Vice President Mike Pence has nothing to say.
Pence’s office has ignored repeated requests for comment in the wake of President Donald Trump’s explosive comments on Thursday deriding Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” and saying the United States should increase immigration to the U.S. from countries like Norway.
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The White House did not deny that Trump made the comments in a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers on immigration, but Trump appeared to cast doubt on the story Friday, denying on Twitter that he derided Haitians, specifically. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who was present for the meeting, said Trump did make the remarks, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was also in attendance, confirmed the remarks to him. (Graham issued a statement on Friday that neither confirmed nor denied the vulgarity of the president’s comments a day earlier.)
Pence, who did not attend the meeting, was briefed on the remarks Thursday.
Trump’s recent move toward denying aspects of the remarks have put Pence in only a more difficult position, since weighing in would require accepting or denying the president’s version of events.
Instead, on Friday afternoon, Pence was tweeting pictures of himself and Trump with Martin Luther King Jr.’s nephew at a White House ceremony and hailing King’s “efforts to peacefully advocate for justice & equality for African-Americans.”
Pence is one of Trump’s most strident defenders, often accusing the media of misrepresenting the president’s comments and putting as positive a spin on them as he can, no matter how outlandish.
Pence has repeatedly lauded Trump’s attitude toward North Korea, for example, even as Trump has derided North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as “Little Rocket Man” and bragged that his nuclear button is “bigger” than Kim’s.
Even after the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the summer, when Trump blamed “many sides” for an episode that left one counterprotester dead, Pence declared: “I stand with the president, and I stand by those words.”
Only in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked during the campaign, on which Trump bragged about groping women, did Pence issue a type of rebuke.
“As a husband and father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the eleven-year-old video released yesterday,” Pence said in a statement at the time. “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them. I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people. We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night.”
Certain other staunch Trump defenders shared Pence’s reticence on Friday.
Reached by phone, former House Speaker and close Trump ally Newt Gingrich said, “I have nothing to say.”
But other Republicans have not shared Pence’s silence. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the remarks “unfortunate,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called them “abhorrent and repulsive,” and Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), whose family immigrated to the U.S from Haiti, called on Trump to apologize.
Pence stood with Trump at the ceremony honoring King on Friday, taking his normal position, visible over Trump’s shoulder, and grinning.