Pence pitches federalism restoration at NCSL summit

He told a crowd of cheering GOP state lawmakers that it is ‘about freeing the states to lead.’
Republican presidential candidate former Vice President Mike Pence waves as he tours the grounds at the Iowa State Fair, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday unveiled a plan to “restore and revive federalism in America” before a cheering crowd of Republican state lawmakers, as he seeks the GOP presidential nomination in a deep field of contenders.

“The plan is really just about freeing the states to lead,” Pence said at a breakfast event at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit. It is being held in the state he led as governor for one term before Donald Trump selected him as his running mate in 2016.

Pence pledged to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education; convert federal housing, highway and welfare funding into block grants; give states more flexibility to spend federal health care dollars; grant some federally owned land to states; and ban the federal government from imposing unfunded mandates on states.

“Should I have the opportunity to be your president, you will have a champion of the states in the Oval office,” Pence said. He also promised lawmakers that he would defend states’ right to conduct elections.

Pence’s pitch to state GOP leaders comes as his campaign has struggled to gain traction. He is currently trailing in the polls behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Pence studiously avoided mentioning Trump by name in his NCSL speech, even when touting the Trump administration’s record. He did say, in response to a lawmaker question, that he hopes the former president will attend the Republican presidential debate next week in Milwaukee.

“I’ve debated Donald Trump 1,000 times, just not with the cameras on,” Pence joked.

Pence also addressed Trump’s latest indictment and defended his own decision to certify the U.S. election on Jan. 6, 2021, as the Constitution required. An Atlanta grand jury indicted Trump and 18 others this week for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

“No one is above the law, and the president and all those implicated are entitled to the presumption of innocence that everyone enjoys,” Pence said. “The Georgia election was not stolen, and I had no right to overturn the election on January 6th.”

Pence glad-handed with Indiana’s NCSL delegation ahead of his speech and was warmly introduced by Indiana Speaker Todd Huston (R) as “a great conservative leader.”

More than 5,000 state lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists, international visitors and other attendees were expected to gather at this year’s NCSL summit, according to the organization.