Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Rob Portman championed the Republican legislative agenda as the ticket to American success Saturday evening in speeches in front of roughly a thousand Republican donors in the Archie M. Griffin Ballroom at the Ohio Union.
The speeches were the main event at the Ohio Republican Dinner, an annual fundraiser event featuring appearances from some of the party’s biggest names.
Pence opened his speech thanking the state of Ohio for its role in electing himself and President Donald Trump, handing them an 8 percent victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
One of the Trump administration’s great early achievements has been deregulation, Pence said.
“Since Day One of our administration, President Trump has been fighting to get the American economy moving again,” he said. “As you just heard from Sen. Portman, President Trump has signed more than 40 bills and more than 40 executive orders on everything from healthcare to energy to infrastructure, and more. In fact, the last administration issued red tape in record numbers, but this president has signed more laws cutting through federal red tape than any president in American history.”
Pence mentioned “Made in America” week — the White House’s campaign this past week to highlight American-made goods — and said the administration was working to strengthen manufacturing and farming sectors.
Pence also mentioned the emphasis the administration is placing on the security of American citizens, as demonstrated by its support for both the military and law enforcement.
“President Donald Trump is the best friend the armed forces of the United States will ever have,” he said. “Under President Trump, we will rebuild our military, we will restore the arsenal of democracy, and we will once again give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guard the resources and training they need to accomplish their mission and come home safe.”
That line drew thunderous applause, which was matched a moment later when Pence asked all active and veteran military personnel in the room to stand and be recognized by the crowd.
With much attention placed on the Senate’s recent efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Pence spent eight of his 32 speaking minutes on health care.
Pence said premiums in Ohio’s individual markets — the federally subsidized exchanges allowing citizens without access to health insurance through their job or other means to purchase plans using voucher money — have seen spikes in premiums by nearly 90 percent over the last few years and that companies are pulling out of the markets, leaving customers with a lack of options.
The room drew quiet as Pence described an Ohio woman he said had coverage through the individual market but could not find an actual care provider.
“The truth is Obamacare has failed and Obamacare must go,” he said.
During the dinner, a group of protesters demonstrated across the street from the Union to express dissatisfaction with the Republican health care plan
Earlier in the evening, Pence thanked the Republicans in the room, including Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. Pence also thanked Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was not present at the dinner but had attended an earlier reception in the Union.
“I’ve known your governor for a long time and John and I occasionally have differences of opinion,” Pence said, following the “thank-you.”
The remark was in reference to a statement Pence made earlier this month that Kasich’s team widely refuted. Pence, as several media outlets pointed out, inaccurately said 60,000 Ohioans were placed on wait lists and were unable to receive disability services due to the state’s Medicaid expansion.
Earlier in the week, The Columbus Dispatch reported Kasich would be missing the dinner due to a family obligation.
Portman spoke for less than 10 minutes before Pence came on. He mostly covered the same topics, but focused additionally on working to end the opioid crisis in Ohio and fighting against human trafficking.
Portman — who has not yet committed to a ‘yes’ vote on the BCRA — did say he favored the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, emphasizing he would oppose any legislation to repeal it without immediately implementing a replacement plan, a position he stated publicly earlier in the week when the repeal-only plan was introduced.
Both men also thanked Ohio Republican party chairman Jane Timken — the first woman to ever occupy that position and who gave a brief introduction before Portman took the stage — for her work in the party.
In attendance also was Ohio State College Republicans President Nick Frankowski, a third-year in economics and political science.
Frankowski said he came with a group of College Republicans — two others from Ohio State and a few from Ohio University — who were invited as a group by State Rep. Larry Householder.
Pence’s speech did not have particular stand-out moments, said Krankowski, though he enjoyed the overview of the Trump administration’s agenda, as well as Pence’s speaking style.
He said he was especially glad for the mentions of the opioid crisis by both Pence and Portman and that he hopes battling the crisis is a priority for the party.
“That hits especially close to home,” he said, because his mother works in an addiction treatment center in Cincinnati.
Tickets for the dinner cost $150 apiece, or $250 a couple, with $35 tickets available for College Republicans. VIP packages costing thousands of dollars were also available.