GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence referred to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke as “that bad man” today, but continued to refuse to use the word "deplorable" to describe him.
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“I'm also not going to validate the language that Hillary Clinton used to describe the American people,” Pence told reporters following a meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill, referring to Clinton’s comment over the weekend that half of Donald Trump supporters were a "basket of deplorable."
“Hillary Clinton wasn't talking about that bad man,” Pence continued. “She was talking about people all across this country who are coming out in record numbers to stand by Donald Trump and to stand with him in his vision to make America great again.”
Clinton has since expressed regret for the comment.
Pence first declined to label David Duke as “deplorable” during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“I’m not in the name-calling business,” Pence responded.
Pence added that Trump does not "want [Duke's] support and we do not want the support of people who think like him."
"The simple fact is that I am not in the name-calling business. My colleagues in the House of Representatives know that I believe that civility is essential in a vibrant democracy and it's never been my practice," added Pence, who served six terms in Congress prior to becoming the governor of Indiana.
Pence drew a comparison between Orlando shooter Omar Mateen's father supporting Clinton to Duke's support of Trump.
“We live in a free country. And people of ill motives can associate themselves with politics. I would draw no more conclusion of that man's expressions of support than I would the fact [that] the father of a terrorist who killed 49 Americans was seen at a Hillary Clinton rally cheering her on and said he was there because she was good on national security," he said.
Congressional members are split on Pence's decision not to call Duke "deplorable" even though both he and Trump have denounced the former KKK leader.
Rep. Peter King defended the vice presidential nominee on the matter, calling it a "phony issue."
"The campaign has nothing to do with David Duke," King said.
In a one-on-one meeting with Pence, Utah Sen. Mike Lee urged Pence to strongly condemn Duke.
"Sen. Lee emphasized that Republicans must identify David Duke’s racism as deplorable, acknowledging that he ordinarily uses terms like 'deplorable' to describe messages, ideas, actions, and organizations, but not people," Lee spokesperson Conn Carroll said of the meeting. Lee also called on the campaign to denounce the "alt right movement" in his meeting.