Michael Richard Pence was born on June 7, 1959, in Columbus, Indiana. One of six children of Nancy and Edward Pence, a U.S. Army veteran who operated a series of gas stations, Mike Pence was politically influenced by the Irish Catholic leanings of his family. He grew up idolizing former President John F. Kennedy and volunteered for the Bartholomew County Democratic Party as a student at Columbus North High School.
While the church had played an important role in Pence’s early family life, he became more deeply religious as a student at Hanover College. Pence left the Catholic Church and became an evangelical, born-again Christian and voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980.
His political views started shifting to the right when he became inspired by the “common-sense conservatism” of Ronald Reagan.
After graduating with a B.A. in history in 1981, he moved to Indianapolis in 1983 to attend the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, earning his J.D. in 1986.
Pence went into private practice following his graduation and tried his hand at politics by becoming a precinct committeeman for the Marion County Republican Party. Seeking to make a bigger splash, he ran for Congress in 1988 and 1990, losing both times to Democrat Phil Sharp. However, Pence learned a valuable lesson in defeat; disgusted by his own line of attack ads, he penned an essay in 1991 titled “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” and vowed to preach a positive message from then on.
Meanwhile, his public profile continued to grow. Pence served as president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation from 1991 through 1993, before making the leap to radio talk show punditry with “The Mike Pence Show.” Referring to himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” Pence was unapologetic in his support of a conservative agenda but was commended for his level-headed manner and willingness to listen to opposing views. His radio show was syndicated in 1994, and he branched out to television as a morning show host the following year, before ending both programs in 1999.
Pence revived his political career by running for Congress again in 2000, this time winning a seat. Describing himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” he quickly demonstrated that he wasn’t afraid to buck party lines. He opposed President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy in 2001, as well as the Medicare prescription drug expansion the following year. While his positions rankled party elders, they bolstered his reputation as a man of strong convictions, and he easily won reelection five times.
Climbing the ranks of Republican leadership, Pence was named head of the Republican Study Committee in 2005. He was unsuccessful in his bid to become minority leader in 2006, losing to Ohio’s John Boehner, but two years later he was unanimously elected to the powerful position of Republican conference chairman.
A staunch fiscal conservative, Pence insisted on cuts to the federal budget before supporting funding for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005 and was among the leading opponents of the federal bailout in 2008. He also drew attention for his social views, notably supporting a plan to shut down the government over a fight to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011.
In 2011, Mike Pence announced his intention to run for governor of Indiana the following year. Despite strong name recognition and a platform focused on tax cuts and job growth, he became embroiled in a heated race with Democrat John Gregg, eventually pulling out a close win with just under 50 percent of the vote.
Pence found himself in the national spotlight and on shaky ground after signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in March 2015. Intending to protect business owners who didn’t want to participate in same-sex weddings, Pence instead encountered resistance from moderate members of his party and corporations that threatened to pull out of the state, and he was forced to alter the bill to provide exemptions for LGBT communities. Similarly, he came under fire in the spring of 2016 for signing a bill that prohibits abortions when the fetus has a disability.
Shortly after announcing his intention to run for a second term as governor, Pence returned to the national spotlight when he surfaced as the vice-presidential candidate for likely 2016 Republican nominee Donald Trump. Although Pence had opposed some of Trumps views, he was believed to be a good running mate for the New York business mogul due to his ties to congressional leaders and strong support among conservatives.
Pence has a long history of support for the Jewish community and Israel, which he attributed to his Jewish sister-in-law. He was a supporter and often initiator of pro-Israel legislation in Congress. He co-founded the House’s anti-Semitism task force in 2007. He spoke at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in 2009 and later attended each one as vice president.
“In Congress I gave pro-Israel addresses so often I was asked if there was a big Jewish community out in rural Indiana,” Pence wrote in his memoir.
As Governor of Indiana in 2014, Pence led a trade delegation of Indiana business and political leaders on a trip to Israel, where they met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and spoke to IDF soldiers. A trade delegation from Israel was hosted by Pence in Indiana in mid-2016. In March 2016, Mike Pence became one of the first Governors in the United States to sign legislation into law requiring state institutions to divest public funds from entities that support the BDS movement against Israel.
Pence withdrew from his gubernatorial reelection campaign in July 2016 to become the running mate of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Following Trump’s victory, Pence was sworn in as the 48th vice president of the United States on January 20, 2017.
