Every lackey willingly floating in President Trump’s orbit is handed their fair share of flak for their regular defense of Trump’s latest fallacious musings.
But Vice President and Trump hype man Mike Pence is the aide most often recruited to step in it. And this week, he dove in deep, defending Trump’s unfounded — and racist — claims that “Middle Easterners” were part of the caravan of Central American migrants heading to the U.S., spouting false statistics and then being forced to shove his tail between his leg and publicly walk back the comments.
Ever since Fox News began its non-stop coverage of the group of immigrants traveling toward the U.S., Trump and his flunkies in Congress and on TV have seized on the issue to get Republican voters worked up ahead of the midterms. Trump blamed the Democrats for “open borders” and tweeted threats to Mexico and Guatemala, signaling he’d cut U.S. aide to the countries if they didn’t block the group from approaching the U.S.-Mexico border. According to multiple on-the-ground reports, the migrants were escaping violence and poverty in Honduras and hoped to seek asylum in the U.S.
In a tweet on Monday, Trump then baselessly claimed that “criminals” and “unknown Middle Easterners” were part of the group of South Americans headed toward the border. The press immediately questioned that claim, and a slew of Trump officials scrambled to jump to the President’s defense.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stood behind Trump’s claims with a befuddling statement: “We have 10 individuals, suspected or known terrorists, that try to enter our country illegally every day.” A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson made similar comments, failing to clarify the correlation between the amount of terrorists prevented from entering the U.S. daily and Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that Middle Easterners with ill will were marching toward the border.
But Pence took his Trump-guarding to another level. During an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday, Pence vouched for Trump’s suspect claims and doubled down on the statistics others in his circle cited in Trump’s defense. Pence said it was “inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent” in the caravan.
“In the last fiscal year, we apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our Southern border from countries that are referred to in the lexicon as ‘other than Mexico’ — that means from the Middle East region,” Pence said, botching the actual statistic. His spokeswoman Alyssa Farah later clarified: “In 2017 alone the U.S. apprehended on average between 10 suspected terrorists a day attempting to enter the country illegally,” at all ports of entry, not just the effectively vilified southern one. (When TPM tried to trace where those stats came from, a DHS official watered the statistic down further, saying that DHS had “prevented” terrorists “traveling or attempting to travel to the United States.”)
Pence repeated his spokesperson’s version of the stat on Tuesday in the Oval Office, just before Trump, in the same breath, admitted he had “no proof” that there were people of Middle Eastern decent tagging along with the caravan.
“There’s no proof of anything but they could very well be,” Trump said, after he let Pence and others spend more than 24 hours defending his assertions.
This week’s fumble was not the first time Pence — who tries to maintain a level-headed and rigorously moral persona in public — has found himself entangled in the webs of Trump disregard for facts or a policy agenda.
Take the “Space Force” for example: A new branch of the military that Trump has admitted he conceived in jest, but an idea that became so popular with his campaign rally crowd that he tasked his No. 2 with its management. Or during the campaign, when moral compass Pence suggested that Trump was just making a funny “quip” when he said he’d have Hillary Clinton jailed if he won the election.
For using his vice presidential office to spread lies that cover for the President, Mike Pence is our Duke of the Week.