NEW YORK – Former Vice President Mike Pence is offering a “Freedom Agenda” platform for Republicans ahead of this year's midterm elections, presenting a framework for GOP candidates — and possibly himself for a 2024 presidential run.
Pence’s platform, released Thursday, combines traditional Republican goals such as increasing American energy production, cutting taxes and rolling back regulations, with priorities pursued by former President Donald Trump on issues like trade and immigration.
Pence also offers plenty of culture war red meat for the GOP base, pledging, for instance, to save women's sports by “ensuring that sports competitions are between those who share their God-given gender" and calling for all high school students to pass a civics test.
“Elections are about the future, and I think it’s absolutely essential that, while we do our part to take the fight to the failed policies of the Biden administration and the radical left, at the same time, we want to offer a compelling vision built on our highest American ideals," Pence told reporters ahead of the plan’s release. “It really is an effort to put in one place the agenda that I think carried us to the White House in 2016, carried two Bush presidencies to the White House and carried Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980."
Much of the 28-page plan reads like the platform of a presidential campaign, underscoring Pence's ambitions and providing a clear road map of the themes and policies he is likely to pursue if he moves forward with a 2024 run. While Pence in recent weeks has worked to distance himself from his former boss as he begins to reintroduce himself to voters and develop a political identity of his own, he has also been careful to tie himself to the policies of the Trump-Pence administration, which remain extremely popular among Republican voters.
It's part of what aides see as Pence's unique opportunity, as a former talk radio host, congressman and Indiana governor, to merge the traditional conservative movement with Trump's “Make America Great Again” agenda.
“There is a winning coalition for America that believes in the traditionally conservative values that the vice president has championed through his career," said Marc Short, co-chair of Advancing American Freedom, the advocacy group Pence launched last year.
Still, Pence argues that “elections are about the future," in contrast to Trump's continued focus on his own false 2020 election claims.
Pence's plan comes as the GOP has been at odds over the wisdom of offering voters a concrete policy agenda ahead of the midterm elections this year. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has been pointedly opposed to such efforts, arguing that Republicans should keep the focus on President Joe Biden, whose popularity has slumped amid the highest inflation in 40 years and the Russian war in Ukraine, and make the election a referendum on him.
The risks of a specific plan came into stark relief last month when Florida Sen. Rick Scott, another potential 2024 contender and the chair of the Senate Republicans' campaign arm, unveiled his 11-point plan to “rescue America.” The effort drew immediate criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans, particularly its call for all Americans to "pay some income tax to have skin in the game" — which would amount to a tax hike for millions of people who pay no income tax because they earn so little.
On Thursday, Scott defended his plan during a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“Bring it on,” the Florida senator said to his critics. “If the Republicans return to Washington’s business as usual, if we have no bigger plan than to be a speed bump on the road to America’s socialism and collapse, we don’t deserve to govern.”
House Republicans, meanwhile, have been working on their own “Commitment to America” plan with echoes of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's “Contract with America,” which Republicans unveiled in 1994 before sweeping the midterms that year.
“For the American public to join with you and support you, first they want to know what will you do,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said at the party's annual retreat in Jacksonville, Florida, last week.
Candidates on the campaign trail have expressed similar sentiments.
At a Republican Senate primary debate in Ohio on Monday, several of the candidates applauded Scott for his effort, even as they said they disagreed with parts of his plan.
“I’m so sick of Republicans who say, ‘Well, we’re just going to push back against the Biden agenda.’ Well, of course we’re going to do that. But what are we gonna actually do for our voters?" candidate J.D. Vance asked. "There are a lot of problems out there. A lot of very serious problems. And we can’t just sort of stick our flag in the mud and say, ‘We’re against, we’re against, we’re against.’ We gotta be for stuff.”
Pence said that was part of his intention.
“As important as it is for us to criticize and to confront and to be the loyal opposition,” he said, it is “absolutely of equal importance that we offer a positive, compelling vision built on our highest ideals and frankly the successes that we were able to demonstrate during our administration.”
The economic plan unveiled Thursday calls for fast-tracking permits for oil and gas production, expanding drilling on federal lands and offshore and pursuing trade agreements that better protect American workers. On foreign policy, Pence calls on China to “establish a victims compensation and economic recovery fund” for “negligently unleashing and hiding the origins of COVID-19.”
On immigration, Pence's agenda sounds much like a Trump press release. It calls on leaders to “oppose all forms of amnesty," typically defined as a path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally, and seeks an end to what he calls “chain migration” by limiting family reunification to an immigrant's close family. It also calls for promoting “the patriotic assimilation of immigrants” and finishing Trump’s border wall.
Under a section dedicated to "protecting American culture," Pence calls for the promotion of “patriotic education" by ending “radical political indoctrination — including the teaching of anti-American racist ideologies like Critical Race Theory," which views racism as systemic in the nation’s institutions.
Pence also calls on states and local jurisdictions to require that all high school students pass a test on the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers to graduate. And he seeks limits on mail-in voting and early in-person voting, among other election measures.
Pence has been raising his public profile, making frequent media appearances, headlining political events and delivering policy speeches. He has traveled in recent weeks to South Korea, Israel and the Ukrainian border with Poland, where he greeted fleeing refugees. And he has paid numerous visits to early voting states, including New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, which he'll return to next month.
Meanwhile, his advocacy group is spending millions of dollars on ads and filing friend-of-court briefs opposing vaccine mandates and abortion rights, and he's working on a pair of books in addition to projects with the Heritage Foundation and Young America’s Foundation.
___ Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.