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Pence holds Tucson photo op, permits no questions

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Pence holds Tucson photo op, permits no questions

No questions, please; no photos, thanks: Former veep & Trump back different horses in Az gov primary, with Pence hopping aboard Robson's jet for campaign jaunt

  • A study in bland beige is reflective of former VP Pence's calculated refusal to answer questions while campaigning for GOP gubernatorial aspirant Karrin Taylor Robson in Arizona.
    TucsonSentinel.comA study in bland beige is reflective of former VP Pence's calculated refusal to answer questions while campaigning for GOP gubernatorial aspirant Karrin Taylor Robson in Arizona.

Reporters were not allowed to ask questions during a Tucson campaign event held Friday for Karrin Taylor Robson, featuring former Vice President Mike Pence.

In Pence's second trip to Southern Arizona this summer, he traveled here to stump for Robson, as part of a proxy war between himself and ex-president Donald Trump over who should become the GOP candidate for governor. Even while Pence avoided questions during two events for Robson, Trump returned to Arizona for one of his signature rallies, appearing in Prescott Valley to push for Robson's competitor, Kari Lake.

While Pence visited the U.S.-Mexico border in June, this time the border was 68 miles to the south — though Pence managed to get just a mile from the Omni Tucson National Resort — visiting the Marana-area office of a union for Border Patrol agents. The National Border Patrol Council says it represents thousands of BP agents, and has shifted in recent years from a union concerned with overtime payments to one deeply invested in Republican politics. 

With his wife Karen in tow, Pence sat with Robson and Gov. Doug Ducey at at table packed into a small conference room at the Local 2544 office, along with three union members, including its president, Brandon Judd. Judd, Ducey, Robson and Pence spoke for about 20 minutes illuminated by bright lights in front of a half-dozen television cameras.

The event was billed as a "border security briefing and discussion," but while there may have been a briefing and some discussion, reporters weren't around to hear that part. Instead, nearly a dozen reporters were asked to leave immediately following canned speeches from Ducey, Robson and the former VP.

In fact, while the trio spoke, an aide handed a note to the mixing board operator, telling him to cut their microphones immediately after they finished. Even if a reporter tired to holler a query, any reflexive response would be muted.

Because the refusal to allow questions — which sources indicated was insisted on by Pence — meant the event was merely a photo op for Robson's campaign as she met and glad-handed with BP agents and their families outside, elected to not publish photos of the election stunt at this point. We have very affordable campaign ads available, but they don't come free.

Pence's security detail feared for their lives

It was no surprise Pence wanted to avoid questions following last Thursday's hearing of the January 6 Committee.

In a recording, a White House official testified that members of Pence's security detail feared for their lives as a violent mob of Trump supporters smashed their way into the Capitol building. Some Secret Service agents radioed to others to deliver messages to "say goodbye" to family members, as the rioters threatened members of Congress, with some calling to hang Pence.

A security log showed Pence's detail tried to evacuate him, and the effort became especially urgent after Trump got on to Twitter to tell his supporters—including those engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Capitol police— that Pence "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution."

One of the committee members, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, summed up Trump's role in the battle for the Capitol building: "Despite knowing the Capitol had been breached and the mob was in the building, President Trump called Mike Pence a coward and placed all the blame on him for not stopping the certification," Kinzinger said. "He put a target on his own vice president's back."

In June, Pence told reporters during a press conference near the U.S.-Mexico border, he "did his duty" on January 6. 

"Thanks to the courage of law enforcement, we secured the Capitol and we restored order," he said. "We were able to complete our duty under the Constitution of the United States of America. I'll always believe that I did my duty that day and I know in my heart of hearts I did."

"I believe that when all the information and the facts come forward, the American people will better understand what occurred," he added in June. This puts him at odds with ex-president Trump, who has pushed the idea the election was "stolen" from him to raise more than $250 million from supporters, and launched fusillades against any Republican or Democrat who believe the election was carried out responsibly.

In an interview, Trump once defended the idea that people wanted to "hang" the vice president because he helped formalize the count of a vote that was "fraudulent."

Even as he has dodged questions, Pence's troubles have continued — his former chief of staff Marc Short has appeared before a federal grand jury under subpoena. Short told the January 6 Committee that Pence rebuffed Trump's efforts to seize the White House based on the fringe theory the VP could unilaterally refuse to count dozens of electors for Joe Biden, Politico reported.

In fact, as the January 6 Committee has increasingly made clear, Trump's maneuvers were part of a larger scheme to stall the electoral process and insert a series of false electors, including those for Arizona. He hoped Pence would relent under his pressure and ignore the will of voters across the nation.

If Pence had seized the moment Friday to respond to questions after yet more dramatic testimony before Congress was made public, reporters from the Sentinel and the other news organizations covering the campaign stop would have asked him how he reacted — then and now — to his security team telling their colleagues to relay what they thought to be possible last words to their families.

They would also have asked why he himself has not testified before the January 6 Committee about the events of that day, and the push by Trump and his minions before it to subvert the election process.

