Vice President Mike Pence was in a Baptist church in Scottsdale on Thursday, boasting of his administration’s impact on the state’s Latino business owners, and claiming common values with them, at the same time Congress was hearing testimony in its ongoing Trump impeachment inquiry.
The Arizona meeting also came on the same day that Trump encouraged foreign governments to investigate his top political rival.
“I think the values that this administration has stood for, of faith and family and the sanctity of life and freedom, those are all values that are synonymous with the Hispanic-American community,” Pence said after the meeting.
The roundtable with Hispanic business leaders was part of a planned trip through Arizona that aimed to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, promote a trade deal with Mexico, and show support for U.S. Senator Martha McSally in her upcoming campaign. Governor Doug Ducey, U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza, and McSally joined Pence for the morning and later accompanied him to Tucson.
But the trip comes at a controversial time for the Trump administration and Pence amid an impeachment inquiry that also threatens to ensnare the vice president. That showed when reporters questioned Pence about his communication with the Ukrainian president.
The vice president denied wrongdoing on his or Trump’s parts, and defended Trump’s calls for foreign governments to investigate Joe Biden.
“One of the main reasons we were elected to Washington, D.C., was to drain the swamp,” Pence said. “And I think the American people have a right to know if the vice president of the United States or his family profited from his position as vice president during the last administration.”
He also lashed out at politicians who launched the impeachment inquiry, saying, “this is just more of the same of what we’ve seen from Democrats over the last two and a half years.”
Pence’s trip also comes as polls have started flagging Arizona, traditionally a red state, as a potential swing state in the 2020 presidential race. As the state has grown and amassed a larger Latino population, some say the tides could be changing.
Perhaps accordingly, Pence spent most of his visit on Thursday morning touting the economic gains made among Arizona’s Latino business leaders since Trump assumed office. He pointed out that the unemployment in the nation’s Latino community has been under 5 percent for the last 17 months, calling it “a particularly exciting time for Hispanic-Americans.”
Business leaders in attendance echoed Pence’s positive economic outlook, but shirked questions about the administration’s overall treatment of Latino-Americans.
“I think we’ve had incredible economic success in the Hispanic community,” said Lea Marquez Peterson, an Arizona Corporation Commissioner. “I certainly believe, though, that there are things I wish had not been said that way or there was more conversation around how it might impact the Latino community, but we have seen the lowest unemployment [and] incredible growth in Hispanic business owners.”
While business leaders in the room had positive things to say in general about Pence and his receptiveness to their ideas, Latino leaders elsewhere in the state responded differently.
“I don’t think he has any business saying what the values of the Latino community are,” said State Senator Tony Navarrete, co-chair of the state Legislature’s Latino caucus and a ranking member of its commerce committee. “He’s surrounding himself with a small group of Latinos who are comfortable with his leadership and the leadership of the administration. That is not the Latino community.”
For Navarrete and other Latino leaders in Arizona, the problems with Pence’s visit and the Trump administration go beyond the words the president has said.
“Most folks in the Latino community know that this administration is not on their side,” Navarrete said. “The fact that the administration has really prioritized doing worker raids, deportation of community members who have zero criminal history, this is something that is really targeting the social fabric of our communities.”
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Pence is due to return to Washington Thursday evening, but if his words at Thursday’s event are any indication, Arizona will be a key campaign stop in the months ahead, both for McSally’s and Trump’s re-elections.
“We’re going to be in and out of Arizona a lot,” Pence told reporters. “Because we’ve got a winning message.”
Watch below for the complete video of Pence's comments to the press following the meeting: