Remarks by the Vice President at the 12th Annual National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Buenos días.
AUDIENCE: Buenos días.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Reverend Cortes. Thank you for that kind introduction. I'll always remember the conversations that we had, when I was a member of Congress, on the promise of America. And I'm grateful -- I'm grateful that you had the vision to establish this remarkable organization. Would you all just show our appreciation for the Founder, and the President, and the CEO of Esperanza, Reverend Luis Cortes. (Applause.)
It's an honor to be here today -- honor to be here today with so many faith leaders from all across America to have an opportunity to address the largest gathering of Hispanic clergy in this country at the 12th National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. Thank you for giving me the honor of being with you today. (Applause.)
First and foremost, let me just thank you for your ministries. Thank you for the work that each and every one of you do each and every day, being the hands and feet of faith in communities large and small all across America. I can assure you that you have the gratitude of this administration, and the gratitude of this President and his Vice President, for the work and the ministries that you do every day.
And before I begin, let me bring greetings from that friend of mine who is a great champion of faith and freedom all across this country and all across our hemisphere. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
The President arrived home yesterday, as we all know, from a historic summit with the leader of North Korea. As the President said, it was a direct, and honest, and productive meeting. And I'm pleased to report it resulted in a bold first step where North Korea committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. (Applause.)
And while it hasn't gotten as much note, it's deeply meaningful to me, as the son of a combat veteran of the Korean War, that President Trump also secured a commitment from North Korea to recover and repatriate the remains of more than 5,000 American POWs and MIAs that fell in the Korean War. We are finally going to bring our boys home. (Applause.)
Now comes "vigorous negotiations to implement the agreement," as the President said, "as soon as possible." And Secretary of State Pompeo is already engaged in high-level meetings with our allies across the region. Make no mistake about it: The success of this summit and this new beginning -- the progress we've made -- is a direct result of President Trump's steadfast leadership on the world stage. But we also know that it is also a result of the prayers of faithful people all across this country.
The Bible tells us that the "effective and fervent prayers of a righteous people availeth much." But we know in our hearts that it was also your prayers that carried us to this point, brought us to this day, and will continue to bring us forward. So thank you for your prayers, and let's keep praying for peace on the Korean Peninsula and for the world. (Applause.)
But it's really gratitude is the reason I'm here today. You know, the Bible says, if you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect. And I'm really here today to pay a debt of honor and gratitude to all of you for your tireless, tireless work on behalf of the Gospel; for your unwavering commitment to plant and water seeds of faith all across our country each and every day.
Just over three decades ago, Reverend Cortes joined with his fellow faith leaders in Philadelphia, I'm told, to found this organization dedicated to the principles of "faith, integrity, and excellence," and determined to fulfill the Biblical mandate to serve the "least of these." And so Esperanza has, since the days of its founding.
Today, this group represents more than 13,000 Hispanic clergy congregations and more than 500 community groups ministering in all 50 states to people all across this nation, and is reaching people in some 30 other countries around the world. Across America, you strive to give people the training and skills they need to thrive. You open doors of opportunity and prosperity. So let me just invite each and every one of you, give yourselves a round of applause for the work that you do and the work of Esperanza since its founding. (Applause.)
So I'm here today to thank you for the role you play in the life of our nation, and for your prayers. But I'm also here to tell you that our administration is here for you, we're listening to you, and we're anxious for your continued example and counsel in the days ahead.
There are so many areas of agreement between Esperanza and our administration, and I want to talk about a number of those in just a few moments. But on those areas where we don't agree, I want to assure you that in this White House you will always have a willing ear and respect.
Now, one place I know we all agree is the importance of expanding prosperity and jobs for people all across this country. As President Trump has said, in this White House, in his words, we want an America where all can "thrive and flourish together," no matter of our race, or creed, or color. And that's exactly why President Trump has taken decisive action to revive the American economy from the very beginning of this administration.