During his vice presidency, among other duties, Pence chaired the National Space Council and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Shortly after he assumed office, a spate of anti-Semitic attacks occurred, including bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers. In Missouri, headstones were vandalized in a Jewish cemetery and, following a speech in St. Louis, Pence showed up and helped volunteers clean up the cemetery. He said the vandalism, “along with other recent threats to Jewish community centers around the country…declare to all a sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil. We condemn this vile act of vandalism and those who perpetrated it in the strongest possible terms.”
In 2018, he raised Jewish hackles after visiting Yad Vashem to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and tweeted: “A few days ago, Karen & I paid our respects at Yad Vashem to honor the 6 million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust who 3 years after walking beneath the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to resurrect themselves to reclaim a Jewish future.” Some Jews objected to his use of the terms “martyrs” and “resurrect” for their Christian imagery.
In February 2019, Pence visited the memorial site of Auschwitz. “I traveled in our delegation with people who had family members who had been at Auschwitz — some had survived, some not. But to walk with them and think that two generations ago their forebears came there in box carts and that we would arrive in a motorcade in a free Poland and a Europe restored to freedom from tyranny is an extraordinary experience for us, and I’ll carry it with me the rest of our lives,” Pence said.
White supremacist John Timothy Earnest fatally shot one woman and injured three other persons, including the rabbi, at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California on April 27, 2019. Pence and his wife went to the scene of the crime. “We had to come,” he told the rabbi.
In 2020, Pence attended the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Allies’ liberation of Auschwitz.
Pence and Trump lost their bid for re-election in the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Despite Trump’s urging to overturn the election results, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Pence certified the Biden–Harris ticket as the winner of the election. He subsequently distanced himself from Trump by endorsing candidates in several Republican primary elections who ran against candidates endorsed by Trump in the 2022 midterm elections.
In 2021, Pence joined The Heritage Foundation as a distinguished visiting fellow. He also joined the Young America’s Foundation conservative youth organization. Also, that year, he narrated a four-part television series on the career of right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh titled Age of Rush and appeared in the July 2022 documentary Unprecedented.
On June 5, 2023, Pence announced his plan to seek the presidency in 2024. He suspended his campaign in November after failing to gain traction and falling far behind other candidates in the polls.
Pence and his wife, Karen (née Batten), met while he was in law school at Indiana University. They were married in 1985. They have three children: Michael, Charlotte, and Audrey.
U.S. - Israel Relationship
- “It was the Trump-Pence administration that kept our word to the American people and our most cherished ally, when we moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the state of Israel.” (JTA, June 6, 2023)
- “I am here to convey a simple message from the heart of the American people: America stands with Israel. We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight. We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny. We stand with Israel because that’s what Americans have always done, and so has it been since my country’s earliest days.”
“In the story of the Jews, we've always seen the story of America. It is the story of an exodus, a journey from persecution to freedom, a story that shows the power of faith and the promise of hope. My country’s very first settlers also saw themselves as pilgrims, sent by Providence, to build a new Promised Land. The songs and stories of the people of Israel were their anthems, and they faithfully taught them to their children, and do to this day. And our founders, as others have said, turned to the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible for direction, guidance and inspiration.”
“And your story inspired my forebears to create what our 16th president called a “new birth of freedom.” And down through the generations, the American people became fierce advocates of the Jewish people’s aspiration to return to the land of your forefathers to claim your own new birth of freedom in your beloved homeland.”
“When I stand with my wife at Yad Vashem to honor the 6 million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust, we will marvel at the faith and resilience of your people, who just three years after walking beneath the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to resurrect yourselves, to reclaim a Jewish future and to rebuild the Jewish state.”
“We know Israelis want peace, and we know that Israelis need no lectures on the price of war. The people of Israel know the terrible price all too well....And you, who know the price of war, know best what the blessings of peace can bring – to you, to your children and future generations.”
“The United States of America will never compromise the safety and security of the State of Israel. Any peace agreement must guarantee Israel’s ability to defend itself by itself.”
“I know that peace is possible because history records that Israel has made the very difficult decisions to achieve peace with its neighbors in the past.”
“Israel is like a tree that has grown deep roots in the soil of your forefathers, yet as it grows, it reaches ever closer to the heavens. And today and every day, the Jewish state of Israel, and all the Jewish people, bear witness to God’s faithfulness, as well as your own.”
