Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly refused to directly answer during a Sunday interview whether he believes the US is morally superior to Russia.
His dodges on the subject came a day after President Donald Trump rebuffed Bill O’Reilly when the Fox News host dubbed Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer,” reiterating that he respects Putin, and claiming that the US is not “so innocent.”
Appearing on “Face The Nation” on Sunday, Pence defended Trump’s comments, saying the president recognizes “the extraordinary superiority of the ideas of the American people” but that he was “bringing a healthy skepticism” to the US-Russia relationship.
“I simply don’t accept that there was any moral equivalency in the president’s comments. Look, President Trump, throughout his life, his campaign, and during his administration, has never hesitated to be critical of government policies by the United States in the past,” Pence said. “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.”
CBS host John Dickerson then asked directly whether the ideals of the US were morally superior.
“What you have in this new president is someone who is willing to, and is in fact engaging the world, including Russia, and saying, ‘Where can we find common interests that will advance the security of the American people, the peace and prosperity of the world?’ And he is determined to come at that in a new and renewed way,” Pence replied.
Dickerson continued to press the vice president.
“But America morally superior to Russia? Yes or no?” Dickerson asked.
“I believe that the ideals that America has stood for throughout our history represent the highest ideals,” Pence said.
When Pence went on to summarize his recent visit to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the US Constitution was crafted, Dickerson asked again.
“Shouldn’t we be able to just say yes to that question?” Dickerson replied.
“American ideals are superior to countries all across the world, but again, what the president is determined to do – someone who has spent a lifetime looking for deals is to see whether we can have a new relationship with Russia and other countries that advances the interests of America first and the peace and security of the world,” Pence said.
Pence’s comments came as many other top Republican leaders distanced themselves from Trump, who has repeatedly defied lawmakers and the US foreign-policy establishment by praising Putin. The Russian president’s human-rights abuses have been roundly criticized by global watchdogs.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he did not agree with Trump’s statement.
“I can speak for myself, and I already have about Vladimir Putin and the way the Russians operate. I’m not going to critique every utterance of the president. I obviously don’t see the issue the same way he does,” McConnell said.
And in a tweet on Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio criticized Trump’s comments, suggesting that US leaders do not poison political opponents, a seemingly abundant occurrence in Russia.