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Pence pushes trade deal, quiet on border security in Southern Arizona swing

Vice President Mike Pence touted President Trump's trade deal with Mexico and Canada during a speech in Southern Arizona on Thursday, calling on Congress to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement.

Calling the plan the "largest trade agreement in American history," Pence, speaking at a Caterpillar testing center south of Tucson, said that "the time has come for Congress to pass the USMCA — and pass it this year."

Although he has strongly pushed Trump's border wall projects in earlier visits to the borderlands, Pence was subdued on that topic during this trip. He only obliquely mentioned the Ukraine-connected scandal that's dogging Trump and his administration.

The Republican vice president joined U.S. Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona this week at a series of private events in Green Valley, Phoenix and Scottsdale, including a fundraiser and Thursday's trade speech.

Pence took part in a "McSally Victory" reception in Phoenix on Wednesday evening, and a roundtable discussion at a Scottsdale church Thursday morning with a group of Hispanic leaders.

The vice president promoted the Trump administration's USMCA trade agreement at Caterpillar’s Tinaja Hills testing center in Green Valley on Thursday. The event was not open to the public.

"Caterpillar is a global company, isn't it? — selling your products all over the world," he told a small crowd seated in front of some of the company's yellow-painted heavy equipment.

In a short campaign-style speech heavy on well-tested applause lines, Pence only briefly touched on the impeachment debate embroiling the Trump administration, mentioning "endless investigations trying to overturn the will of the American people."

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Pence said the administration had accomplished "two and a half years of promises made and promises kept," repeating a standard GOP talking point.

Pence honored veterans in the audience, asking them to stand for applause, and had praise for the "remarkable employees" of Caterpillar.

The vice president urged people to call U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick to urge her to vote for the USMCA. Her district director, Ron Barber, was at the speech and indicated that the CD 2 Democratic congresswoman supports the measure with a minor change.

Pence didn't mention U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Democrat in whose 3rd Congressional District he delivered the speech.

McSally and Pence's meeting, joined by Gov. Doug Ducey, at the First Baptist Church of Scottsdale earlier in the day was billed as a "Southwest Hispanic Leaders Roundtable."

"Great to see Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona! She's been a tireless advocate for the people of her state," Pence's office posted on Facebook.

Pence was scheduled to fly between Phoenix and Tucson on Air Force 2 on Thursday, landing at Tucson International Airport, and returning to Washington, D.C. in the afternoon.

Arizona Democratic spokesman Brad Bainum blasted Pence for "making a fundraising trip to bail out unelected Sen. Martha McSally."

The Republican, who was appointed to the Senate after losing the November 2018 election to Krysten Sinema, faces an election next year to hang on to her seat, with Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, as her likely Democratic opponent.

McSally has drawn a pair of right-wing challengers in the GOP primary: skincare company exec Daniel McCarthy and former revenge-porn website operator Craig Brittain.

McSally has closely allied herself with President Donald Trump from the beginning of her 2018 Senate campaign, despite earlier attempting to leave some distance between herself and the White House when she held a Southern Arizona congressional seat.

Pence's visit, even if not nominally connected to her campaign, is an opportunity for McSally to display her Trump-supporting credentials to members of Republican factions that might be wavering in their support of her.

Pence visited Arizona in April to garner publicity for Trump's border-wall plans. During this trip, he didn't give much of his time to the topic.

Thursday, a staffer for the Center for Biological Diversity blasted Pence's visit.

"Pence should be ashamed to show his face in Arizona or anywhere along the border," said Laiken Jordahl from the environmental group. "His hateful policies have ripped border walls through our protected public lands and communities. Pence is responsible for separating children from their families. And he’s damaged relationships with Mexico, which is Arizona’s most important trading partner. His closed-door meeting with corporate sponsors of this destruction adds insult to injury."

Green Valley News Editor Dan Shearer contributed to this report.

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Dan Shearer/Green Valley News

Pence speaking in Green Valley.