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Don't count Pence out, Trump decisions suggest his influence

Posted at 11:29 AM, Feb 01, 2017

A lot of fingers are pointing at White House chief strategist Steve Bannon for his apparent influence over executive orders that President Donald Trump has signed since taking office, but Vice President Mike Pence’s long-held positions on a number of key issues suggests he was a key player in the decision-making, too.

Here are three White House measures that reflect positions Pence has taken:

LGBT and federal employment

A draft of an executive order that would limit protections for LGBT federal employees and contractors made the rounds this past week. First tweeted by The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, the order would have overturned former President Barack Obama’s directive barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal work force, including contractors.

The draft, according to Rogin, included exemptions that would allow adoption agencies and groups receiving federal funds to deny services to LGBT people based on religious beliefs.

Although the White House issued a statement saying that it would keep the LGBT protections in place, it did not deny that a draft of an executive order existed. The spirit of the draft, as reported by the Post, sounds similar to actions Pence took — or attempted to take — as governor of Indiana.

Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015, which expanded religious liberties by allowing business owners to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation. Opponents of the act argued it opened the door to legalized discrimination against gay individuals and families. They used an example seen in other states, such as bakers refusing to bake wedding cakes for gay couples, or florists refusing to provide flowers for a wedding. A national outcry ensued and companies such as Salesforce threatened to pull out of the state. Ultimately Pence and the state legislature moved to weaken the measure.

Pence is vocal about his opposition to gay marriage. During his first run for Congress in 2000, he supported “conversion therapy” and wrote on his campaign website, “Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage.”

Later, in 2006, he was the head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of some of the most conservative Republicans in Congress, and gave a speech in support of a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman, saying, “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family."

Most recently he’s opposed both the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell and was against former President Obama’s directive on transgender bathrooms.

Syrian refugee ban

The White House’s executive order on refugees included a provision that indefinitely bans refugees from Syria. When Pence was governor of Indiana, he pursued a similar tactic to keep Syrian refugees out of the state.

In the wake of the Paris attacks in the fall of 2015, Pence and 30 other governors announced they objected to admitting Syrians into their states after hearing that one of the attackers was linked to Syria. Pence, in fact, was one of the first governors to issue a directive to block those refugees.

In an editorial he wrote for The Indianapolis Star, he stated that his “highest duty and first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of the people of our state.”

An Indiana refugee resettlement group and the local ACLU chapter quickly challenged his directive in court, and the case made it to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appellate judges ruled against Pence, declaring that the governor’s lack of evidence that Syrian refugees in the United States are linked to terrorism “a nightmare speculation.”

If the state of Indiana had appealed the ruling, it is likely the Supreme Court would have taken it up. However, Trump’s executive order banning Syrian refugees from the entire country — including Indiana — meets the goal Pence set out to achieve in 2015.

Abortion rights

Trump’s executive action to re-instate an anti-abortion rule known as the “Mexico City Policy,” and his nomination Tuesday of conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court both align with positions Pence took in Indiana and earlier while serving in Congress.

A devout evangelical Christian, Pence has spoken out many times through the years against access to abortion facilities. Indeed, it was a position he expressed on the campaign trail this past fall.

Last year, while governor of Indiana, he signed a sweeping anti-abortion bill that in part prohibited women from obtaining an abortion because of the potential disability of the fetus. Pence called the bill an “important step in protecting the unborn, while still providing an exception for the life of the mother.”

Speaking to a group of pro-life students at Liberty University last October, he said, “I long to see the day that Roe vs. Wade is consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs and we again embrace a culture of life in America.” And he later promised that if the Trump-Pence ticket won, Trump would sign a bill banning late-term abortions and would uphold the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, except to save the life of the woman or in instances of rape.

Most recently, he spoke at the March for Life — an annual anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C. — where he told the crowd “life is winning in America.”


His attendance at the march, along with Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway, made Pence the highest-ranking member of government ever to address the event in person.