Since day one of this administration, we've been rolling back red tape in record numbers. We've been unleashing affordable American energy that fuels families, and farms, and factories. We've been fighting for trade that's free, and fair, and reciprocal. And right before Christmas, in case you didn't notice, this President signed the largest tax cuts and tax reform in American history -- (applause) -- rolling back red tape, cutting taxes, unleashing American energy, focusing on American jobs. And the results have been remarkable. And I know you all see it in your communities each and every day.
Since the President and I were elected, I'm proud to report that businesses large and small have created more than 3.4 million new jobs. For the first time in our nation's history, there are more job openings than there are jobs seekers in America. (Applause.)
Small business optimism is at a record high, and nearly 9 out of 10 Hispanic business owners see greater opportunity in the years ahead. And unemployment hasn't been lower in nearly 50 years. And under this President, we've actually seen the lowest Hispanic unemployment rate in American history. (Applause.)
But as we all know, the strength of this country doesn't just come from our economy. It can't only be measured by our material wellbeing. America's strength ultimately comes from that foundation of values that animate and strengthen our communities every day. And it springs from our faith, enabled by our freedoms.
Speaking of the values that we cherish, I have to tell you, I couldn't be more proud to serve with a President who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life. (Applause.)
I mean, the truth is, after the first year and a half of this administration, one thing is clear: President Donald Trump is the most pro-life President in American history. If you think about it, one of his first acts in office was we reinstated the Mexico City Policy, denying any foreign aid dollars to organizations that promote or perform abortions.
We withdrew the United States from the U.N. Population Fund, preventing our taxpayer dollars from paying for forced sterilization and abortion around the world.
And we empowered states to defund abortion providers and, just a few days ago, made sure that no Title X funding would go to programs that support or provide abortion. (Applause.)
I understand that, yesterday, many of you visited Capitol Hill to talk about these policies. And we respect and appreciate your voice and your engagement. I also know you were on Capitol Hill talking about the first freedom in the Bill of Rights -- the freedom of religion. And let me assure you, in this White House we know that people of faith enrich the fabric of our national life in extraordinary ways and that those contributions should be celebrated and protected, and not restricted through the heavy hand of government.
Last year, I'm happy to report that President Trump chose the National Day of Prayer to announce new policies to protect the right of every American to live out their beliefs in the public square.
And because President Trump and I believe that freedom of speech should never end at the front door of our churches or places of worship, President Trump has taken action to prevent enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. (Applause.) And we will not stop until we repeal the Johnson Amendment from the Internal Revenue Code.
The truth is you've been demonstrating the importance and the impact of your freedom of speech and your values all across this country. Today I want to thank you. I want to thank you in particular for speaking out about the urgent need to fix our nation's broken immigration system. I know so many of you have spoken out -- have spoken out from your pulpits, spoken out in your communities on this issue. And you've spoken out with courage and with compassion.
And I want to assure you: For months, our administration has been working with both Republicans and Democrats to craft a bipartisan solution. Earlier this year, in his State of the Union address, President Trump unveiled what he referred to as "a fair compromise" that reflected input from all sides and that, we were happy to see Esperanza said, "addresses important issues." And we're grateful for that expression of support.
The plan that our President put on the table would secure our borders, address immigration loopholes, and provide a responsible solution for those who were brought to this country through no fault of their own.
The truth is, illegal immigration hurts communities on both sides of our border, too often financing dangerous cartels and drug dealers that profit from human suffering.
And as the President has also said, a nation without borders is no nation at all. And just as Esperanza pointed out that, in your words, "every sovereign nation has the right and responsibility to secure its border," our President is committed to keep his word to the American people to build a wall on our southern border. And we are grateful that Congress has already approved $1.6 billion to begin the construction of a border wall.
But beyond border security, President Trump has put forward an immigration plan that will finally move America toward a merit-based system that grows salaries and puts more Americans to work.
Our plan is the very definition of compromise. As the President described it, it's one "where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs." That's why he's called on the Congress to "come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done."
