In a series of public appearances on June 7, Mike Pence formally jumped into the 2024 presidential race, becoming the first vice president in 83 years to challenge a president under whom he served.
Pence had plenty to say about his former boss, Donald Trump, and even more to say about the current president, Joe Biden. He got a few things wrong regarding both men.
- Pence gave the misleading impression that the Obama administration gave Ukraine no “military resources at all” after Russia’s 2014 invasion. The U.S. provided nonlethal military aid, including training, vehicles and radar equipment.
- He falsely claimed that the Trump administration “continued” a policy of separating families that illegally crossed the border that “began under the Obama administration.” Experts have said that Trump’s new policy was very different from Barack Obama’s.
- Pence claimed a surge in illegal immigration is “all being driven by the cartels and the failed policies of the Biden administration.” But immigration experts say there are more complex push and pull factors that explain the surge.
- The former vice president misleadingly accused the Biden administration of “giving Russia back a Nord Stream 2 deal,” referring to a Russian natural gas pipeline to Germany that remains inoperable and under U.S. sanctions.
- Pence said it took just one day for the FBI to come to his house after being told he had classified material in his home, but it took “80 days” for the Department of Justice to come to Biden’s office after classified documents were found there. But that’s not how things unfolded.
- Pence said “inflation is at a 40-year high” — a statement that was true last summer but no longer. He said “it all started” with a Democratic COVID-19 relief law, but economists point to the pandemic as the main culprit.
Obama’s Ukraine Aid
Pence dismissed nonlethal military aid the U.S. gave Ukraine to fight back against Russia in 2014, claiming that the Obama administration provided no “military resources.”
“Our administration ended what was a ban during the Obama-Biden administration on any military resources at all,” Pence said during the town hall. “We provided javelin missiles — all they were providing was military meals and blankets. We corrected that and Ukraine was better situated to be able to deal with this Russian invasion.”
The Obama administration didn’t provide Ukraine with lethal military weaponry, as Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko had requested. However, as we’ve written before, including this week when Chris Christie made a similar claim, the U.S. did supply other military and security aid that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
In a January 2017 report, the Congressional Research Service said the U.S. had given over $1.3 billion in foreign assistance to Ukraine amid hostilities with Russia in 2014. Over $600 million of that was security aid.
When testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2016, Victoria Nuland, who was the assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, detailed some of the security aid to Ukraine, which she said included military training, communications equipment, vehicles, night-vision goggles and counter-mortar radar to detect incoming artillery fire.
Family Separation Policies
Border security policies that separated parents and children who migrated illegally were not the same under Presidents Obama and Trump, contrary to Pence’s claim on CNN.
“Look, the family separation policy actually began under the Obama administration,” Pence said. “And then we continued it until President Trump rightly reversed course.”
That’s not accurate. As we’ve written, Trump signed an executive order that reversed his own “zero tolerance” border policy — not Obama’s.
Initially, the Trump administration’s 2018 policy, which was implemented to deter illegal immigration along the southern border, required the Department of Homeland Security to refer all adults who illegally entered the U.S. for criminal prosecution. If they were traveling with their children, the minors were separated from their parents, who entered the federal court system and were detained in holding centers for adults only.
Immigration experts told us prior administrations didn’t have the same blanket policy to prosecute parents and split them from their kids.
“[George W.] Bush and Obama did not have policies that resulted in the mass separation of parents and children like we’re seeing under the current administration,” Sarah Pierce, a Migration Policy Institute analyst, told us in June 2018. She said child separations under administrations before Trump’s were done in “really limited circumstances” such as suspicion of trafficking or other fraud.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Theresa Cardinal Brown and Tim O’Shea wrote an explainer that made a similar point about the different policies. The authors also said pre-Trump administrations often used family detention facilities that allowed relatives to stay together until their deportation cases were resolved. Other times, families were released from custody but were tracked with devices while awaiting their court date.
Blaming Biden for Surge in Illegal Immigration
There has been an unmistakable surge in immigrants attempting to cross the border illegally, a trend Pence blamed squarely on the cartels and what he called “the failed policies of the Biden administration.” But immigration experts say there are more complex push and pull factors that explain the surge.
“Five million people coming across our border in the last two years, all being driven by the cartels and the failed policies of the Biden administration,” Pence said during the CNN town hall.
It’s true there have been nearly 5 million apprehensions of people trying to cross the southern border illegally since Biden took office in January, 2021, according to data compiled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But as we have explained before, that number is a bit inflated by repeat offenders.
