Vice President Mike Pence defended President Donald Trump on Saturday amid criticism that the divisive rhetoric pouring from the White House had influenced the mass pipe bomb mailings sent to prominent Democrats or the attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh last week.
“Everyone has their own style, and frankly, people on both sides of the aisle use strong language about our political differences,” Pence said on NBC News Saturday. “But I just don’t think you can connect it to acts or threats of violence.”
The U.S. is reeling from a shocking week of threats and attacks after Cesar Sayoc, 56, was arrested for allegedly mailing at least a dozen packages containing likely pipe bombs to prominent Trump critics. Days later, 11 people were gunned down inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh during Saturday services. Robert Bowers, 46, has been accused of that crime and reportedly walked into the building yelling, “All Jews must die,” before opening fire.
Both Trump and Pence have denounced the attacks and called for national unity in the face of such horrors. But the president has quickly moved to paint his political foes as enemies once more, chastising the media and calling one of the men, the billionaire Tom Steyer, who was sent a bomb, “wacky” on Twitter. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has also accused CNN, which received a bomb as well, of moving to “attack and divide.”
Pence this weekend rebuffed claims that such behavior had in any way influenced the attacks, even amid calls from Jewish leaders that the White House tone down its inflammatory remarks.
“I think we need to be very careful in any way to connect the kind of violent behavior we witnessed in Pittsburgh today, the threats of violence against prominent Americans that we witnessed in the pipe bombs, what happened in Sutherland Springs, Texas, or what happened here in Las Vegas, to the political debate,” Pence said. “We want a free and open political debate in America where everyone expresses themselves passionately and openly.”
The vice president said the attack in Pittsburgh “was evil” and that there was “no tolerance in the country for violence against innocent Americans or attacks on places of worship.”
“The president and I are absolutely determined to do everything in our power to prevent these type of attacks from happening in the future,” he said.
Earlier this month, Trump praised Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte (MT) during a rally in Missoula, cheering the lawmaker as a “tough cookie” over his assault of a reporter last year.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the state Rep. Greg Gianforte represents. He represents Montana.