Mike Pence told group of Republican donors Friday night that there’s “no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” according to text of the former Vice President’s speech shared on his official Twitter account.
The comments at a Republican National Committee retreat in New Orleans come the week after former President Donald Trump praised Putin as a “genius” and a “peacekeeper” for invading Ukraine, the latest development in the former president’s years-long infatuation with the Russian authoritarian. NBC News first reported the contents of Pence’s speech earlier in the day.
Trump has since described the invasion as a “holocaust,” but has refrained from criticizing Putin.
“To those who argue that NATO expansion is somehow responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ask yourself, where would our friends in Eastern Europe be today if they were not in NATO?” Pence said Friday. “Where would Russian tanks be today if NATO had not expanded the borders of freedom? There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin. There is only room for champions of freedom.”
Pence’s speech marks the second time in the span of a month that he’s taken a shot at Trump while speaking to conservatives.
“This week, our former president said I had the right to ‘overturn the election.’ President Trump is wrong,” Pence said during a Federalist Society event in early February. “I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone.”
“Frankly there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one president could choose the American president,” the former vice president added.
Trump responded by calling Pence “an automatic conveyor belt for the Old Crow Mitch McConnell to get Biden elected President.”