“So are you for the 35 percent tariff?” MSNBC's Willie Geist asked Pence during a “Morning Joe” interview.
“Well, let me go back to the intervening part,” Pence said, dodging the question.
“Are you for the tariff, though?” Geist asked a second time.
“Well, I'm for us putting everything on the table in negotiations, in renegotiating NAFTA and in negotiations with other countries,” Pence said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Including the tariff, 35 percent?” Geist asked a third time.
“Well, what we don't want to do is for companies to say: It costs this much to manufacture overseas and sell it in the United States, and it costs this much in taxes and regulations and other burdens to manufacture here in the United States,” Pence said. “We've got to put the American worker and American jobs first. But that's a belief in the free market.”
Pence said he read an article in the New York Times that said the Trump team is “channeling Bernie Sanders” on such issues, as the Democratic presidential candidate was highly critical of international trade deals. Pence said the comparison prompted him to “laugh out loud.”
“Donald Trump and I believe in the free market,” Pence continued. “We simply believe that high taxes, regulations have been driving jobs out of this country.”
Pence has faced criticism from fellow Republicans for the Carrier deal in Indiana, where he is the governor. Earlier this year, the manufacturer of heating and cooling systems announced that it would move 2,100 jobs to Mexico over several years. Pence and Trump intervened, with Indiana giving Carrier $7 million in incentives to keep 800 jobs in the state, although it is still shifting most jobs to Mexico. The company will also invest $16 million in the factory over the next two years.
Although news of Americans keeping their jobs just before the holidays was widely viewed as a short-term win for the president-elect, his comments worried some conservatives who don't think the government should directly intervene in business.
When pressed on where he stands, Pence responded: “I believe very much that the American people voted on Nov. 8 for change and change in our domestic policy and, in many ways, change in our economic relationships around the world.”
The president-elect has promised to renegotiate NAFTA and pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries that Pence originally supported. Trump has said the United States should broker trade deals with individual countries instead of continuing these blanket agreements.
“When the United States enters into these agreements with multiple countries, accountability is very difficult and getting out of them is very difficult,” Pence said.
Pence said that he and Trump “both believe in free trade” but that the United States needs to change these “really bad trade deals.”