Now, we appreciate the continued efforts of House Republicans to find a way forward that reflects the President's priorities of securing our borders, closing loopholes, and providing a permanent solution for DACA. But to be honest, we remain profoundly disappointed that Democrats are unwilling to partner with us on a solution that accomplishes these common-sense reforms for the benefit of the American people.
The truth is, as the President has said many times -- and is obvious to anyone observing from afar -- despite what you may have heard, the Democrats just "don't want to make a deal." They don't want to secure our border, they don't want to close loopholes. They don't want to close the loopholes that serve as a magnet drawing vulnerable families to our southern border. And they don't want to solve DACA.
In fact, the Democrats have abandoned DACA. And by their obstruction, they've abandoned the opportunity to enact compassionate and common-sense reforms to our immigration system. Well, I say to all of those gathered here, men and women of faith: America deserves better. (Applause.)
And I can assure you, President Trump and I will continue to work for reforms that reflect the President's priorities. And we'll remain ready -- we'll remain ready to move forward whenever the Democrats decide to end the obstruction and stop using the DACA issue as a part of a political process.
So we're standing up for American workers, for America's interests, and Americans' values. In this administration, I'm pleased to report to the faith leaders gathered here: We're also standing for America's values across the wider region.
President Donald Trump has made the Western Hemisphere a key priority of this administration. (Applause.) When it comes to our hemisphere, as the President has said, we, in his words, seek a future where the people of each country can "live out their dreams." We want people to have a chance to put down roots in the land of their birth and not have to flee danger or deprivation in search of a brighter future in other nations. We believe everyone deserves a chance to climb the ladder of opportunity, rather than living a life of poverty, hopelessness.
Now, you all are -- you all are familiar with the vast variety of rich cultures and traditions and identities that define our hemisphere. In many cases, you see it in your churches and on the streets of your communities celebrated every day. And you know maybe better than most that what happens to one of our neighbors across the region swiftly affects us all.
You also know the potential of this hemisphere is limitless. And if we have the courage to unleash it, we'll transform this hemisphere to a hemisphere of freedom -- which is exactly what we've been about.
Across the wider region, under this administration, we've strengthened our trade relationships and increased our security collaboration. We've worked to cut out the corruption that destroys opportunity and undermines democracy. And in all that we've done, we've strived to bring our nation and our people closer to our neighbors across the Western Hemisphere, because in this White House we know that there's more that unites the peoples of this new world than could ever divide us. And what unites us is a love of freedom. (Applause.)
For my part, I've had the great privilege to meet with leaders and travel to countries from across North, Central, and South America. And two weeks from now, I'm pleased to report I will take my third trip to the region in less than a year, when I will visit Brazil, and Ecuador, and Guatemala. (Applause.)
We'll be visiting Guatemala in the wake of the terrible volcanic eruption from just two weeks ago. I know that the people of that country affected by that terrible, terrible natural disaster have been in your prayers. And I will deliver to them the assurance of your prayers, and I will tell them the American people are with them.
But already the United States has stepped up to help. I'm pleased to report, at the Guatemalan government's request, we're sending emergency aid to address the food, water, and sanitation needs for those affected. We're also helping transport burn victims for treatment. And today, I'll promise you, we will continue to support the people of Guatemala as they recover and rebuild -- (applause) -- because that's what good neighbors do.
But throughout my trip, I'll also make clear that America will continue to stand without apology for freedom in this hemisphere, for we believe, here in the New World, freedom is the birthright of us all.
I truly believe, and have said in my travels, that ours is a "hemisphere of freedom." Yet as all of you well know, the dark cloud of tyranny still hangs over too many of our neighbors. It casts a shadow across the wider region, fueling the spread of crime, drugs, forced migration, and want.
In Cuba, the communist regime may not have a Castro as its leader, but it is still a communist regime under Castro's control. The brutal police and military state they established is ever-present. And even under their handpicked successor, to this very day, it saps the wealth of that great nation and steals -- steals the lives of the freedom-loving people in Cuba.
