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Pence to Mpls. crowd: Past year has been 'promises made and promises kept'

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Vice President Mike Pence bids his Minnesota supporters goodbye.
Vice President Mike Pence bids his Minnesota supporters goodbye following his remarks on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis on Wednesday March 28, 2018.
Richard Marshall for MPR News

Updated: 2:25 p.m. | Posted: 4 a.m. 

Vice President Mike Pence took the stage at the Minneapolis Convention Center Wednesday morning to promote the federal tax overhaul, praise the American military and whip up support for his boss.

"I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, Donald Trump," Pence told a cheering crowd. "Thanks to all the good people of Minnesota for ... all you've done to stand with our administration." He said the past year has been a year of "promises made and promises kept."

Speaking for about half an hour, he praised Minnesota Republicans who had preceded him on the platform, including U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer, Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis. He thanked Paulsen for helping pass the Trump agenda, "and we couldn't be more grateful." He also lauded Lewis and Emmer, noting that Emmer was helping efforts to "protect and explore" precious metals deposits in Minnesota.

VP Mike Pence, left, greets supporters with Rep. Erik Paulsen.
Pence, left, greets supporters with Rep. Erik Paulsen during a discussion on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Richard Marshall for MPR News

Pence denounced the "job-killing" Paris climate accord and promised that the administration would keep up the fight against opioid addiction and for school safety.

"The forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more," he declared.

Pence drew an ovation when he repeated the administration's promise to build a wall on the southern border.

"We also cut out the cornerstone of Obamacare, the individual mandate. It's gone," Pence exulted.

As a result of the tax cut, "Thousands of Minnesotans have seen bonuses as high as $2,000. That's great news for working families. But not everybody thinks that." He criticized former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as "out of touch with the working people."

Mike Pence shoots a selfie with George Bonfe of Forest Lake.
Vice President Mike Pence shoots a selfie with George Bonfe of Forest Lake.
Richard Marshall for MPR News

"We need your continued support to move the president's agenda forward," Pence told the crowd. "If you're inclined from time to time to bow the head and bend the knee and pray for America, I urge you to do it. ... Pray for America, because America matters, far beyond our shores."

Pence, was joined by Minnesota GOP congressional members, is in town promoting the tax cut law President Trump signed last year.

The speech in Minneapolis is the 10th such event Pence has attended in the past several weeks across the country. The event is hosted by America First Policies, a conservative group that favors repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act among other issues. 

'America First Policies' has been organizing and paying for each event on Pence's tax tour. The group is organized as a non-profit with a focus on  promoting social welfare. Unlike political action committees and campaigns, it is not required to report who gives it money and how much they give. It is prohibited from  coordinating with politicians or political parties, but campaign finance watchdogs says it's unquestionably a political arm of the Trump White House.

"America First Policies is a group that is very closely tied to the White House, stacked with former campaign or White House officials," said Brendan Fischer, who follows America First Policies at the non-profit, non-partisan Campaign Legal Center in Washington.

The biggest problem he has with the group is that no one will ever know who's bankrolling it, raising questions about who may be buying influence with the White House.

"We don't know where any of this money is coming from. We don't even know if America First Policies is funded by foreign interests — all of their donors are kept secret and, given the close relationship between the White House and this group, that presents very concerning problems for democracy and transparency."

Fischer acknowledged the irony that the people funding the effort to promote the new tax law are likely among those who benefit the most from it.

Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin called the GOP's tax bill "Robin Hood in reverse."

"It takes from hardworking Minnesotans to give massive tax breaks to the wealthy," he said in a statement. "Minnesotans know a scam when they see one, and the Republican tax bill is a bad deal for our state. Mike Pence should return to Washington and join Democrats in fighting for a tax plan that puts everyday families first."

Protesters in front of the Minneapolis Convention Center.
About a dozen constituents of U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen protesting the tax bill across from the Minneapolis Convention Center, where Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking, Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
Jon Collins | MPR News

About a dozen protesters stood in front of the main entrance of the convention center with placards that spelled out, "We get crumbs," a reference to the tax bill passed by Congress in December.

"It seems like it lets a billionaire who was born rich like Donald Trump, who plays commercial real estate, make out like a bandit," said group member Karl Bunday. "It hasn't improved my tax situation in any way I can discern."

It was the second time in as many days that Pence was in the region. 

On Tuesday, Pence attended a Fargo fundraiser for Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. He also gave a speech at an event there on tax reform.

It's the second trip to North Dakota in recent months for Pence. He visited Minot Air Force Base last October.

The Associated Press and MPR News Reporter Jon Collins contributed to this report.