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Pence Expands On Trump's Remarks To Include White Supremacists


Vice President Mike Pence is traveling this week in South America, and the political crisis in Venezuela is likely to dominate the discussions on that trip. But even thousands of miles away from the U.S., Pence really had no choice but to respond to the events of this weekend in Charlottesville, Va. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with the vice president. And she is with us now on the line from Cartagena, Colombia, which is the first stop on the trip.

Hey, Tam.


MARTIN: President Trump got a lot of criticism for his response to the protests in Charlottesville for not specifically calling out white supremacists in his statement after those protests. He still hasn't done so, but now his vice president is. Is that right?

KEITH: That's right. That is right. And Vice President Pence has - did last night what he has sort of perfected as vice president, which is translating Trump or saying what the president should have said - or many people thought he should have said. Here's Mike Pence last night at a press conference.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK. These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.

KEITH: So there he is saying the words that President Trump has not yet said. But then he also tried to explain what President Trump had meant by saying that violence came from many sides, something that Trump was criticized for. Vice President Pence said that there were people from, quote, "different militant perspectives" - sort of alluding to some of the more violent counterprotesters.

MARTIN: ...Which is this moral equivalency that people have been criticizing.

KEITH: Exactly.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the reason for this trip. The vice president is in South America, obviously going to talk about Venezuela - but what's the genesis of this whole trip?

KEITH: So he's visiting Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama. These are all U.S. allies and trading partners. And last night, he announced that there's a new trade agreement that will allow Colombia to export Hass avocados to the U.S. - so I guess more avocados for avo (ph) toast.

MARTIN: Good for us.

KEITH: And good for millennials. And, you know, really, this trip is about strengthening ties and also about highlighting a contrast that Pence highlighted last night between what he says is countries that represent the future - like Colombia with its peace agreement with the FARC - and countries that represent the past - like Venezuela, which he says is sliding toward dictatorship.

MARTIN: So the president weighed in on the situation in Venezuela Friday. He said the U.S. had a lot of options on the table, including military options - wasn't exactly clear what he meant by that. Has the vice president addressed the president's remarks?

KEITH: Yeah, so the vice president put the emphasis on the many options, and said that he had been sent to South America by the president to look for peaceful solutions and to work with U.S. allies in South America.

What was fascinating about this is that he was at a joint press conference standing next to Colombian President Santos and saying - Colombian President Santos said, you know, Latin America is not on board with the idea of military intervention.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith, traveling with the vice president - thanks, Tam.

KEITH: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.