But America today once again stands with the Cuban people in their fight for freedom. No longer will our dollars fund Cuba's military, security, or intelligence services. In this administration, we will always say Que Viva Cuba Libre. (Applause.)
And in Nicaragua, the government of Daniel Ortega has plunged his proud country into a spiral of violence and despair. As we gather here, the situation in Nicaragua has reached new lows.
Just under two months ago, hundreds of thousands of brave protestors took to Nicaragua's streets, demanding democratic reforms. Yet the Ortega government has responded with brutal repression. Nearly 150 people have died so far, including an American citizen. And over a thousand more have been injured at the hands of government forces and their ruthless paramilitary allies.
And as I'm sure this group knows, many of Nicaragua's most prominent faith leaders and clergy have now been targeted for trying to stem the violence. And some have even received death threats for courageously raising their voices. This must end -- and it must end now. (Applause.)
Today, on behalf of President Trump, we call on Daniel Ortega to end his government's crimes and answer for his nation's cry for democracy and human rights. The time has come to end the attacks on peaceful protestors. The time has come to give the Nicaraguan people the future of freedom they deserve. (Applause.)
And finally, today, let me reaffirm that under this administration, America stands with the good people of Venezuela for freedom and the restoration of their democracy. (Applause.)
We've been standing. And I can assure you, in my upcoming travels we will make it clear that America will continue to stand up to the tyrannical regime of Nicolas Maduro.
Like all of you, my heart breaks for the suffering of the Venezuelan people. I've seen it firsthand. Think about it. That nation was once one of the richest in the Southern Hemisphere, and now it is among the poorest, despite vast natural resources.
At this very moment, nearly 9 out of 10 Venezuelans live in crushing poverty. Opportunity has evaporated, with an economy that's already shrunk by half, and still grows smaller with every passing day. Venezuela's grocery stores are all but empty, with food and daily necessities nearly impossible to find. Hospitals lack the most basic medical supplies. And in recent years, the mortality rate of precious infants in Venezuela has jumped by 30 percent. Maternal mortality rates have skyrocketed by 66 percent.
And every day -- every day -- some 5,000 Venezuelans flee their homeland. It is the largest cross-border mass exodus in the history of our hemisphere.
Last summer, at a church in Cartagena, Colombia, Karen and I met with Venezuelans who fled their homeland; it just broke our hearts. I met a grandmother who had just arrived at that shelter. She told Karen and I about the life she and her grandchildren had faced in the community.
She told me that her grandchildren -- it had gotten so bad that the grandchildren had to rise at five in the morning to be given a ticket that they could exchange at five in the afternoon for a single piece of bread. She told us she'd had enough. She gathered together her grandchildren only a week before we met her, and she fled the country, and she found support in a community of faith. Sadly, too many in Venezuela have not been so fortunate as to be able to flee.
And let's be clear, Venezuela's collapse can be laid squarely at the feet of one man: Nicolas Maduro. He's raided the wealth of his people and destroyed their once-vibrant democracy. Even now, he is refusing to allow humanitarian aid into his country, even though the people of Venezuela are facing deprivation and starvation.
President Trump has made clear -- and I say to you today -- the United States will not stand idly by as Venezuela crumbles. (Applause.)
Our administration has already taken decisive action to help the Venezuelan people and hold the Maduro regime accountable. We've provided nearly $20 million in aid to support Venezuelans who've fled their homeland, and more help is on the way. And we've issued unprecedented sanctions against the dictator and those that support him.
When I travel to South America in just a few weeks, I will thank our allies and partners for the action that they have taken to further isolate Venezuela economically and diplomatically, but I will also call on them to do more. The free nations of the Western Hemisphere must be united in our resolve, and we must, all of us, work without ceasing to stand for freedom for our brothers and sisters in Venezuela. (Applause.)
