WASHINGTON — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, selected as running mate and vice presidential pick by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday, had a pro-trade voting record while serving in Congress, giving some in the industry hope that he can help soften Trump’s antitrade tone.
Pence, who is a strong social conservative and respected by some Congressional Republicans, was supportive of several free-trade deals while in the House from 2001 to 2013.
He voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, as well as free trade deals with South Korea, Panama, Peru and Colombia, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association.
“He supported China’s entry into the WTO and has spoken forcefully about how trade creates jobs,” said Rick Helfenbein, president and chief executive officer of AAFA. “His recognition of the important role that trade plays for the economy puts him squarely into mainstream thinking of the Republican party.”
Pence’s solid pro-trade voting record contrasts sharply with the antitrade stance of Trump, who has railed against trade agreements and U.S. trading partners on the campaign trail. Trump has said that if elected, he would withdraw the U.S. from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico and label China a currency manipulator, which can lead to sanctions.
“What we may be witnessing in real-time is a merging of opinions, which could be helpful to the Republican campaign as it relates to international trade,” Helfenbein said. “Trump is a hard ‘No’ on TPP and Pence is a hard ‘Yes,’ so the combination perhaps alludes to a better political trade environment, possibly showing signs that the ‘Art of the Deal’ is an emerging topic for the campaign.”
Jay Timmons, president and ceo at the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a blog post that Pence has “proven executive experience as well as a keen understanding of the legislative process.”
“While in Congress, he was a champion for manufacturing, accruing a 90 percent lifetime voting record with the NAM,” Timmons said.
He said NAM is “encouraged” by Pence’s support of pro-growth tax reform, regulatory reform, energy and health care policies, and added the trade group is hopeful that Pence, who has voiced support for TPP, will “persuade his running mate that expanded trade will make America even greater.”
“Ultimately, we hope both Trump and Pence will use their campaign to advance an agenda that truly supports manufacturing and the more than 12 million men and women who make things in America,” he added.
While some industry officials were hopeful that Pence could help counter Trump’s stance on trade, others were less certain.
Julia Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said Pence has made positive statements about TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade negotiations between the U.S. and European Union and Trade Promotion Authority. But even with Pence’s strong free trade credentials, Hughes is skeptical it will sway Trump’s strong antitrade stance.
“I don’t think picking Pence means Donald Trump will change any of his views on trade, which continues to be antifree-trade agreements, antiTPP and in general antitrade,” Hughes said. “They are all pretty central issues to the Trump message to voters that he is opposed to trade. I don’t think suddenly he will [change] his views and say ‘I will support TPP if we can change the biologics provision.”
She said Pence was chosen for other reasons, not his views on trade.
“He was selected because of his role as a social conservative and the ability to appeal to that wing of the Republican party,” she said.