Biography of Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States

Vice President Mike Pence during a campaign rally
Hal Yeager / Getty Images

Mike Pence (born June 7, 1959) is a conservative American politician who was a member of the House of Representatives and the governor of Indiana before becoming vice president of the United States in the 2016 election. He is serving with President Donald Trump.

Fast Facts: Mike Pence

  • Known For: U.S. congressman (2001–2013), governor of Indiana (2013–2017), vice president of the United States (2017–present)
  • Born: June 7, 1959 in Columbus, Indiana
  • Parents: Edward Joseph Pence, Jr. and Nancy Pence-Fritsch
  • Education: Hanover College (Indiana), BA in 1981; Indiana University School of Law, JD in 1986
  • Spouse: Karen Sue Batten Whitaker (married in 1985)
  • Children: Michael, Charlotte, and Audrey

Early Life

Mike Pence (Michael Richard Pence) was born on June 7, 1959, in Columbus, Indiana, the third of six children of Edward Joseph and Nancy Cawley Pence. Edward's father was Richard Michael Cawley, an Irish immigrant from Tubbercurry, Ireland, who became a Chicago bus driver. Edward Pence owned a string of gas stations in Indiana and was a Korean War veteran; his wife was an elementary school teacher.

Mike Pence's parents were Irish Catholic Democrats and Pence grew up admiring President John F. Kennedy, even collecting JFK memorabilia as a youngster. He graduated from Columbus North High School in 1977, received a BA in history from Hanover College in 1981, and earned a law degree from Indiana University in 1986.

Pence met Karen Sue Batten Whitaker, a divorced elementary school teacher, in 1984 at an evangelical church service. They married on June 8, 1985, and have three children: Michael, Charlotte, and Audrey.

Early Career

As a young man, Pence was a Catholic and a Democrat like his parents, but while at Hanover College, he became a born-again evangelical Christian and a fundamentalist conservative Christian Republican with a desire to serve in politics. He practiced law until he entered politics, making unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Congress in 1988 and 1990. He recalled that experience as "one of the most divisive and negative campaigns in Indiana's modern Congressional history," and admitted his participation in the negativity, in "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner," published in the Indiana Policy Review in 1991.

From 1991 to 1993, Pence served as president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a conservative think-tank. From 1992 to 1999, he hosted a daily conservative talk radio program called the "The Mike Pence Show," which was syndicated state-wide in 1994. Pence also hosted a Sunday morning political TV program in Indianapolis from 1995 until 1999. When the Republican representing Indiana's 2nd Congressional District announced his retirement in 2000, Pence ran for the seat a third time.

2000 Congressional Election

The primary campaign for the seat was a six-way contest pitting Pence against several political veterans, including state Rep. Jeff Linder. Pence emerged the victor and faced the Democratic primary winner Robert Rock, the son of a former Indiana lieutenant governor, and former Republican state Sen. Bill Frazier as a populist independent. After a brutal campaign, Pence was elected after earning 51% of the vote.

Congressional Career

Pence began his congressional career as one of the most outspoken conservatives in the House. He refused to support a Republican-backed bankruptcy bill because it had an abortion measure in it, with which he disagreed. He also joined a Senate Republican lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the newly enacted McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. He was one of just 33 House members to vote against President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act." In 2002, he cast a vote against a farm subsidy bill, for which he would later express regret. Pence won his subsequent reelection; that same year, the district was renumbered as the 6th.

In 2005, Pence was elected to chair the Republican Study Committee, an indication of his growing influence.

Controversies

Later that year, Hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coast and Republicans found themselves cast as insensitive and unwilling to assist with the cleanup. In the midst of the catastrophe, Pence called a press conference announcing the Republican-led Congress would include $24 billion in spending cuts, saying "... [W]e must not let Katrina break the bank." Pence also stirred controversy in 2006 when he teamed with Democrats to break a deadlock on immigration. His bill ultimately foundered and he was castigated by conservatives.

Campaign for Minority Leader

When Republicans took a significant beating in the 2006 election, Pence observed, "We didn't just lose our majority. I believe we lost our way." With that, he threw his hat into the ring for Republican leader, a post that had been held for less than a year by Ohio Congressman John Boehner. The debate centered around the failures of the Republican leadership leading up to the general election, but Pence was defeated 168-27.

Political Prospecting 

Despite his political setbacks, Pence emerged as a major voice for the Republican Party under Democratic House leadership and in 2008, he was elected House Republican Conference Chairman—the third-highest ranked position in House party leadership. He made several trips to primary states in 2009, which led to speculation that he was considering a run for the presidency.

After Republicans regained control of the House in 2010, Pence declined to run for Republican leader, throwing his support instead to Boehner. He also stepped down as chair of the Republican Conference, leading many to suspect he would challenge Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh or run for governor of the state. In early 2011, a movement led by former Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun got underway to draft Pence for president in 2012. Pence remained non-committal but said he would make a decision by the end of January 2011.

Pence decided in May 2011 to seek the Republican nomination for governor of Indiana. He ultimately won the election by a narrow vote, taking office in January 2013. In March 2015 he signed a "religious freedom" bill into law, which allowed businesses to cite religious beliefs in denying service to potential customers. The bill, however, led to accusations of discrimination against the LGBT community. Pence ran unopposed in the Republican primary for governor in May 2016 in a bid for a second term.

Vice Presidency

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Pence again considered running but backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination. In December 2015, he criticized then-candidate Donald Trump's call for a temporary U.S. ban on people from Muslim-dominated countries as "offensive and unconstitutional." The following June, he characterized Trump's critical comments on U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel as "inappropriate." At the same time, however, Pence praised Trump's stand on jobs. In July, Trump named him as his running mate in the presidential election. Pence accepted and pulled the plug on his gubernatorial campaign.

Pence was elected vice president on November 8, 2016, and was sworn in on January 20, 2017, alongside President Donald Trump.

Sources

  • D'Antonio, Michael and Peter Eisner. "The Shadow President: The Truth about Mike Pence." New York: St. Martin's Press, 2018. (partisan left)
  • De la Cuetara, Ines and Chris Good. "Mike Pence: Everything You Need to Know." ABC News, July 20, 2016. 
  • Neal, Andrea. "Pence: The Path to Power." Bloomington, Indiana: Red Lightning Press, 2018. (partisan right)
  • Phillips, Amber. "Who is Mike Pence?" Washington Post, October 4, 2016. 
  • "Mike Pence Fast Facts." CNN, June 14, 2016.