“I have a lot of respect for the first lady,” Mike Pence says. | AP Photo
Asked Friday morning to respond to the powerful rebuke of Donald Trump delivered a day earlier in a speech by first lady Michelle Obama, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said “I don’t understand the basis of her claim.”
Speaking at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in New Hampshire, the first lady deviated from her usual stump speech, instead delivering emotional remarks in a call to action for women against Trump. Her voice breaking at times, she condemned Trump without ever mentioning his name, decrying vulgar remarks he made in 2005 about sexual assault.
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“This was not just a lewd conversation, this wasn’t just locker room banter,” the first lady said, a reference to Trump’s defense that his comments were just “locker room talk.” “This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior.”
“CBS This Morning” co-anchor Norah O’Donnell presented Pence with that particularly powerful segment of Obama’s speech, asking Pence if the first lady’s characterization of the Manhattan billionaire’s past remarks made him uncomfortable.
“I have a lot of respect for the first lady and the job she has done for the American people over the last seven and a half years. But I don’t understand the basis of her claim,” Pence said.
“You don’t believe his language was sexually predatory?” O’Donnell followed up.
“Well, no. I already spoke about my concerns about the language he used in that 11-year-old video. But what he has made it clear is that was talk, regrettable talk on his part,” Pence replied. “But that there were no actions and that he has categorically denied these latest unsubstantiated allegations.”
While Trump has not been shy about attacking Clinton and President Barack Obama on the campaign trail, he has generally avoided criticism of the first lady despite her increasing visibility on the stump. Pence’s more gentle approach to pushing back against her seemed a new tactic against one of Clinton’s strongest surrogates.
On the topic of the allegations of sexual assault against Trump, Pence said he believed his running mate when he said that all of them were false. The Indiana governor would not say whether or not he had a moral red line which, if crossed by Trump, would lead Pence to drop off the GOP ticket.
Pence did say that evidence to refute the allegations against Trump would emerge later Friday, although he did not say which of the four accusations of sexual assault to emerge this week the new evidence would address.
“Frankly I think before the day is out the allegations will be questioned,” Pence said, prompting Rose to ask “what evidence is coming out?”
“Well, just stay tuned. I know that there is more information that is going to be coming out that will back his claim that this is all categorically false,” Pence said.
Pence’s appearance was one of at least three national TV interviews on his schedule Friday morning. It is the second time this week that Pence, a devout evangelical Christian, has been deployed on the morning TV news circuit to defend his running mate against allegations of sexual impropriety.
The Indiana governor also made the rounds on Monday to reassure Republicans that he would not leave the ticket in the wake of the 2005 recording, in which Trump described how his celebrity allowed him to sexually assault women without consequence.