Many of the apprehensions at the border have been illegal border crossings that resulted in immediate expulsions under Title 42, a public health law the Trump administration began invoking at the southwest border in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of being detained for a longer period of time, being criminally prosecuted or having a formal removal order placed on their record, those subject to Title 42 were simply turned around at the border. As a result, experts at the Migration Policy Institute said, it encouraged people to try crossing again and again, driving up the apprehension numbers. CBP data back that up. The recidivism rate — meaning the share of people caught crossing more than once — was 27% in fiscal year 2021, which began under Trump on Oct. 1, 2020, and ended on Sept. 30, 2021, when Biden was president. By comparison, the rate was just 7% in fiscal year 2019. With the pandemic officially over, the Biden administration lifted Title 42 in early May.
Nonetheless, the number of apprehensions of people trying to enter the U.S. illegally at the southwest border has been historically high during Biden’s presidency. As we noted in our latest installment of “Biden’s Numbers,” apprehensions rose 342% when comparing the 12 months ending in March to Trump’s last year in office.
Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications for the Migration Policy Institute, said at least some of the surge in immigration has been because the Biden administration has been perceived as being more lenient toward migrants at the border than the Trump administration was, which encouraged more people to attempt to come to the U.S.
But to place the blame overwhelmingly on Biden’s policies, as Pence did, ignores some of the push and pull factors that have driven a surge in migration not just to the U.S., but around the whole region.
“A balanced view of the drivers of migration to the U.S.-Mexico border would look at both the pull factors — which include a strong U.S. economy, a labor market that has more than 10 million job openings, legal pathways that are insufficient to address labor and family reunification needs, and changing U.S. policies – as well as the push factors,” Mittelstadt told us via email.
“And there are many push factors, including political and economic instability in countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua; a country on the brink of failure (Haiti); record humanitarian protection needs around the globe; and climate-induced natural disasters and crop failure,” Mittelstadt said. “While much of this has resulted in record levels of migration within Latin America and the Caribbean, some migration has also headed towards the United States. Finally, there is the pandemic, which chilled mobility of all sorts globally in 2020 and into 2021. No region of the world was more affected economically by the pandemic than Latin America and the Caribbean. So some of the movements being seen to the border today are the result of an artificial, temporary chilling of movement, as well as the economic repercussions of the pandemic, with the strong U.S. economic recovery making the income gap with other countries in the region even wider.”
Russia’s Inoperable Natural Gas Pipeline to Germany
Pence misleadingly accused the Biden administration of “giving Russia back a Nord Stream 2 deal,” referring to a natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. The pipeline is completed, but not operational because it needs Germany’s approval — which the country withheld because of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
A quick rundown of the facts: Nord Stream 2 runs parallel to Nord Stream 1, which has been operational since 2011. Both are owned by Gazprom, a state-owned gas company, as explained in a March 2022 report by the Congressional Research Service. The U.S. has been concerned about Europe’s increasing reliance on Russian energy and tried to stop the pipeline “through progressively more stringent sanctions legislation enacted in 2017, 2019, and 2020” that slowed down construction.
After the 2019 sanctions, which targeted companies involved in the construction of the pipeline, work was suspended for about a year, resuming in December 2020, while Trump and Pence were still in office. At the time, the pipeline was reportedly about 90% complete.
After taking office, the Biden administration indicated that its “ability to prevent the pipeline from becoming operational was limited, even with additional sanctions,” CRS said in its report. The Biden administration also “expressed concern that additional U.S. sanctions could have jeopardized U.S.-German and U.S.-European cooperation,” because Germany saw “the pipeline as an important natural gas corridor,” the report said.
In May 2021, Biden waived sanctions against those involved in the Nord Stream 2 project, which was completed in September 2021. Pence is presumably referring to the sanctions being waived, when he said Biden gave “Russia back a Nord Stream 2 deal.” But, as we said, the pipeline is still not operational and final approval is up to Germany.
In response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, Germany on Feb. 22, 2022, suspended the certification process that Russia needs to operate the pipeline, and the U.S. a day later resumed sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG, a subsidiary of Gazprom, and its executives. Since the war started, Nord Stream 2 AG has received two court extensions in an effort to stave off bankruptcy. The latest “stay of bankruptcy” lasts until next month.
During the CNN town hall, Pence said he was “very troubled last summer when, for the first time in history, there was a search warrant executed at the home of a former president of the United States.” Pence argued there are “dozens of ways that could have been handled” differently.
Pence then said justice has been applied unevenly by the FBI in some of its classified documents cases.
“I mean, when I informed the Department of Justice that we had classified materials potentially in our home, they were at my home. The FBI was on my front doorstep the next day,” Pence said. “And what we found out was that, when Joe Biden apparently alerted the Department of Justice, 80 days later, they showed up at his office. That’s not equal treatment under the law.”
That’s not an accurate account of how things unfolded regarding classified documents held by Biden.
But let’s start with Pence’s mishandling of classified documents. After the classified documents investigations emerged for both Biden and Trump, Pence said he “took it upon myself to review our files” at his home in Indiana.
