WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence seemed to break slightly with President Donald Trump over the question of Russia on Sunday, taking a harder line than the president on how to handle Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
“We’re watching,” Pence said, when asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether the White House plans to put Russia on notice, as it has Iran, over violating the cease-fire in Ukraine. “And very troubled by the increased hostilities over the past week in eastern Ukraine.”
Although Pence would not commit to maintaining sanctions against Russia if it continues to violate the cease-fire agreement — “I think that’s a question that will be answered,” he said — the vice president’s answer differed from the one Trump gave in an interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, which will air before the Super Bowl.
In that interview, pressed by the host about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s harsh tactics — “Putin’s a killer,” O’Reilly said — Trump seemed to suggest a moral equivalency between the United States and Russia. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump said. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”
On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pence rejected the notion that Trump had equated Russia and the United States.
“I simply don’t accept that there was any moral equivalency in the president’s comments,” Pence said. “There was no moral equivalency. What you heard there was a determination to attempt to deal with the world as it is — to start afresh with Putin and to start afresh with Russia.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Pence defended the administration’s travel ban, which has encountered legal challenges after being blocked nationwide by a federal district court in Seattle on Friday night, a ruling that was upheld early Sunday by a federal appeals court.
“We’re very confident the president’s operating within his authority as president, both under the Constitution and under clear statutory law,” Pence said. “That’s what’s so frustrating about the decision.”
Asked by the show’s host, Chuck Todd, why the administration doesn’t simply withdraw its original executive order — which was drafted largely in secret without much input from the various agencies tasked with implementing it and caused chaos and confusion as soon as it was announced — Pence defended the directive as critical to the nation’s security.
“It was not done hastily,” he said. “There may have been some leaders on Capitol Hill that were not informed in the usual niceties of Washington, D.C. But look, we live in a very dangerous world. The reality is there the people around the globe who have inspired violence here in the homeland.”
Pence also defended his boss more broadly Sunday, telling “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos that “there’s a new style of leadership, not just a new leader in the White House.”
“President Trump is bringing a very candid and direct type of leadership to the White House,” Pence said. “And in conversations with leaders around the world, frankly, I think they all find it very refreshing.”
Turning to the topic of Neil Gorsuch, the White House’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Pence said he had not specifically asked the judge about Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion-rights case.
“I did not,” he said. “What the president charged us to do was to find someone who had the background, the experience, the unimpeachable credentials, the character, but also just to be faithful to the Constitution as written.”
Pence appeared on four Sunday political shows, spurning only CNN.