And I can promise you, the United States of America will not relent until Venezuela is free once more. The Venezuelan people deserve nothing less than libertad. (Applause.)
We do this because it's right. It reflects the deep compassion of the American people and our commitment to our most cherished ideals. We do it because it's our duty as neighbors. We also do it because, as President Trump and I believe, it is our destiny to be a hemisphere of freedom.
But as I close, let me say, I know that we will reach that destiny because this is also a hemisphere of faith. You know, my family's story -- like so many of yours, and so many members of your congregation -- didn't begin here in America. It began when my grandfather, as a young man in his twenties, bought a one-way ticket and came to America, passed through Ellis Island.
I'll never forget the day, as a member of Congress, that I sat in the Oval Office. The President of the United States asked me how I got there, and I told him that Michael Richard Pence got to the office because Richard Michael Cawley knew that this was a land of opportunity and freedom.
My grandfather came here because he believed in the promise of America, and he lived it. He drove a bus for 40 years in Chicago, Illinois. He raised my precocious mother, who is still 85 years young. She married a fast-talking salesman who took her down to a small town in Indiana, where I showed up. But we lived the American Dream.
Like so many of you and your families, like so many of the families that you minister to, the American Dream is not a cliche in our family; it's a reality because we've lived it.
My grandfather came here because he believed in freedom, but he also brought a heritage of faith to this country. I was raised in that large Irish Catholic family, and have faith embedded in my heart I still cherish today.
You know, over the past year and a half in this new role of mine, my wife and I have been fortunate to see that heritage of faith across this country that is so well represented in the faith leaders here today.
We've seen it in vibrant churches that serve our Hispanic communities in the state of Florida -- like the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Doral, and the Iglesia de Dios in Kissimmee.
I saw the way churches, in the wake of hurricanes and struggles, opened their doors. They welcomed families. They sent aid. They were literally the hands and feet of our Heavenly Father for people in the most difficult times.
I've seen it in a parish of Santa Bernadita, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Applause.) We were there just over a week after that island had been devastated by Hurricane Maria. We were there, and we marveled, that in a church where the lights were not yet on, the light of faith shone and illuminated the room. We saw the resilience of the people of that faith community.
We met Father Peña, who told us that day his parishioners may have been "without electricity, but we are not without light." (Applause.)
We've seen that faith; we've seen it lived out. But not just among Americans. We've seen it across this hemisphere. In the grand cathedral in Buenos Aires we met with leaders of faith and saw the petitions of the faithful.
We've seen it in a small neighborhood church that I talked about, in Cartagena, which had become a home for people fleeing tyranny and repression.
I mean, literally everywhere we go in this country, and everywhere we've gone across this hemisphere, we've seen that heritage of faith, which is not surprising, because the Bible tells us, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (Applause.) So in this hemisphere of faith, we shall have a hemisphere of freedom.
So as I close, let me close with faith -- faith in all of you and the work and the witness that you have in your churches and in communities every day. It's deeply inspiring.
I can promise you that President Trump and I both know that no podium we ever stand behind will be as important as the pulpits that you stand behind every Sunday. (Applause.) No policy we ever advance will be as important as the message that you faithfully carry -- a message of hope that's changing lives.
So I close with faith in all of you -- a faith in the boundless capacity of the American people -- to meet the challenges that we face at home and abroad with American solutions and American heart. Faith in our President and the leaders who serve America at every level of public life.
And I also close with that other kind of faith, remembering those words that Americans have clung to throughout our nation's history, words first inscribed millennia ago, that in these challenging times of seemingly too much division, that we still have hope and we still have confidence, because we believe Him who said, "I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."
And with these words, from my heart, on behalf of our President and myself and our entire administration and the American people, I say thank you. Thank you for being a source of hope and a source of promise and encouragement to millions of Americans.
May God bless you. May God bless the people and the ministries that you serve. And may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
Mike Pence, Remarks by the Vice President at the 12th Annual National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/335712