(WASHINGTON) — Former vice president and 2024 presidential hopeful Mike Pence on Sunday celebrated the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that effectively ends affirmative action at U.S. colleges, telling ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl that while he thought there was once “a time” for the practice, “those days are over.”
“I think there was a time for affirmative action … to open the doors of our colleges and universities to minority students and particularly African Americans who may have been denied access. But I think those days are over,” he said.
“I have every confidence that African Americans and other minority Americans are going to continue to compete and succeed in universities around the country, but we’re going to do it with a colorblind society that I think is the aspiration of every American,” Pence told Karl.
The Thursday decision from the nation’s highest court set new limits sharply restricting how race can be considered in college admissions, with the conservative majority ruling that programs at two top universities violated equal protection under the Constitution.
The opinion drew a range of differing opinions from politicians and advocates. An ABC News/Ipsos poll out Sunday found that 52% of Americans approved of the decision while 32% disapproved, though opinions split along ideological and racial lines.
Karl asked Pence on “This Week” if it would be “a problem for America” if as a result of this ruling less Black and Hispanic students were admitted to the nation’s top universities.
Pence did not directly answer and instead hailed the victory as “a tribute to our minority students.”
“I really believe that the decision by the Supreme Court today was an acknowledgement of the incredible progress that minority Americans have made, their extraordinary educational achievements,” he added, noting that the use of race in college admissions “went away a little sooner” than former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor notably predicted in a 2003 opinion.
Karl followed up and repeated his question, pointing to data from the nine states that have already banned affirmative action. At some elite colleges there, enrollment of minority students, particularly of those who are Black and Hispanic, dropped.
“Look, I haven’t seen your studies. I don’t know the numbers. … I’m just very confident that African Americans, Hispanic Americans and other minorities are going to be able to compete and succeed,” Pence said.
Karl pressed Pence on a wrinkle in Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion: that military academies can still factor in race of applicants in making their decisions, because of “potentially distinct” and “compelling” interests for the government and national security.
Karl paraphrased a sharply worded dissent from Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson: “One standard for the boardroom, another standard for the bunker — doesn’t she have a case? A point there?”
“This probably won’t be the first time that I disagree with our newest justice,” Pence said.
“But Jon, come on. The American has been an instrument of advancing equality since virtually the founding of this country,” he said.
Karl followed up. “If you agree that this is the way it should be for universities across the country, should it also apply to the military academies? Why the carve out?”
“I’d refer your viewers to the decision itself,” Pence said, before turning to boast about the Trump administration’s role in selecting Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, all of whom were in the majority ending affirmative action.
Another “real victory” Pence celebrated was a Supreme Court ruling on Friday in favor of a website designer who said her Christian beliefs compelled her not to make sites for same-sex couples.
“You said … there is no place for discrimination based on race in the United States. I think everybody would absolutely agree with that. Do you also believe there is no place for discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity?” Karl asked Pence.
Pence again did not directly answer, telling Karl, “I’m a Bible-believing Christian. I’ve always believed that marriage is between one man and one woman. But the Supreme Court, now [for] the better part of 10 years ago, recognized same-sex marriage. But now, in what is the second important case in this area, this week, that strong conservative majority also affirmed the right of every American to live, to work, to worship, according to the dictates of their conscience.”
Pence talks surprise Ukraine trip
Pence’s interview on “This Week” concluded with him addressing his surprise trip last week to war-torn Ukraine — which sets him apart from other Republican presidential candidates, some of whom have sounded more skeptical about America’s ongoing commitment in the conflict.
Karl asked if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy seemed open to considering territorial concessions to Russia in order to end the invasion. In a recent interview, former President Donald Trump said that would be “subject to negotiation” if he is back in the White House, along with all other aspects of the fighting.
Pence avoided weighing in, instead touting the “courage and resolve” of the Ukrainians and saying he believes President Joe Biden has “failed miserably” in explaining to Americans the importance of supporting Ukraine.
“He’s given these gauzy speeches about democracy. … Look, we’re there because it’s in our national interest to give the Ukrainian military the ability to rebut and defeat Russian aggression,” Pence said. “Because if Russia overran Ukraine, I have no doubt, Jon, that it wouldn’t be too long before they crossed the border, where American servicemen and women would be required to go and fight.”
Biden has also said backing Ukraine is about preserving freedom in Europe and curbing the ambition of “autocrats” like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While in Ukraine, Pence tweeted, “I know the difference between a genius and a war criminal, and I know who needs to win this war in Ukraine … There is no room in our party for apologists for Putin.”
Karl asked Pence if that was a reference to Trump.
“Obviously, it’s President Trump who said that the invasion of Ukraine was genius. So are you saying, essentially, that Donald Trump is an apologist to Putin?” Karl pressed.
Pence declined to directly respond, though he again stressed his unabashed support of Ukraine.
“Look, others in this Republican primary have said that it was a territorial dispute,” he said, referencing a phrase Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had used (and subsequently said was misunderstood).
“I do know the difference between a genius and a war criminal,” Pence added, “and Vladimir Putin’s unconscionable and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine was an act of naked aggression.”
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