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Pence Defends Trump From Critics of Charlottesville Remarks

The vice president says in Colombia that the news media are more caught up in criticizing the president than the deadly violence in Virginia.
Image: US Vice President Mike Pence visits Colombia
Vice President Mike Pence speaks speaks during a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Cartagena, Colombia, on Sunday.Ricardo Maldonado Rozo / EPA

Vice President Mike Pence on Monday continued to defend President Donald Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, telling NBC News the president "made it very clear" he condemns "the KKK and white supremacists."

"The president made it very clear in his statement this weekend that we condemn all forms of hate and violence, particularly condemn, as we did yesterday, we condemned the hate and the violence and the bigotry of organizations that showed up in Charlottesville like the KKK and white supremacists," Pence said.

"I truly believe that under President Trump's leadership, we're gonna continue to see more unity in America," Pence added.

Trump has endured a steady drumbeat of criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats for what they view as the president's tepid response to Saturday's clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters that killed one and injured 19 after an Ohio man allegedly drove his car through a group of counter-demonstrators.

The president's remarks Saturday faulted "many sides" for the violence, and he left the podium without addressing a shouted question about whether he would denounce support from white nationalists.

In an interview with NBC News on Sunday, however, Pence accused the news media of being more concerned with attacking Trump's response than than on condemning the violence itself.

On his arrival here on a weeklong tour of Latin America, Pence singled out "white supremacists" for the attack at a "Unite the Right" rally on Saturday, telling NBC News: "We will not tolerate hatred and violence of groups like white supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis. These extremist fringe groups have no place in the American debate."

Other Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Cory Gardner of Colorado, also expressed dismay with the administration's response.

Pence said he took issue with "the fact that many in the media are spending more time criticizing how the president addressed the issue yesterday."

"Many in the media spent an awful lot of time focusing on what the president said and criticisms of what the president said instead of criticizing those who brought that hatred and violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia," Pence said.

Asked whether Trump should have identified white supremacists specifically as a subject of his comments, Pence said: "I think the president yesterday spoke to a national moment, words the American people needed to hear — that we condemn acts of violence, acts of hatred."

"The president called on our nation to look for ways to come together, to make sure that these extremist groups are pushed out of the public debate and not given the attention that they too often receive," Pence said, adding that Trump would continue calling for a "focus on what unites us, our commitment to freedom, our commitment to justice for all."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday that the president "made a very strong statement that directly contradicted the ideology of hatred, violence, bigotry, racism, white supremacy."

The president tweeted three times Monday morning, both of which failed to mention the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

"Heading to Washington this morning. Much work to do. Focus on trade and military. #MAGA," Trump tweeted. About 10 minutes later, Trump tweeted his support for Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., who is a candidate in the Republican primary Tuesday to fill the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The president later blamed Democrats in a tweet for trade deals.

At a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Pence noted that Santos' son recently graduated from the University of Virginia, which is in Charlottesville.

"What happened yesterday in Charlottesville was a tragedy," he said. "It did not represent that community, and it didn't represent the United States."

Peter Alexander and Erika Angulo reported from Cartagena. Alex Johnson reported from Los Angeles.