In an exclusive interview with Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday’s NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer noted that President Trump was “getting applause from a lot of people” for his address to the nation on Afghanistan, but then focused entirely on criticism of the newly announced war strategy.
Completely missing the point of Trump’s intentional decision not to publically announced troop numbers or a timeline for military operations, Lauer pressed Pence: “A lot of the of the criticism I’m hearing this morning deals with specifics. For example, he says he’s going to send more troops to Afghanistan but he didn’t say how many and what timeline he would use for them being there....How many troops are going?”
After Pence reiterated the President’s plan to let conditions on the ground determine troop strength, Lauer insisted: “But with all due respect, without numbers and without a timeline, isn’t this an extremely open-ended commitment to a war that’s already dragged on for 16 years?”
Pence replied: “Well, as you’re aware, the Pentagon in June made a request for some nearly 4,000 troops to deploy in the region.” Lauer eagerly asked: “Is that the number?”
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Immediately following special coverage of the President’s speech Monday night, analysts on NBC and ABC wasted no time reminding viewers of Trump’s low approval rating and arguing that his “trust deficit” would make “selling a country on extending a war” that is “very unpopular” a “difficult task.”
Meanwhile, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell was so desperate for details that he actually hoped for national security leaks about troop deployments to Afghanistan.
The slanted exchange with Pence was brought to viewers by Honda, Sleep Number, and Citi.
Here is a transcript of Lauer’s questions to the Vice President in the August 22 interview:
7:06 AM ET
MATT LAUER: The Vice President of the United States is Mike Pence and he joins us this morning live. Mr. Vice President, it’s nice to see you.
MIKE PENCE: Thank you, Matt. Welcome to the White House.
LAUER: Thank you, it’s good to be here. Let’s talk about the President’s speech last night. He’s getting applause from a lot of people, some criticism. A lot of the of the criticism I’m hearing this morning deals with specifics. For example, he says he’s going to send more troops to Afghanistan but he didn’t say how many and what timeline he would use for them being there. You were a key part of the discussions that led to this new strategy. How many troops are going?
LAUER: You say this is a departure from the policies of the past, the Obama administration. The editor of Breitbart tweeted after the speech last night, quote, “Trump’s Afghanistan speech was Obama’s speech minus the deadline and the details.” He’s saying that this speech – or this strategy is very similar to the strategy of Barack Obama.
LAUER: But with all due respect, without numbers and without a timeline, isn’t this an extremely open-ended commitment to a war that’s already dragged on for 16 years?
PENCE: Well, as you’re aware, the Pentagon in June made a request for some nearly 4,000 troops to deploy in the region.
LAUER: Is that the number?
LAUER: On the subject of Pakistan, real quickly, the President said they have to do more, they have to stop harboring terrorists, they have to stop allowing terrorists to operate with free rein within their borders. If they don’t toe the line, is it possible he’ll go one step further and he’ll declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism?
LAUER: Let me ask you about some other items in the news. Mr. Vice President, have you ever met a neo-Nazi or a white nationalist or white supremacist that you consider to be a fine person?
PENCE: Never in my life have I met anyone associated with white supremacists or KKK or the neo-Nazi movement that I would have anything other than contempt for.
LAUER: So when the President made his comments following Charlottesville –
PENCE: Honestly, Matt, I can’t remember meeting people in that category. I see them on television, and as the President has made clear, we have denounced those organizations.
LAUER: Well, but the President said that there were fine people on both sides of that rally in Charlottesville. So when he said those words, you obviously didn’t agree with him. Did they offend you, those words?
PENCE: Say again?
LAUER: Well, obviously the President said he thought there were fine people on both sides of that rally in Charlottesville. So when he said that – you just told me you don’t agree with that – did those words offend you?
LAUER: But he says there were fine people on both sides of that rally.
LAUER: And yet, when David Duke heard the comments made by the President on Charlottesville, he thanked the President. Is it – how can you be thanked by David Duke, a white supremacist, and not be on completely the wrong side of the issue?
LAUER: You are a loyal defender of this president and you should be commended for that, but other top Republican leaders have rebuked him, top military leaders have rebuked him, business leaders have rebuked him for his comments on Charlottesville, and you continue to defend him. Are you putting your loyalty above and in front of what’s in your heart and your gut?
PENCE: I heard him on that Monday, and I heard him as well on Tuesday, like millions of Americans did, where he condemned the hate and the bigotry that was evidenced there –
LAUER: But went back to saying there’s blame on both sides.
LAUER: I could sit here and talk about this with you for a couple of hours, but they are telling me that it is time to wrap. So I will say, Vice President Pence, it’s a pleasure. Thank you very much for your time this morning.
PENCE: Thank you, Matt.
LAUER: Appreciate it.