Former Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that Donald Trump was “wrong” to recently have dinner with White nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and rapper Kanye West at his Florida resort and that the former president should apologize for it.
“President Trump was wrong to give a White nationalist, an antisemite and Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize for it. And he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification,” Pence told NewsNation in a clip released Monday night.
Trump “demonstrated profoundly poor judgment in giving those individuals a seat at the table,” he said, adding that he does not believe that Trump is “a racist or a bigot.”
Trump has faced swift backlash from members of his own party after hosting Fuentes and West at his Mar-a-Lago estate last Tuesday. The meeting came a week after the former president announced he would seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
Pence, who has also been viewed as a potential 2024 Republican candidate, has largely spoken favorably of Trump’s policies and his time in his administration, but he has broken with the former president on his handling of the January 6, 2021, attack at the US Capitol. He told CNN in a November town hall that Trump’s words and tweet on January 6 “were reckless” and that he believes there will be “better choices” in 2024 than Trump.
The comments from Pence join a chorus of intense criticism aimed at Trump in recent days.
Jason Greenblatt, who served as White House Middle East envoy in the Trump administration, wrote in an op-ed for CNN published Monday that the dinner “should not have happened. Period.”
“I hope President Trump condemns Fuentes, West and their ilk for what they are – haters of Jews and haters of the foundations of the United States of America. People like Fuentes are dangerous to the United States. The President Trump that I know would recognize that and issue this condemnation,” Greenblatt, who is Jewish, wrote. “Regardless of how or why the dinner happened, haters such as Fuentes and West should not be given a platform or seat at the table by anyone.”
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, reacting to news of the meeting, told CNN on Monday that Fuentes “is a purveyor and a spreader of an evil, poison,” and added of West: “I don’t know him, but the guy’s got some problems.”
Asked if Trump should condemn Fuentes, Rubio said: “I hope he will. Because I know he’s not an antisemite. I can tell you that for a fact that Trump is not but this guy (Fuentes) is evil. And that guy’s just a nasty, disgusting person. He’s an ass clown.”
GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, meanwhile, fiercely condemned Trump having hosted the group.
“You know, I think it’s disgusting to invite people like that to meet with a former president of the United States. I think there’s – it’s been clear that there’s no bottom to the degree to which President Trump will degrade himself and the nation,” Romney said.
When asked if Trump should apologize, Romney said: “He doesn’t. He never sees anything wrong in anything he does, so this is characteristic of his approach, which is either say it was a joke or say he didn’t know what was happening. But that doesn’t fly, obviously. This is something which degrades him frankly, to do what he’s done. And it’s something which diminishes the country as well. It’s very unfortunate.”
On Sunday, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the meeting with the two figures “very troubling” and “empowering” for extremism.
“No, I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that’s setting an example for the country or the party to meet with (an) avowed racist or antisemite. And so it’s very troubling and it shouldn’t happen and we need to avoid those kind of empowering the extremes,”he told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” “You want to diminish their strength, not empower them. Stay away from it.”
Hutchinson, who is term-limited and leaving office in January, is currently mulling a 2024 White House bid.
CNN previously reported that Trump was engaged with Fuentes and found him “very interesting” during the dinner, according to a source familiar with it, particularly Fuentes’ abilities to rattle off statistics and data, and his familiarity with Trump world. At one point during the dinner, Trump declared that he “liked” Fuentes.
The Anti-Defamation League has identified Fuentes as a White supremacist and he has been banned from most major social media platforms for his White nationalist rhetoric. Fuentes was present on the grounds of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and has promoted Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about fraud in the 2020 election. West became engulfed in his own controversy after repeating antisemitic conspiracy theories and making other offensive claims last month.
Trump acknowledged the dinner in a post on Truth Social on Friday, writing: “This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about. We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport.”
Trump repeated later Friday that he “didn’t know” Fuentes and had offered West business as well as political advice.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Kit Maher, Maeve Reston, Kristen Holmes and Devan Cole contributed to this report.