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And Here Comes Mike Pence on Clean-Up Duty

The vice president has been plenty busy rationalizing the increasingly dangerous rhetoric of the president

US Vice President Mike Pence Is Cleaning Up Trump's Mess

ice President Mike Pence at the Pentagon, Aug. 9, 2018.

JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

A few hours after news broke that President Trump plans to end birthright citizenship in United States, Vice President Mike Pence articulated the White House’s position to Politico. “We all cherish the language of the 14th Amendment, but the Supreme Court of the United States has never ruled on whether or not the language of the 14th Amendment subject to the jurisdiction thereof applies specifically to people who are in the country illegally,” he said after explaining that the president wants to look “in the broadest way possible” at ways to use the law to deter people from entering the United States.

The pattern is familiar. Trump carelessly floats a half-baked plan to do something he doesn’t understand, and Pence swoops in with his good posture and complete sentences to fashion the idea into something Republicans can rationalize supporting. When the president bellowed about creating the Space Force earlier this year, it was his second in command who later stood in front of a podium to run down what creating a new branch of the armed forces would entail, and why, from the administration’s perspective, it is necessary (other than placating the president, which is the real reason).

This also applies to Trump’s Twitter feed. In the same interview with Politico on Tuesday, Pence tried to explain the president’s sustained demonization of the media. Somehow, it came off as even more terrifying than the president’s tweets. “I do believe the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press,” he said, going on to note that Trump “unquestionably” holds the same belief: “He has great respect for the role the press plays. The president’s complaint, and it’s often mischaracterized, is that fake news is the problem, not news. Things that are projected, things that are articulated, that are knowingly false or with reckless disregard for the truth that create wrong impressions to people. The president has the right to express himself about the media every bit as much as the media has the right to express themselves.”

Trump obviously does not believe in the freedom of the press. The president may think he does, but Pence has to know this isn’t the case, which makes comments like this all the more sinister. No remotely reputable news organization, and certainly none of those the president frequently attacks, publishes anything that is “knowingly false.” It’s clear when Trump says this that he means news that does not flatter him; when Pence says it, it has an air of gravitas that is far easier for conservatives to digest, at least relative to when the president mashes it out in all caps. The talking points trickle down to Republican lawmakers, Fox News and others who will use them to conjure a mirage of legitimacy around the president’s abhorrent and/or illegal pronouncements.

Pence also stepped in to make a show of sympathizing with Pittsburgh’s Jewish community following Saturday’s mass shooting that left 11 dead in the Tree of Life synagogue. While campaigning in Michigan on Monday, Pence brought out a representative of Messianic Judaism, sometimes referred to as Jews for Jesus, while saying a prayer for several Republicans running for office. He did not mention the names of those who were killed two days earlier.

The Jewish community in Pittsburgh seems to want nothing to do with the president, who has for two years stoked white nationalism and emboldened anti-Semites like the one who took up arms against attendees of a bris. On Sunday, the faith’s leaders in the city penned an open letter to Trump in which they noted that he is not welcome in their city until he denounces white nationalism. “For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” they wrote. “You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.”

This hasn’t deterred the White House from trying to orchestrate a publicity appearance, but city officials — and the victims of the shooting — seem to share the opinion of the Jewish leaders who wrote the letter.

Trump departed for Pittsburgh Tuesday afternoon anyway. As has been the case following previous tragedies, he’ll likely make a mess of his efforts to console the community. Pence will be ready to tell America he didn’t.

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