'We didn't need that': Pence's border wall sale irks some at CUNA's GAC

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance at the Credit Union National Association’s conference on Tuesday proved to be divisive.

Promoted as a credit union advocate, Pence delivered remarks during the trade group’s Governmental Affairs Conference. He congratulated attendees on their efforts to help members reach their financial goals. Pence was reportedly the first sitting president or vice president to address the convention since Harry S. Truman in 1950, when he also helped lay the cornerstone for CUNA's Washington headquarters.

“You make it possible for American families to buy that next car, to send a child to college, to buy that dream home,” Pence said. “You make it possible for countless entrepreneurs to start a small business and drive our economy.”

But the speech quickly turned away from credit unions towards hot-button issues the current administration is facing, including building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. President Trump recently spurred controversy by declaring a national emergency to secure funding to build the structure.

Labeling the need for a wall as a “crisis that we’ve never seen before,” Pence declared that the border was a “crisis of illegal immigration of drugs [and] human trafficking,” and that it was “time for America to act.”

Pence’s comments appeared to be well received by many with audience members clapping and cheering.

But others in the credit union industry disapproved of the overt political message. During Pence’s delivery, some attendees took to the CUNA GAC mobile app to voice their concerns.

One user pleaded with fellow attendees to “stop the politics in our GAC events. It’s disheartening.” By almost 11 a.m., that comment had generated 26 likes on the app with some thanking the user for the post.

“I wonder how many credit unions in here are serving people negatively impacted by recent policies,” another user wrote.

Misty Potter, CEO and president at Encentus Federal Credit Union in Tulsa, was enthusiastic to see Pence speak, in part because, "I never thought I'd see a vice president in Oklahoma – they know how we're going to vote."

But Potter said that excitement quickly dampened as Pence's remarks diverged from financial services into politics, particularly with President Trump's highly controversial border wall.

"We didn't need that," Potter said, adding that the vice president encouraged credit union representatives to bring the wall up during their meetings with lawmakers this week.

“We are here to spread the credit union message when we Hike the Hill, not to sell Trump’s border wall, as Pence JUST ASKED US TO DO," another user wrote on the CUNA GAC app.

Potter contrasted Pence's speech with that of former Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke on Monday. Kerry briefly discussed climate change, another hot-button issue. While some had negative reactions to his comments, she said, the response was "probably not as visceral."

"We're here in D.C., but that's not what we're here for," she said of Pence’s political comments.

When asked if they would host the vice president again, Ryan Donovan, CUNA’s chief advocacy officer, said that the trade group would be honored to have him or President Trump.

“[N]o matter if it’s President Trump or President Bush or President Obama or President Clinton, that’s an institution when they come and they share remarks with a group, it’s bestowing a very significant honor,” Donovan said.

“[W]e’re looking for credit union champions, but we’re also taking into consideration the office of the institution being represented,” he added.

CUNA’s President Jim Nussle did not immediately respond to a request for comment by deadline.

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