From the Road, Pence Paints Sunny Picture of Trump's Stormy Week
(Bloomberg) -- With an avalanche of criticism falling on Donald Trump this week, Vice President Mike Pence doubled down on his support for the president, painting an idyllic picture in stops across Latin America of a man who few in his own party would recognize.
Speaking in front of the Panama Canal Thursday, Pence compared Trump to Theodore Roosevelt and declared this "a great week for the American worker." A day earlier, in response to a question on the president’s remarks about white supremacists, Pence said he was standing by Trump, who was being publicly chastised by Republicans and corporate executives.
"In President Donald Trump, I think the United States once again has a president whose vision, energy, and can-do spirit is reminiscent of President Teddy Roosevelt," Pence said in front of the canal that Roosevelt pushed to build more than a century ago.
Pence’s comments came a few hours after Trump tweeted his defense of Confederate civil war monuments, calling them beautiful and equating them to those of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Trump lit a firestorm of condemnation on Aug. 15, when he appeared to confer legitimacy on white supremacists and neo-Nazis who clashed with counter-demonstrators at a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.
Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who once considered joining Trump’s administration, said Thursday that Trump has yet to demonstrate the characteristics needed to serve in his job and called for "radical changes" in the White House. And in the wake of his comments earlier this week, Trump has seen a flood of corporate chief executives abandon him, forcing him to shut down three business-advisory panels he touted often.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Wednesday Trump was "dividing Americans, not healing them." House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to distance themselves from Trump’s remarks blaming both sides in the violence by issuing statements condemning white supremacy.
Yet Pence, a former governor and congressman, has taken a starkly different tone than that coming from most Republicans in Washington, who have criticized the president or avoided coming to his defense. It’s a fine line he’s walking; at 58, Pence is trying to protect a long political career ahead while maintaining Trump’s trust.
The controversy over Charlottesville may be the biggest test of Pence’s loyalty so far. Asked on Sunday about the deadly protests, Pence gave a scripted condemnation on white supremacist groups and racism. In Santiago on Wednesday, Pence called what happened in Charlottesville a tragedy -- a woman was killed by a man who allegedly plowed his muscle car into counterprotesters, and two police officers monitoring the melee died when their helicopter crashed.
Pence wouldn’t say whether he agreed with Trump’s assessment that there were probably some "very fine people" in the group of neo-Nazis and white supremacists that day.
"What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy, and the president has been clear on this tragedy and so have I," Pence said. "I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia, and I stand with the president, and I stand by those words."
At stops in Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, Pence trumpeted the president’s statement that "America first doesn’t mean America alone" before talking up the importance of free trade. Pence characterized Trump’s pledge to "rip up" the North American Free Trade Agreement as a process to modernize it.
"What the world has seen, under President Donald Trump, is an American president who is once again embracing our historic role as leader of the free world without apology," Pence said during a joint appearance with Argentine President Mauricio Marci in Buenos Aires Tuesday.
Pence returns to Washington Friday morning and will leave later in the day for a meeting at Camp David to discuss troop plans for Afghanistan.