U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is embarking on a 10-day, four-nation tour of the Asia-Pacific this weekend, arriving in South Korea after a failed missile launch by the North. His visit comes amid tensions over North Korea’s aggressive flaunting of its nuclear and missile program.
Pence will visit South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia during his trip, meeting with leaders in the region, military troops and business groups. It will be Pence’s second foreign trip as vice president — he traveled to Germany and Belgium in February to meet with NATO and European Union officials.
Five things to know about President Donald Trump’s No. 2 at the start of his visit:
If Trump is known for his unpredictability and blunt talk, Pence projects a polite Midwestern humility and is more measured in his speeches, rarely going off-script. Pence’s first foreign trip to Europe included steady assurances that the U.S. would honor its commitment to NATO even after Trump said the military alliance was “obsolete.” The Republican has doggedly pursued an agreement in Congress to repeal and replace the so-called “Obamacare” health care law, but lawmakers have failed to cut a deal. The vice president was initially out of the loop when former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia emerged at the start of the administration, even though Flynn had denied those conversations to Pence and others. Pence said he was “disappointed” in Flynn and supported Trump’s decision to fire him.
Pence is a former Indiana governor and congressman. He was a prominent conservative member of Congress during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, frequently championing anti-abortion causes and reducing federal spending. He opposed Bush’s White House on education and prescription drug plans, arguing that the administration had veered from its conservative principles. He unsuccessfully challenged future House Speaker John Boehner in a leadership election but joined the House Republicans’ leadership team two years later. Elected Indiana’s governor in 2012, Pence signed a controversial “religious freedom” bill in 2015 that critics said allowed businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians by allowing them to cite religious beliefs as a reason for denying services. After a backlash from corporations, Pence softened the law following criticism that it was discriminatory.
FAITH AND FAMILY
Pence often describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” Pence and his wife, Karen, a former elementary school teacher, have been married since 1985 and have three adult children. The couple’s son, Michael, is serving as an officer in the U.S. Marines, and their two daughters, Charlotte, a recent college graduate and filmmaker, and Audrey, a college senior, are traveling to Asia with their parents. Pence often speaks of his Christian faith and participated in Bible study groups in Congress. One of the first stops on his itinerary in South Korea will be attending Easter services with U.S. and South Korean troops and their families.
Pence’s late father, Edward, served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star on April 15, 1953 — 64 years to the day of Pence’s departure for Asia. The vice president displays in his office his father’s Bronze Star, commendation letter and a photograph of his father receiving his pin. Indiana has a significant Japanese manufacturing hub and Pence conducted two trade missions to Japan while serving as governor. Toyota, Subaru and Honda all have manufacturing plants in Indiana and Japanese companies employ tens of thousands of workers in the state. Honda’s plant in Greensburg, Indiana, is near Pence’s hometown of Columbus, Indiana, near Indianapolis. Pence will be making his first visits to South Korea, Indonesia and Australia.
TALK RADIO, ART THERAPY
Before serving in Congress, Pence was a conservative radio and television talk show host in Indiana during the 1990s. His shows were not known for a combative style that marked conservative talk radio during the era — Pence liked to call himself “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” Karen Pence is a longtime advocate of art therapy, the use of art in mental health treatment and forms of rehabilitation, and will be attending art therapy events throughout the trip.