strike on Seoul and the American dependents there, and indeed the economy, the international economy that depends on Seoul?
MP: No enemy of this country should ever underestimate the capacity of the armed forces of the United States of America. We have the strongest and most effective fighting force in the history of the world. And we have options. We have options with regard to North Korea. But, and those options are on the table, as we’ve said. But I will continue to say as the President has said, as our entire team has said, is that we hope with additional pressure from China, with continued economic and diplomatic isolation, that we’ll be able to resolve peaceably what the world has not been able to accomplish now for more than a quarter of a century, and that is what everyone agrees on, Hugh, which is a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
HH: So I’m getting the wrap-up sign from Nick, and I’m not going to get on Nick’s bad side. So I wanted to talk, just give you a chance on tax reform. It’s very controversial, the subchapter S. It’s very controversial, a number of provisions, the state and local income tax. Vice President Pence, do we get a win at the end of this year from the Senate, which has derailed so much, so often, thus far?
MP: I think we are, I think we are very optimistic that the American people have tax relief coming right around the corner. I sense real consensus among members of the House and Senate, but more importantly, I’ll be in New York later today. I’ve been traveling around the country talking to small business owners, working families. The American people know that after more than three decades, the time has come for us to cut taxes on working families and small business. The time has come for us to simplify a tax code that I’d love to say the Internal Revenue code is ten times the length of the Bible with none of the good news. We’re going to simplify the tax code from seven brackets down to three. 90% of Americans with the President’s reforms, will be able to file their taxes on one sheet of paper. And maybe just as important, we’re going to take one of the highest business tax rates in the world, and we’re going to lower it down from 35% to 20%, and those small businesses are going to experience a 25% tax rate that’ll be the lowest since 1931. Everywhere I go, walking shop room floors, talking to business owners, the American people know the time has come for tax relief, for tax reform. President Trump is absolutely committed to it. It’s our top priority. And we have a sense that members of Congress, in fact, more than a few in both parties, sense that the American people want to see tax cuts, and they want to see it this year.
HH: Thank you, Vice President Pence. I hope Joe Donnelly heard that. I hope your senator from your home state heard that. We could use a couple of Democratic votes.
MP: That’s right.
HH: Thank you for joining me.
MP: You bet.
End of interview.