“It was the faith of the Jewish people that gathered the scattered fragments of a people and made them whole again; that took the language of the Bible and the landscape of the Psalms and made them live again. And it was faith that rebuilt the ruins of Jerusalem and made them strong again.”
“The miracle of Israel is an inspiration to the world. And the United States of America is proud to stand with Israel and her people, as allies and cherished friends.” (Haaretz, June 7, 2023)
- We know Israelis want peace, and we know that Israelis need no lectures on the price of war. The people of Israel know the terrible price all too well. Your prime minister knows that price....And you, who know the price of war, know best what the blessings of peace can bring – to you, to your children and future generations.
- “I have long believed Israel is our most cherished ally. Israel’s enemies are more emboldened than ever before and with the overwhelming bipartisan passage of this legislation, Indiana made clear that we will not do business with those who seek to inflict financial damage on the people of Israel.” (Trade Delegation Meeting, June 2016)
- “I support Israel and like millions of people in Indiana and the overwhelming majority of people in our country, I strongly support the relationship between our country and the state of Israel. Despite the pronouncements from individuals in any particular administration, I truly do believe that in these challenging times for the State of Israel that support among the American people for the State of Israel has never been stronger. When it comes to the United States of America, if the world knows nothing else, let it know this: America stands with the Israel and I believe we always will.” (Voice of Israel radio, December 2014)
- “Though I know of no synagogues in my district, let me say emphatically, like the overwhelming majority of my constituents, my Christian faith compels me to cherish the state of Israel. In the year 2000 when I was first selected to Congress, Israel was already a priority to me. I really looked forward to being in a position where I knew I could help fulfill what I believed was not only right for America but the right thing to do.” (AIPAC, 2009)
- “My support for Israel stems largely from my personal faith,” he told Congressional Quarterly in 2002. “God promises Abraham, ‘those who bless you, I will bless, and those who curse you, I will curse.’”(Slate, July 16, 2016)
- “The United States will continue to work with Israel, and with nations across the world, to confront the leading state sponsor of terror – the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“The Iran nuclear deal is a disaster, and the United States of America will no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement.”
“Today I have a solemn promise to Israel, to all the Middle East and to the world: The United States of America will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.” (Haaretz, June 7, 2023)
- “Iran would do well to look at the calendar and realize there’s a new president in the Oval Office. And Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president.” (ABC News, February 15, 2017)
- “I am opposed to this [nuclear] agreement because it will not make the United States or our most cherished ally, Israel, safer. Instead, it promises Iran a lifting of United States nuclear-related sanctions for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear weapons program that will only halt its ambitions temporarily, rather than permanently dismantle its nuclear desires.” (Indiana Star, September 8, 2015)
“Radical Islamic terrorism knows no borders – targeting America, Israel, nations across the Middle East and the wider world. It respects no creed – stealing the lives of Jews, Christians and especially Muslims. And radical Islamic terrorism understands no reality other than brute force. Together with our allies, we will continue to bring the full force of our might to drive radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth.” (Haaretz, June 7, 2023)
*AICE does not rate or endorse any candidate for political office.
Sources: Biography.com Editors, “Mike Pence Biography,” Biography.com, (July 18, 2016).
“Mike Pence,” Wikipedia.
Craig Fehrman, “Where Is Mike Pence’s Faith?” Slate, July 16, 2016)
“Pence visits vandalized cemetery, condemns threats to JCCs,” JTA, (February 22, 2017).
“U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s Speech at Israel's Knesset” Haaretz, (January 22, 2018).
“Pence’s Holocaust remembrance tweet angers some with ‘Christ imagery,’” JTA, (January 29, 2018).
Vanessa Gera, “Vice President Pence makes first Auschwitz visit, after comparing Iran to Nazis,” Times of Israel, (February 15, 2019).
Jacob Kornbluh, “Pence defends Trump’s ‘both sides’ comments and record on antisemitism,” Forward, (November 14, 2022).
Ron Kampeas, “Mike Pence and the Jews: What to know as he begins a presidential campaign,” JTA, (June 6, 2023).
Ben Samuels, “What Mike Pence Thinks About Israel and American Jews,” Haaretz, (June 7, 2023).
Photo: D. Myles Cullen, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.