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In South America, Pence Discusses Trade And Venezuela Crisis With U.S. Allies


President Trump doubled down today on his original comments on the violence in Charlottesville, Va., this weekend between white supremacists and other far-right groups and counter-protesters. Speaking at Trump Tower, he said there was blame on both sides. We'll hear more about today's remarks elsewhere in the show. As Trump tries to move beyond this controversy, Vice President Pence has been out of the country. He's visiting U.S. allies in Latin America this week, and the focus of his trip is on trade relationships and responding to the political crisis in Venezuela.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with the vice president. She joins us now from Buenos Aires. And Tamara, Pence's message to the allies he's meeting with - what have you heard so far?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The message is basically, I'm here on behalf of President Trump. He just gave a speech at the old stock market building here. And I cannot count the number of times that he quoted the president, said, as President Trump once said and said that the president sent me here to deliver a message. And part of that message is something that he delivered earlier today in a joint press conference with President Macri of Argentina. Here's a little bit of it.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: And I'm here to tell you on behalf of President Trump, the United States is with you. Under President Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first. But as I hope my presence here demonstrates, America first does not mean America alone.

KEITH: Interestingly, he also said something like that in Colombia yesterday or - yeah, the day before. And he said it in Estonia a couple of weeks ago. What he's emphasizing on this trip is a sense of unity and the shared values of freedom and prosperity and democracy.

CORNISH: Just to focus a bit more, the most pressing international issue facing Pence on this trip is the crisis in Venezuela, where the government has consolidated power over political opponents. Now, I know President Trump raised some eyebrows last week when he said he wouldn't rule out military options in Venezuela. Has Pence said anything about that?

KEITH: He has. He's had to. That remark from President Trump really cast a shadow on the early part of this trip, and it's likely that he's going to hear about those remarks in every country he visits. Other leaders have been sort of forced to respond to this, and Latin America appears to be quite united that they do not want U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.

What Pence has been doing is sort of acting as a translator for the president, saying that while the president said there are many options, he was here to emphasize the peaceful options - economic and diplomatic pressure to be applied to the Venezuelan regime.

CORNISH: Meantime, this administration has had some very serious rhetoric on trade and protecting U.S. workers. I know that's a big part of the vice president's mission this week. What is he actually facing on that front?

KEITH: Yeah, so a bunch of the countries here that he's visiting are working on a multilateral trade agreement that is oddly similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the U.S. pulled out of and, by pulling out of it, sort of blew up the agreement. And Vice President Pence on this trip is going to these countries and trying to strengthen bilateral relationships between the U.S. and these countries. So in Colombia, he announced a deal for the importation of avocados. And here in Argentina, he was talking about wanting to get U.S. pork imported into Argentina.

CORNISH: And was the vice president asked about any drama at the White House on this trip?

KEITH: (Laughter) He was, and he - remarkably, he sort of paused after the question and immediately started talking about President Trump's incredible leadership, his broad shoulders, did not even touch the drama.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks so much, Tamara.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.