All eyes are on the U.S. in the wake of an Aug. 12 white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally that left one counter-protester dead. Which is perhaps why, during a press conference in Chile, Vice President Mike Pence couldn't escape the glare of reporters curious about President Donald Trump's comments giving equal blame for the weekend's violence to white supremacists and anti-racist counter-protesters. When pointedly asked what he thought about Trump's comments, it seems that Pence supported Trump's “alt-left” comment about Charlottesville.
The vice president's answer, reported by The Hill, was a vague affirmation of support for the president. He also offered thoughts and prayers to Heather Heyer, the anti-racist counter-protester who was killed when a man drove a car into a crowd. Pence stated,
What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy, and the president has been clear on this tragedy and so have I. 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.
Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that Pence stood by Trump, given that he also did so only days ago on Sunday, Aug. 13, after the president was criticized for failing to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis in his initial statement. And on Tuesday, Trump doubled down on the initial statement, saying the "alt-left" was also to blame.
And that's where Pence's answer becomes interesting: he was replying to a reporter who asked, "Do you agree with the president that there were good people among the white supremacist protesters, and that there was blame to be had on both sides?"
The reporter also asked the vice president whether or not he believes Confederate statues should be removed or if he, along with President Trump, believes that "Robert E. Lee should be considered in the same pantheon as George Washington."
But Pence dodged the specifics of the question. After voicing his support for Trump, Pence offered thoughts and prayers for victim Heather Heyer and a call for unity:
But today, while I am here in Chile, our hearts are in Charlottesville, because just a few short hours ago, family and friends gathered to say farewell to a remarkable young woman, Heather Heyer. We've been praying. We've been praying for God's peace and comfort for her family and her friends and her loved ones. And we're also praying that in America that we will not allow the few to divide the many. The strength of the United States of America is always strongest, as the president has said so eloquently, when we are united.
There's little room for a forgiving interpretation of Pence's answer.
Due to the specificity of the reporter's question, his answer implies not just support for the president's original "both sides" statement, but also Aug. 15's rambling, combative presser in which he said there are "very fine" white supremacists, and largely blamed what he called the "alt-left" for the weekend's violence.
It shouldn't be difficult or controversial to say, "I condemn white supremacy." Or, "Robert E. Lee fought to maintain slavery and should not be venerated." It shouldn't be a matter of partisan division or, as Pence called it, the few dividing the many. Other GOP leaders are doing so. They're even scoring brownie points for condemning the weekend violence -- even if they're not acting on their words.
But Pence gave his answer: he stands by his man, and he has thoughts, prayers, and little else for those injured while trying to stand up to hate.