They would have asked him if he felt at the time that he was in danger. Why he refused to get in a car with his Secret Service team. What information he has about the text messages the members of that team deleted. What discussions he had about invoking the 25th Amendment. What knowledge he had of plans by the defeated president and his supporters to interfere with the final declaration of the electoral vote.

Instead, Pence delivered a handful of well-worn lines to a small hand-picked audience.

Robson pushes for border wall, National Guard, hit on 'sanctuary cities'

Pence's refusal to take questions may have also been a relief for Robson. While former local TV news personality Lake relishes taking reporter's questions, using interviews as an opportunity to savage her former industry and burnish her reputation with her supporters, Robson has largely avoided press conferences as she's pursued becoming the Republican candidate in Arizona.

Friday was no different, as Robson held two events featuring Pence, the first one at TYR Tactical in Peoria, where she spoke in front of a relatively small crowd with the ex-VP and Ducey. 

After the event at TYR Tactical, the trio flew aboard a $10 million private jet registered to her developer husband's company from Glendale to Marana Regional Airport — just a few minutes from the union's office on West Magee Drive. As the Arizona Mirror noted, the Dassault Falcon 900 jet that carried Robson and her supporters had earlier that day flown from Scottsdale Municipal to Glendale's Municipal Airport, leading to questions whether Robson decided to take an 11-minute hop on a private plane rather than drive across a small slice of the Phoenix metro area.

Robson's campaign rejected this idea, telling the Mirror, "Neither Karrin nor any other participants in today’s campaign event in Peoria were on the plane that traveled from Scottsdale to Glendale."

The 57-year-old Robson, a former member of the Board of Regents, is married to the massively wealthy 92-year-old developer Ed Robson, whose company has built many popular retirement communities across the state.

Even with Pence, the NBPC and Ducey, Robson faces an uphill battle against Lake.

Last week, the polling organization Data Orbital called 550 likely Republican primary election voters and found Lake was leading Robson by about 11 percentage points. According to the poll, around 4.7 percent of people said they would pick Matt Salmon, who withdrew earlier this year,  while another 4.3 percent of people would pick either Scott Neely or Paola Tulliani-Zen over the two front-runners. Another 11.8 percent of voters told Data Orbital they were undecided. With an error rate of just over 4 percent, Robson's chances are slim.

Earlier this month, a poll from OH Predictive Insights of 515 likely Republican primary voters showed Lake leading Robson by just 5 percent with around 21 percent undecided with Salmon out of the race. With an error rate of around 4 percent, OH Insight's poll shows the race is a statistical dead heat, and as the organization noted the race's "tipping point will lie with undecideds."

At the Tucson photo op, Ducey's speech was essentially the same monologue he's given since the start of the Biden administration, including comments he made at the University of Arizona in March 2021 as well as his final State of the State address a year later.

Meanwhile, Robson told the canned audience that securing the border takes two things: "resources and willpower." And, she reiterated a border plan that including calling legislators into a "special session," as well as "surge" the National Guard to the border, and "make sure the local authorities have every resource they need."

She said she would "partner with like-minded states, like Gov. Ducey has done, and we will share intel and manpower."

In many ways, Robson's plan was an extension of Ducey's efforts, leading observers to question how Ducey's efforts — which have yet to mitigate "the crisis" along the border in the eight years he's been in office — would suddenly work now. Robson also declared she would finish the border wall.

Ducey already sent National Guard troops to the border — a maneuver that's been done under the aegis of the federal government since the Bush administration — and he convinced the state legislator to earmark $500 million for a border security fund, "the largest ever" to fill in for "the dereliction of duty" from the federal government. Ducey has said this funding would be spent on border barriers and sensors, though it unclear still where the money would go.

Ducey made this point explicitly when he said "I know that Karrin" will take "the same approach once she's elected as the 24th governor of our state."

Robson also declared she would "defund" what she called "sanctuary cities." Ducey tried to ban so-called "sanctuary cities" in 2020, but the bill collapsed. And, a similar effort by the Trump administration was rebuffed by federal courts on multiple occasions. Of course, Robson's idea is a solution looking for a problem because there are no "sanctuary cities" in Arizona.

Nonetheless, her plan managed to garner her the endorsement of the NBPC over the Trump-favored Lake, despite the close ties between union honchos and the former president.

Pence pushes claims border 'most secure' despite data

Pence said Friday that the Biden administration "inherited the most secure border in American history," echoing a similar claim he made in June that remains misleading based on figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection—the parent agency of U.S. Border Patrol.

Under the Trump administration, average monthly apprehensions of migrants rose compared to the Obama administration. During the last month of the Obama administration, border officials intercepted people nearly 44,000 times. By the end of the Trump administration, border officials found nearly 71,000 people, an increase of 61 percent. Meanwhile, drug seizures by CBP also increased from 2016 through late 2020, but fell slightly in 2021.

That occurred even as the Trump administration launch a series of policies against asylum seekers, and spent millions to build hundreds of miles of new border barriers.

If a hard, mute tough-guy stare learned from movies could close the border, Pence could get the job done. But standing up and answering questions without a script wasn’t were he — or Robson or Ducey — were at Friday.

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