Biography of Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States

VP Pence Joins Alabama Senate Candidate Luther Strange At 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 Governor of Indiana, before becoming Vice President of the United States in the Donald J. Trump administration in 2017.

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, Columbus, Indiana.
  • Parents: Edward Joseph Pence, Jr. and Nancy Pence-Fritsch.
  • Education: Hanover College (Indiana), BA 1981; Indiana University School of Law, JD 1986.
  • Spouse: Karen Sue Batten Whitaker (married 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 his first (unsuccessful) run for U.S. Congress in 1988, and again in 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 conservative think-tank, the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. 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.

Congressional Election

The primary campaign for the seat was a six-way contest pitting Pence against several political veterans, including state Representative Jeff Linder. Pence emerged the victor, and faced the Democrat primary winner Robert Rock, the son of a former Indiana Lieutenant Governor, and former Republican state Senator Bill Frazier as a populist independent. After a brutal campaign, Pence won 51 percent 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 to 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 later that year 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 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.

The 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 beaten soundly, 27 to 168.

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 ranking position in House party leadership. In 2009, he made several trips to primary states which led to speculation that he was considering a run for the U.S. 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 Senator Evan Bayh or run for governor of the state. In early 2011, a movement led by former Kansas Representative 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. 

I It was May before he decided to seek the Republican nomination for Governor of Indiana. He ultimately won the election by a very narrow vote, taking office in January 2013. In March of 2015, he signed a "religious freedom" bill into law, which has been accused of giving businesses a license to discriminate 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 Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination. In December 2015, he criticized then-candidate Donald J. Trump's call for a ban on Muslims as "offensive and unconstitutional" and in June of 1016, he called Trump's comments on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel as "inappropriate." At the same time, he praised Trump's stand on jobs. In July, Trump named him as his choice for a vice presidential running mate. 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 J. 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.