Vice President Mike Pence spent the first of his two days in Indiana this week urging Congress to pass a new trade pact with Canada and Mexico. On Friday, he hoped to surprise third-graders in his hometown of Columbus, addressed hundreds of National Guard members and discussed health care in Indiana.
The themes of the former Indiana governor’s trip stood in contrast to the big news in Washington, where an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump began earlier this week following accusations from a whistleblower that Trump tried to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden.
Pence on Friday visited Southside Elementary School, where he signed a guitar previously signed by other famous Hoosiers, including Vice President Dan Quayle, NASCAR driver and fellow Columbus native Tony Stewart, golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, “Garfield” cartoonist Jim Davis, actress Florence Henderson and Winter Olympic medalist Nick Goepper.
Pence told the group of effusive elementary students in a central atrium that “anyone can be anything,” and thanked them for sending him birthday and Christmas cards, as well as other invitations and letters.
“I flew in from our nation’s capitol on Air Force 2 and I had to come to Southside Elementary,” he said, before adding: “I’m the vice president of the United States, but I’m just a guy from Columbus, Indiana.”
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Pence later gave remarks before 500 people, including more than 300 Indiana National Guard members preparing to deploy to Kuwait, at Camp Atterbury.
With an American flag behind him, Pence told the units that he had to visit to thank the soldiers and pass along Trump’s appreciation.
“My commitment to each one of you as your vice president, and on behalf of our president,” Pence said, “is we’re going to continue to make sure that you have the resources, the support, the equipment and the training to accomplish your mission and defend this nation.”
Among those preparing to deploy was a father-son duo. They raised their hands, separated by just a few others, when Pence asked the soldiers to congratulate them.
“(The duo) underscores the commitment of families in this state to national defense,” Pence said.
Pence left the soldiers with this: “Know that the American people are counting on you – because we know we can.”
Friday afternoon, Pence returned to Indianapolis, where he and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams toured the NeuroDiagnostic Institute and Advanced Treatment Center at Community Hospital East. The facility is billed as a hospital for patients with the most challenging neuropsychiatric illnesses. After initial statements at a roundtable meeting after the tour, media were ushered out of the room and no questions were taken.
In his statement, Pence said the treatment center, which is the first psychiatric hospital built in Indiana in half a century, is an example of the state’s commitment to addressing mental health care.
In light of recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Pence said he and the president believe mental health is “part of the answer,” alongside prevention and strong law enforcement. He also cited the institute as a step forward in fighting substance abuse.
Pence didn’t respond to questions Friday about the whistleblower complaint. During a visit Thursday to MacAllister Machinery in Indianapolis, where he was promoting the administration’s proposal to replace NAFTA, he did say that Congress’ efforts to thwart his and Trump’s policy pursuits wouldn’t work.
“Whatever they want to do in Congress to obstruct our agenda or roll out their latest accusation against the president to divide this country, President Donald Trump and I are never going to stop fighting for the policies and ideas that have made this country great again,” Pence said Thursday.
Pence has defended his and the president’s conversations with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity this past Monday that there was no quid pro quo when Trump brought up Biden during Trump’s congratulatory call to Ukraine’s newly elected president in July.
Trump drew attention to Pence’s conversations with Zelensky during a news conference at the United Nations, saying reporters should review not only his call with Zelensky but also Pence’s.
“I think you should do that,” he said. “And I think you should ask for VP Pence’s conversation because he had a couple conversations also.”
IndyStar reporter Alexandria Burris and USA Today contributed to this story.