Vice President Mike Pence expressed his support for Donald Trump in carefully worded remarks as the administration coped with the fallout over controversial statements from the president on the deadly weekend violence in Virginia.
“The president has been clear on this, and so have I,” Pence said Wednesday during a news conference in Santiago, Chile. Pence went on to refer to his own forceful condemnation of white supremacists issued on Aug. 13 after the melee, saying, “I stand with the president, and I stand by those words.”
Pence didn’t directly address a reporter’s question on the vice president’s opinion of Trump’s statement on Tuesday, when the president returned to his controversial position that there was “blame on both sides” for the weekend violence and likened the actions of white supremacists chanting anti-Jewish slogans to those of the people who came out to confront them.
The violence erupted as white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville over the weekend to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general in the Civil War, from a public park.
One woman was killed and at least 19 others were injured after an Ohio man allegedly rammed a group of counter-demonstrators with a vehicle, and two Virginia state troopers who were observing the demonstrations died in a helicopter crash nearby. Photographs showed a group of whites using long metal poles to beat a black man crouching on his knees.
Trump has faced intense criticism from business leaders and lawmakers in both parties since saying Aug. 12 that “many sides” bore blame for the melees that erupted in Charlottesville. Several corporate chief executives quit White House business panels in recent days and the president announced right after Pence spoke that he was disbanding business advisory groups on manufacturing and strategic policy.
Read More: Trump Ends Business Councils as CEOs Turn Against Him
Even inside the White House, some staff were deeply dismayed by Trump’s comments Tuesday, according to a person close to the White House.
Prominent Republicans continued distancing themselves from Trump on Wednesday, though in most cases without directly criticizing the president.
“America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms,” former Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush said in a joint statement Wednesday without mentioning Trump.
‘No Good Neo-Nazis’
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky followed the same course, releasing a statement Wednesday on “hate groups” without mentioning Trump or the president’s remarks.
“There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms,” McConnell said. “We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head.”
Trump criticized “alt-left” counter-protesters as “very, very violent.” Facing them, he said, “were people protesting very quietly the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee. I am sure in that group there were some bad ones.”
Protesters objecting to Confederate generals could move on next to heroes of the American Revolution, he warned.
“So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down too,” Trump said. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
In a reference to a former Ku Klux Klan leader who has praised Trump’s comments, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Wednesday in a statement, “Many Republicans do not agree and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world.”