(Bloomberg) — An amendment by Mike Pence to cut off federal funds for Planned Parenthood was one of the first proposals Republicans approved after taking control of the House in 2011. Three months later, the chamber passed another bill by the Indiana congressman to end tax breaks for insurance providers that cover abortion.
Social conservatism has been a guiding light in the 15-year political career of Pence, now the governor of Indiana and a top contender to be the vice presidential pick of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. He has labeled himself “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican—in that order.”
The case for Pence, who met with Trump and his family at the governor’s home on Wednesday, is that he’d bring credibility with evangelical Christians and Republican elected officials across the ideological spectrum, constituencies with whom Trump’s reputation is shaky. He’d add 12 years of service as a congressman and one term as a governor to a ticket that currently has no political experience. Trump has said he wants a vice president with “great political experience,” who “would truly be good with respect to dealing with the Senate, dealing with Congress, getting legislation passed.
“I think he’s a solid pick just because he has federal experience, he has governor’s experience. He’s a fiscal conservative, social conservative, military conservative,” said James Lankford, a U.S. senator from Oklahoma who served with Pence in the House.
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“I hope he gets the nod,” said Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, a former congressman. “I love Mike. He was the leader of the conservatives and I was the leader of the moderates. And we had a mutual admiration society.” (Kirk, who’s up for reelection, said “we’ll see” when asked if he’d reconsider backing Trump if Pence is chosen, but his spokeswoman later called to say he would not back Trump no matter who the running mate is.)
A thin record in the House
An examination of Pence’s legislative record during 12 years in the House reveals scant tangible achievements, instead pointing to a tenure marked by a desire to move the Republican Party and national debate in a conservative direction.
Of 90 stand-alone bills introduced by Pence during his tenure in the House, the 21 that passed were all “simple resolutions” about matters like placing a member on a committee or rebuking the United Nations, according to the legislative tracker GovTrack. Apart from those, just one Pence bill cleared committee, and then died—a 2005 bill to scrap limits on aggregate campaign contributions by a person in an election cycle. Pence voted against numerous major Bush-era initiatives such as No Child Left Behind in 2001, the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003 (which passed by one vote) and the bank bailout of 2008.
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“It’s not as if he was a legislator who did more than take strong positions against these things,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “This was a guy who saw his role much more as being a super-magnet trying to pull his party and policy away from the center and toward the right.”
Fittingly, the largest contributor to his campaigns and political committees from 1989 to 2014 was Club For Growth, a conservative group that often battles bipartisan deals, according to the nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics. Pence may build bridges between Trump and conservative donors wary of his ideological bona fides.
Pence also gives some Republicans skeptical of Trump a dash of hope that he’d be able to steer the presumptive nominee in a more conservative direction. “I hope that he can move Mr. Trump on a number of these issues,” said Flake.
But that doesn’t mean he’d be the ideal figure to help Trump cut deals.
“The idea that Pence is going to be an effective liaison with Congress—he knows Congress, but he’s not going to be the Republican equivalent of Joe Biden,” said Ornstein. “He’s not a dealmaker. That’s not his modus operandi.”
Before he was selected as Barack Obama’s running mate, Biden was a 35-year veteran of the Senate with strong relationships across the aisle and steeped in the minutia of legislative sausage-making, which made him an asset for the president.
John Gregg, Pence’s Democratic opponent in 2012 and again in 2016, has inveighed against his “radical agenda.” The Indiana Democratic Party has accused him of “scaring good jobs away because of his radical social agenda.” (Indiana’s highest-ranking Democrat, Sen. Joe Donnelly, who formerly served with Pence in the House, declined to discuss him.)