Pence defends support for Ukraine after ‘sporting debate’ with Tucker Carlson sparks meme storm


(WASHINGTON) — During an ance on the Hugh Hewitt Show Monday, former Vice President Mike Pence fought back against accusations that the U.S. is “not [his] concern” amid the war in Ukraine and defended himself from “the sporting debate” that’s trolling his campaign.

“Let me also say, you know, I had a sporting debate on stage about a week or so ago with a former Fox News host that got some play on the internet,” Pence said to Hewitt, referring to a “fireside chat” with Tucker Carlson he and other 2024 candidates took part in earlier this month in Iowa.

“I just don’t think we have to choose between solving problems here at home, which is that, you know, an economy that’s failing, the border crisis, the crisis in energy, the crime wave in our cities. I don’t think we have to choose between solving problems here at home and being the leader of the free world. We can do both,” he continued. “And anybody who says we can’t has a pretty small view of the greatest nation on Earth.”

On stage at their Iowa encounter, in a moment that has since gone viral on Twitter, Carlson tells Pence: “I know you’re running for president. You are distressed that the Ukrainians don’t have enough American tanks? Every city in the United States has become much worse over the past few years. Yet, your concern is the Ukrainians…I think it’s a fair question to ask, where’s the concern for the United States?”

Pence, refuting Carlson’s claim that his concern was giving Ukraine more tanks, responded, “That’s not my concern. I’m running for president in the United States because I think this country is in a lot of trouble.”

But some have claimed Pence was stating the U.S. wasn’t his concern, a misrepresentation the former vice president has called “fake news.”

“I know there was a little bit of fake news parsing on the internet on that debate Friday, but it fortunately got cleaned up,” Pence said the Monday after the event on Larry Kudlow’s FOX Business show. “My focus is on this country and my call to support the Ukrainian military, to let them make the fight. I don’t want to see the day that our men and women in uniform have to go fight that Russian army because they crossed the wrong border.”

Pence also hit Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, a Trump supporter, after Kirk shared a shorter clip of the exchange framing Pence as not concerned with U.S. cities. Pence tagged Kirk and replied, “That is what we used to call FAKE NEWS. Here’s the full clip of my remarks if you’re interested.”

“As president of the United States, we’re going to restore law and order in our cities. We’re going to secure our border, we’re going to get this economy moving again. And we’re going to make sure that we have men and women on our courts at every level that will stand for the right to life and defend all the God-given liberties enshrined in our Constitution,” Pence went on to say on stage in Iowa.

Support for the war in Ukraine continues to divide the Republican field. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott support sending military aid, but not U.S. troops on the ground, but Scott refused to say whether he supported President Joe Biden sending cluster munitions when pressed repeatedly at the same event with Carlson.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, has called the war a “territorial dispute,” biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy opposes aid to Ukraine altogether, and former President Donald Trump said in a video over the weekend he wouldn’t let Ukraine into NATO — positions Pence broadly swiped at Monday.

“There are too many voices in our party that are sounding the retreat, that are willing to let Putin keep the land grab that he’s made in Eastern Ukraine, willing to make promises. I heard my former running mate announced over the weekend that he’s willing to promise that Ukraine will never be in NATO,” Pence told Hewitt. “In my opinion, the only thing Putin will understand is strength, and providing those courageous fighters in Ukraine what they need to repel the Russian invasion is the fastest way to security and preventing, preventing the day that American forces are actually required to go into battle in Europe again.”

While Pence always attacks Biden’s handling of the situation when asked about Ukraine, he’s aligned himself with the president on supporting cluster munitions, among other military aid, and urging Ukraine to be patient with NATO considerations until after the war.

But support for Ukraine is declining among Republicans 18 months after Russia’s invasion began. According to a Pew Research Center survey from June, 44% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the U.S. is giving too much aid to Ukraine, up from 40% in January — and from 9% in March of last year.

Many in the crowd in Iowa – usually a safe space for Pence – had boos for some of the former vice president’s answers. Still, Pence continues to campaign for the Republican nomination in early voting states.

“I think America is the leader of the free world,” Pence told a man in Berlin, New Hampshire, who had asked him about his stance on Ukraine at a town hall Friday. “And I believe it is in our national interest to provide the Ukrainian military what they need to repel that Russian invasion.”

Pence is also the only Republican presidential candidate to have visited Ukraine during the war: the first time was two months after the invasion began; the second was last month.

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