Former Vice President Mike Pence: no room in Republican Party for ‘Putin apologists’ – USA TODAY

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WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence is expected to tell Republicans that “there is no room in this party for apologists for Putin” during an upcoming event with the party’s top donors.

Pence will direct his comments toward members of the GOP who have failed to take Russian President Vladimir Putin to task for his brutal assault on Ukraine, according to excerpts from a speech Pence will give Friday evening. The excerpts also indicate Pence will urge the party to move on from the 2020 presidential election.

More: US lawmakers attack Vladimir Putin over Ukraine invasion, Republicans call for tougher sanctions

“Where would Russian tanks be today if NATO had not expanded the borders of freedom? There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” Pence will say. “There is only room for champions of freedom.”

His comments directly contradict statements made by former President Donald Trump days ago. Trump described Putin as “smart” and “savvy” on the day Russia launched its war against Ukraine.

Trump is not directly referenced in the excerpts, but Pence’s remarks target the former president’s apparent praise for Putin and Trump’s false, unsupported allegations of election fraud.

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Pence will also allude to a possible presidential run in 2024.

“Elections are about the future,” Pence will say. “My fellow Republicans, we can only win if we are united around an optimistic vision for the future based on our highest values. We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past.”

Pence’s potential bid for the White House may place him in opposition to Trump, as the former president has not ruled out running for reelection. Pence has denied Trump’s claims that he could have overturned the results of the 2020 election.

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Both Trump and Pence have so far blamed the Russia-Ukraine war on President Joe Biden.

“It’s no coincidence that Russia waited until 2022 to invade Ukraine,” Pence will say in his speech Friday, according to excerpts. “Weakness arouses evil, and the magnitude of evil sweeping across Ukraine speaks volumes about this president.”

Contributing: The Associated Press, David Jackson

Reach out to Chelsey Cox on Twitter at @therealco.