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Vice President Pence Stays Aligned With Trump Despite Other Republicans Distancing Themselves

Aug 16, 2017
Originally published on August 16, 2017 4:51 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We begin the hour with a look at the fallout from President Trump's comments on white supremacists and the deadly protests over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va. Politicians from the right and left criticized Trump for saying there were fine people on both sides of the protests and for arguing that there's plenty of blame to go around.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll finds most Americans believe the president has not been strong enough in condemning the white nationalists at the center of the Charlottesville violence. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Many politicians and business leaders have been trying to distance themselves from the president after a widely discredited news conference yesterday in which Trump seemed to defend white nationalists while criticizing those he described as the alt-left. One exception is Vice President Pence. The vice president's traveling today in South America. But rhetorically at least, Pence stood shoulder-to-shoulder alongside President Trump.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy. And the president has been clear on this tragedy, and so have I.

HORSLEY: Other Republicans were not so forgiving. There can be no moral ambiguity, House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted, adding, white supremacy is repulsive. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell chimed in. There are no good neo-Nazis. And Ohio Congressman Steve Stivers, who heads the House Republican campaign arm, said, I don't understand what's so hard about this.

Speaking on NBC's "Today" show, Ohio Governor and Trump primary rival John Kasich said it was terrible for the president not to draw a harder line against Klan members and other white supremacists.

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JOHN KASICH: Now these folks apparently are going to go other places. And they think that they had some sort of a victory. There is no moral equivalency between the KKK, the neo-Nazis and anybody else. They're not - anybody else is not the issue.

HORSLEY: Meanwhile, white supremacists themselves were praising the president's remarks.

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DAVID DUKE: This is David Duke, and this is the Rense Radio Network.

HORSLEY: Former Klan leader David Duke tweeted, God bless you, to the president, for setting the record straight. Just 27 percent of Americans think the president's response has been adequate. And the new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found overwhelming opposition to white supremacist viewpoints. Eighty percent of the poll respondents were surveyed after yesterday's news conference. It's still not clear, though, what all this means in practical terms for the president and his agenda. Nicolle Wallace, who served in the George W. Bush White House, told the "Morning Joe" program it likely won't mean much.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

NICOLLE WALLACE: What do Republicans do? They never do anything. They tweet their outrage 140 characters at a time, and then they make up some baloney about, well, tax reform would be good.

HORSLEY: Former talk radio host Charlie Sykes says no one who paid attention during the campaign should be surprised by the president's recent behavior. During the campaign, Trump called Mexicans rapists, mocked a handicapped reporter, attacked John McCain's war record and even survived the notorious "Access Hollywood" tape.

CHARLIE SYKES: Each and every time, you had Republicans who made the decision that their ideological agenda was more important than holding Donald Trump accountable. Given that track record, I guess I'm skeptical that this will be the turning point.

HORSLEY: But Sykes, who spoke via Skype, says there is one caveat. This could be a case, he says, where the business community carries disproportionate weight.

SYKES: If you had American business executives in a very dramatic, concerted way push back against this, that might be the one irresistible force that Trump really could not handle.

HORSLEY: Throughout the day, business leaders came under pressure, and more executives resigned from the president's Manufacturing Advisory Council. Leaders of 3M, the Campbell Soup Company and United Technologies joined earlier defectors from Merck, Under Armour, Intel and the AFL-CIO.

Just yesterday, Trump had boasted that for every executive who quit the council, there were many more ready to take their place. But today, faced with the mass resignations, Trump abruptly folded the council along with a second White House business advisory group. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.