ST. LOUIS • Vice President Mike Pence touted President Donald Trump’s record since taking office last year in an appearance in St. Louis on Thursday, where he also attended fundraisers for two area Republicans likely to face tight contests this November.
“There’s only one way you can sum up the last 18 months,” Pence said. “It’s been 18 months of promises made and promises kept.”
In a wide-ranging, 30-minute speech at the St. Louis Marriott Grand on Washington Avenue downtown, Pence highlighted a number of key items on Trump’s agenda, such as his tax cuts, his appointment of conservative judges and his push for stronger borders.
Pence said he estimated the typical family of four in the St. Louis area would save roughly $2,600 a year thanks to the recent tax cuts.
“Confidence is back, jobs are coming back, in a word, America is back. And we’re just getting started,” he said.
Pence then thanked Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, for pushing through a bill that will gradually decrease the individual income tax rate in Missouri from 5.9 percent to 5.1 percent.
Pence also addressed Trump’s recent summit with his Russian counterpart in Helsinki, where the president drew widespread condemnation even from his staunchest defenders for praising Vladimir Putin and stating he did not “see any reason why it would be Russia” interfering in the 2016 election, rebuking findings by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Amid the backlash, Trump later attempted to clarify his comments, and Pence went further to defend the president on Thursday.
“Make no mistake about it, President Trump and I support our great intelligence agencies and the courageous men and women who lead them,” Pence said. “And as the president said, we accept our intelligence community’s conclusions about the 2016 election, but after years of the failed reset of the last administration, and capitulation to Russia, under President Trump, we’ve met Russian aggression with American strength and action.”
He also emphasized to the crowd the importance of heading to the polls for the midterm elections, throwing support behind Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, the GOP’s expected challenger to incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. McCaskill claims to be a moderate, Pence said, but “votes like (Sen.) Bernie Sanders.”
After the event, Pence was scheduled to attend a fundraiser for Hawley in St. Louis, near Ladue, said a spokeswoman for Hawley’s campaign. The event was not open to the public.
Hawley introduced the vice president at the morning event, and both he and Pence pointed to Trump’s nomination of conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court to show what’s at stake this November, as Republicans hope to keep control of Congress.
“I know the difference between a court that respects Missouri’s values, and one that dishonors them,” Hawley said. “Claire McCaskill has been wrong on every Supreme Court nominee in her entire career.”
Hawley claimed that McCaskill has already made up her mind not to vote for Kavanaugh. But the senator told the Post-Dispatch last week that she had not, and would not until she had read Kavanaugh’s writings and met with him personally.
“Anyone who thinks you can make some purely political decision on this is not being realistic about a state like Missouri,” McCaskill said. “It is not like I make a whole bunch of people happy no matter how I vote. The bottom line is you just do what is right and explain it, and Missourians, I think, will understand.”
The nomination was also on the minds of a crowd of protesters rallying across the street from the hotel, who fear the risks to abortion and reproductive health care rights should Kavanaugh be confirmed to the nation’s top court.
Undeterred by the morning’s rain, the demonstrators wielded signs, painted umbrellas and even a Trump puppet — “This is a Russian puppet,” read the sign next to the ventriloquist — the demonstrators chanted “Lock Pence up” and cheered when passing cars honked at them on Washington Avenue.
They also were protesting Hawley’s decision to enter a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
The tax bill Congress passed last year, which Trump and now Pence have traveled to Missouri to celebrate, will in 2019 eliminate the tax penalty most Americans must pay for violating the insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Hawley in February signed Missouri onto a lawsuit with 19 other states arguing that a provision in the health care law requiring most Americans to buy insurance is unlawful.
That puts protections for people with pre-existing conditions at risk, said Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, one of the groups organizing Thursday’s rally.
“With women’s rights and protections for pre-existing conditions hanging in the balance, we want to make sure Vice President Pence and Attorney General Hawley get the message loud and clear: Missourians will not go back to being discriminated against or denied care because of their extreme ideological agenda,” Dreith said.
Hawley and Pence’s remarks followed a panel discussion hosted by America First Policies, a nonprofit organization set up last year to promote Trump’s policies. The panelists focused on the benefits of the Trump administration’s tax bill and cuts to regulations, citing boosts to their small businesses and increased disposable income.
“Overall, we’ve seen unemployment at historic lows across the board,” said Alfredo Ortiz, president and CEO of the Job Creators Network. “There are more jobs available than people who are looking for them.”
Pence also was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Mike Bost in O’Fallon, Ill., at the Regency Conference Center. Like Hawley’s fundraiser, that event was not open to the public.
Bost, a two-term incumbent from Murphysboro, Ill., faces St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, a Democrat, in a nationally watched Metro East race.
Bost easily won in 2016, but Democrats think they have recruited a strong challenger in Kelly. Both candidates have been building campaign war chests, with each reporting roughly $1 million in their coffers in April.
Missouri is one of a handful of states that will determine control of the Senate in the last two years of Trump’s current term, and both Democrats and Republicans have targeted the race for McCaskill’s seat as a top priority.
McCaskill raised more than double the money Hawley did in the last quarter, but the attorney general does have Trump’s support in a state the president won by almost 19 percentage points in 2016. Trump is set to attend a July 24 fundraiser for Hawley in Kansas City.
Hawley is one of 11 Republican U.S. Senate candidates on the Aug. 7 primary ballot. The others are: Brian G. Hagg, Bradley Krembs, Tony Monetti, Kristi Nichols, Ken Patterson, Austin Petersen, Peter Pfeifer, Fred Ryman, Christina Smith and Courtland Sykes.