DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday reassured Iowa conservatives, some of them cool to Donald Trump, that the president will deliver on his campaign promises to boost the economy.
Speaking at the annual fundraiser of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, Pence told more than 1,400 Iowa Republicans that, thanks to Trump, “American businesses are growing again, they are investing in America again.”
Pence promoted low unemployment and the economy’s overall health, which he attributed to Trump’s cancellation of regulations enacted under President Barack Obama. And, in particular, he described pulling out of the international climate agreement reached in Paris as a show of support for U.S. workers.
“President Donald Trump chose to put the forgotten men and women of America first,” Pence said at the sun-drenched Central Iowa Expo in rural Boone, Iowa.
But Pence also pressured Iowa’s Senate delegation not to relent on Trump’s centerpiece campaign promise to replace the 2010 federal health care law, despite caution from Ernst and senior Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley that uprooting Obama’s overhaul was unlikely in the Senate.
“We’ve got more work to do,” Pence said. “First and foremost, this summer, this Congress must come together and heed the president’s leadership and we must repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Pence’s work to solidify Republican support in Iowa, which Trump won in November by 9 percentage points, came amid caution from the state’s influential Christian conservatives who have said Trump had more to prove to them.
“I’m still waiting to see a conservative agenda put forward,” Iowa Republican Kay Quirk, a retired nurse from the socially conservative northwest region of the state, said before Pence spoke. “I haven’t given up hope by any means. But I’m still waiting.”
Pence suggested Trump had made a good start and noted the confirmation of his nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, a favorite of conservatives.
Trump also “has stood for the sanctity of human life,” Pence said. Trump’s latest budget proposal would prohibit any funding for certain entities that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood. Federal law already prohibits money for abortion.
Pence did not mention Trump’s difficulties, including investigations over whether people associated with Trump’s campaign or administration colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 elections and over the president’s firing of the man investigating the matter, former FBI Director James Comey.
Mike Demastus, a pastor from Des Moines, pointed to Trump’s announcement Thursday that he would keep, at least for now, the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv. Trump promised during the campaign last year to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the place most closely associated with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
“When it comes to moral issues, he hasn’t moved the needle one notch,” Demastus said.
It’s not as if there is a revolt brewing within the Iowa GOP.
Republicans control both houses of the Iowa Legislature, the governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats and three of four House seats.
And the vast majority of Iowa Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing. Surveys this year have shown Trump’s job approval among Republicans around 85 percent, about the same as it is nationally.
But there’s more potential meaning to that slice of Republicans who don’t give Trump the nod in Iowa than in other states.
Trump finished second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa’s leadoff presidential caucuses last year, and many of Cruz’s supporters say they would back him again if he runs. A number of them, including Quirk, have scheduled a Cruz campaign reunion for this summer, and are planning to travel to Texas to volunteer for his 2018 Senate campaign.
Emerging national Republican figures also have been accepting invitations to meet Iowa party activists.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton headlined a county GOP dinner in conservative western Iowa last month, though he firmly dismissed the idea that he was making plans to run in 2020.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a frequent and vocal critic of Trump, plans to headline a central Iowa county Republican dinner in July.
Pence would seem to be the right validator for Trump in Iowa. Ninety percent of Iowa Republicans approved of the job Pence was doing in a February Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, 6 percentage points ahead of Trump.
In November, Trump’s campaign dispatched Pence to the state less than a week before the election. Then Indiana’s governor and popular among social conservatives, he told Iowa Republicans during that eleventh-hour visit, “It’s time to come home.”