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Former Vice President Mike Pence on his new book, 'So Help Me God'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former Vice President Mike Pence is considering a presidential run. He would seek the Republican nomination against Donald Trump, the president he once served. In a memoir, he's telling his story of January 6, 2021, when he ignored demands to overturn Trump's election defeat. He discussed his role in that election on today's Morning Edition. Pence also talked about his life with our own Steve Inskeep.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: We met at the Indiana State Capitol, where Pence once served as governor. He grew up in the small city of Columbus, Ind. And his book, "So Help Me God," describes his youth. He was overweight and unhappy about it, he writes, a kid out of place but also eager to rise.

MIKE PENCE: That kid will always be in me. And he's one of the reasons I have a fundamental distrust of my own ambition.

INSKEEP: He lost the weight and won speech competitions sponsored by the Optimist Club. He also says he grew full of himself and struggled to reconcile his ambition with his evangelical faith. He ran for Congress, lost and later publicly recanted negative campaigns. In 2016, he agreed to serve as Donald Trump's running mate and vouched for him to other evangelicals.

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PENCE: Donald Trump is a good man, and he will...

INSKEEP: In our talk this week, he no longer called Trump a good man but says he is still praying for him. Much of Pence's memoir dwells in the way that his faith shaped his conservative politics and view of the world.

One of the most interesting chapters in this book is called "Blessed."

PENCE: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: You laugh, but it's an interesting chapter.

PENCE: Do you like the title?

INSKEEP: It's a fascinating title. And it begins with a quote, a biblical quote, about persecution. And in the course of the chapter, which is about your faith and people's responses to your faith, you say you have been mocked, that you were the focus of a mania about your faith, that you faced hostility and intolerance and that Christians generally were insulted and demeaned and also that your faith had been misunderstood. What is it that people misunderstood?

PENCE: Well, let me say, Steve, I've never heard any of that from you. But when my wife was attacked for teaching at a Christian school, when one media outlet after another ridiculed our Christian faith from time to time, I was always struck by that because, you know, as I traveled around America, the words I most often heard were - people would reach out across a rope line or stop me on a street corner and say, I'm praying for you. I mean, this is a nation of faith, of different faiths. But the American people cherish faith in the overwhelming majority. And yet it seemed to be a subject of fascination by some in the liberal media. But it was always a blessing to me because the net effect of it was, as I would learn traveling around the country, I was always reminded that some of the criticism from those on the left about my deeply held religious beliefs would invariably remind people that I - who shared those values and those beliefs that we shared something in common.

INSKEEP: When you said you were misunderstood in the chapter, I believe you were talking about people in the LGBTQ community. Is there something on issues having to do with sexual orientation and gender that people misunderstand about you?

PENCE: Well, I write an entire chapter in the book about our experience here in Indiana with the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. You know, I believe President John F. Kennedy said to lead is to be misunderstood.

INSKEEP: In 2015, the Supreme Court affirmed a right to same-sex marriage. Pence was then governor of Indiana and signed what was seen as a response. The state religious freedom law said no person or church or company should have to bear a, quote, "substantial burden on their religious beliefs." Critics asserted that that allowed discrimination for religious reasons, though Pence tried to defend the law on ABC.

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GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes or no. Should it be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians?

PENCE: George, you're following the mantra of the last week online, and you're trying to make this issue about something else. What I am for is protecting, with the highest standards in our courts, the religious liberty of Hoosiers.

INSKEEP: Facing overwhelming public pressure, the governor signed follow-up bills that assured protection.

PENCE: I don't support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else.

INSKEEP: Pence still insists the original law did not discriminate. He adds that, in recent years, the Supreme Court has supported religious concerns like the ones he raised. A Colorado baker, for example, who famously declined to make a cake for a gay wedding won his case. And that was even before the Trump administration added three justices to the court.

PENCE: I will tell you I have been encouraged that the Supreme Court has been striking a balance on the issues of religious liberty and individual rights. But if there's anything people don't understand well about the Pences is to know Karen and Mike Pence - to know our family. We love everybody. My faith tells me to love your neighbor as yourself. And that's something we aspire to do every day, whether we agree with every view or every value of the people that we meet.

INSKEEP: One thing that occurred to me as I read that chapter is that some of the words you use to describe the way you've been treated, I feel that I've heard from people who identify as lesbian or gay or trans, that they faced hostility or a mania, that they'd been mocked, that they faced intolerance, that they were insulted, they were demeaned. You probably followed the news of the nightclub shooting in Colorado just in the last few days.

PENCE: Heartbreaking.

INSKEEP: What would you say to reassure your fellow citizens who feel that way?

PENCE: Well, I do believe that it adheres to the American character to show tolerance - it's just who we are. For many Bible-believing Christians, we perceive what I call the intolerance of tolerance - that in the name of tolerance, people are intolerant of...

INSKEEP: Toward people like you. You feel...

PENCE: ...Traditional views. And I don't argue for a moment that people on the other end of that debate have felt the same way. It's why one of the reasons is that I think we need to get to a place where we recognize, again, what really the First Amendment is all about. And that is it's the right to live, to work, to worship according to the dictates of your conscience and to respect one another.

INSKEEP: How do you grade your party, particularly this year, on that issue of tolerance? I'm thinking of the governor of Utah, a Republican who vetoed a bill having to do with trans sports and was overridden and, as part of that, issued a message in which he said, I want to show compassion for people even if I don't agree with them. And also, it seemed to me, he was saying, I don't understand why this is even important. Why are we legislating on something that involves so few people, the suggestion being that a small number of people were being demonized. How would you grade your party on that?

PENCE: I think our party has made it clear that the doors of the Republican Party are wide open. I mean, I remember being at the Republican National Convention when the president acknowledged the support of the LGBT community. And there was rousing applause at that Cleveland convention, Steve. You remember. You were there. You know?

INSKEEP: The administration reversed trans issues in the military, for example, programs that were attempting to encourage tolerance there.

PENCE: Well, and I respect and support that decision. I just think we always need to put military readiness and the mission of our military first.

INSKEEP: The Trump administration prevented trans people from openly serving, arguing their presence would interfere with military readiness, though the Pentagon found their service consistent with that. The Biden administration now allows them to serve. Former Vice President Mike Pence is considering his future. His memoir, "So Help Me God," is seen as a possible preliminary to a presidential run.

KELLY: That's NPR's Steve Inskeep in conversation with former Vice President Mike Pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "GUNSHOWERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.