According to NBC News, a team of lawyers for Pence discovered a “small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information” in Pence’s residence on Jan. 16, and they immediately notified the National Archives. The National Archives alerted the Department of Justice, and three days later, on Jan. 19 — with Pence’s blessing — FBI agents came to Pence’s Indiana home and retrieved the documents, NBC reported.
Three weeks later, on Feb. 10, the FBI — with the cooperation of Pence — conducted a five-hour search of Pence’s home and discovered another classified document, NBC News reported.
Last week, Pence was informed that he would not be charged for his mishandling of classified documents, according to a letter obtained by NBC News.
“They concluded that it was an innocent mistake,” Pence said at the CNN town hall.
That’s not dissimilar from the way things were handled in the case involving Biden. The Justice Department quickly retrieved classified documents found by Biden’s attorneys, and later, the FBI conducted its own searches of Biden’s offices and residences.
We laid out the details in our Jan. 19 story, “Timeline of Biden’s Classified Documents.”
Although details were not publicly revealed until early January, attorneys for Biden first discovered what the White House Counsel’s Office called “a small number of documents with classified markings” at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 2. The White House Counsel’s Office notified the National Archives, which took possession of the documents the following morning.
On Nov. 4, the National Archives Office contacted a prosecutor at the Department of Justice and informs him that documents which bear classified markings are now secured in a National Archives facility.
According to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the FBI on Nov. 9 began “an assessment, consistent with standard protocols, to understand whether classified information had been mishandled in violation of federal law.” In “mid-November,” the FBI also searched the Penn Biden Center offices, according to CBS News’ reporting. The FBI did not seek or need a search warrant, because Biden’s representatives cooperated with the search. So in that case, there were two weeks between the discovery of documents and the FBI search of the offices — not 80 days. And, we would note, that was a shorter time than the gap between first-discovery and the FBI search of Pence’s home.
But that was not the end of Biden’s classified documents problems.
On Dec. 20, Biden’s personal counsel informed the DOJ that additional documents from Biden’s time as vice president bearing classification markings were found in the garage of Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware. The FBI took possession of the documents, Garland revealed at a Jan. 12 press conference.
Then, on Jan. 11, Biden’s personal attorneys searched his Delaware homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, and in the Wilmington home, they came across a document with classified markings and immediately contacted the Department of Justice. The next day, DOJ came and took those documents from the home.
On Jan. 20, investigators with the Department of Justice – with the cooperation of the Biden team – conducted a “thorough search” of Biden’s Wilmington home and took “possession of materials it [the department] deemed within the scope of its inquiry, including six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding materials,” according to a statement released by a personal attorney for Biden. On Feb. 1, the FBI searched Biden’s house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. According to an attorney for Biden, “No documents with classified markings were found” in the three-and-a-half-hour search. The Justice Department “took for further review some materials and handwritten notes that appear to relate to his [Biden’s] time as Vice President.”
Contrary to Pence’s statement, there was no 80-day delay between the dates when Biden’s attorneys notified authorities they had discovered classified documents at a location and when the FBI showed up to either pick those documents up, or to conduct an independent search.
As we have written, there are significant differences between Biden’s situation and Trump’s, as we detailed in our story “Classified Documents Found at Former Biden Office, Drawing Comparisons to Trump.” In Trump’s case, the search warrant was issued after months of negotiations and a grand jury subpoena resulted in only a partial return of classified documents.
There is also a matter of scale. According to CBS News’ reporting and what we know from statements by Biden’s lawyers, less than 30 classified documents were found in Biden’s possession at different locations. By contrast, the Department of Justice says that in its search at Mar-a-Lago, officials took possession of 18 government documents marked as top secret, 53 marked as secret and 30 marked as confidential. That’s a total of 101 classified documents.
In the town hall, Pence wrongly said that “inflation is at a 40-year high” and “it all started when President Joe Biden and the Democrats passed a $2 trillion bill in the name of COVID.” Inflation was at a 40-year high, but not now. And the legislation he referenced didn’t start it all — economists point to several reasons for high inflation, beginning with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s no doubt inflation has been high in the last few years. The Consumer Price Index rose 9.1% for the 12 months ending in June 2022, the largest increase since November 1981, 41 years prior, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the figures have dropped since then. Inflation was up 4.9% for the 12 months ending in April. Before Biden took office, inflation last had been that high in September 2008.
Republicans have repeatedly pinned all of the blame for inflation on the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law passed by Democrats in March 2021 that included $1,400 checks to most Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, and money for schools, small businesses and states. As we’ve written before, many economists say the law played a role in boosting inflation, but it was hardly the only factor — with the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic looming large.
The pandemic acutely affected supply, demand and labor, as people spent considerably less for months and then began spending considerably more. Also, gas prices were affected by supply/demand pandemic fallout, followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions many countries, including the U.S., put on Russian oil.
Economists we interviewed last summer told us that while the ARP contributed some to inflation, the country also needed some level of stimulus to help the economy recover from the pandemic.
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