Donald Trump uses his office for personal profit and pushing phony investigations of his political opponents. His second-in-command has different priorities, but a similar habit of using his office to push his pet projects. Mike Pence is pushing to send foreign aid to Christian groups in countries like Iraq, with his pressure overruling non-political decisions by career staff and leading to the removal of one top U.S. Agency for International Development Middle East (USAID) official after some of Pence’s favored Christian groups were turned down for grants.
According to USAID regulations, funding decisions “must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization, or lack thereof.” Mike Pence is here to say “screw that,” or anyway he would be if he used words like “screw.”
As a result, last month two Iraqi organizations were awarded grants thanks to intervention by political appointees after career officials turned them down. Why would groups get turned down for grants? “We still try to stick to our principles, that you gotta have a good proposal and you gotta have your qualifications there and so on, and they didnʼt meet the standards,” a former USAID official told ProPublica.
Under pressure from Pence, the U.S. has shifted aid from United Nations projects aimed at helping out densely populated areas where you can get “the biggest bang for the buck” to funding projects in much less densely populated areas, but ones where many of Iraq’s Christians live. Christians and other religious minorities make up 2-3% of the population of Iraq.
After the two Christian groups were turned down for funding, a Republican House member and a former Reagan administration official wrote an outraged op-ed in The Wall Street Journal amid an intense lobbying effort by Bashar Warda, an archbishop in Iraq. Pence’s office issued a statement saying he “will not tolerate bureaucratic delays in implementing the Administration’s vision,” phone calls were made, and a top Middle East official was reassigned to show that people were being punished for daring to make funding decisions on the quality of the application rather than the religious affiliation of the applicant.
The subjects are very different, but Donald Trump and Mike Pence are both abusing their office to push the government away from the rule of law and toward their own personal obsessions.