USA

Pence defends Trump holding rallies amid coronavirus: 'We're in an election year'

Vice President Mike Pence defended President Donald Trump's return to holding large rallies, typically with thousands of supporters seen standing shoulder-to-shoulder and not wearing masks, even after 200,000 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus.

"Well, we're in an election year," Pence told ABC News Live Anchor Linsey Davis on Wednesday. "President Trump and I trust the American people. We truly do believe in this freedom-loving nation that the American people know how to look after themselves, look after their families, and look after their neighbors and look out for the future of this country."

Trump tweeted a photo from his Tuesday night rally in Philadelphia showing just how packed the event was.

Davis showed Pence, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the president's photo and asked him how he can justify such a scene given the conflicting advice of health experts seeking to mitigate virus spread.

"We've trusted governors in our states, and most importantly we've trusted the American people," Pence said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has limited outdoor events and gatherings to 250 people, a figure clearly violated by the Trump Campaign. But it's not just social distancing recommendations that are being ignored at the president's rallies -- very few people are wearing masks.

On Sept. 16, Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield testified before the Senate that he believes "face masks are the single most important public health tool we have," but Trump mocked his Democratic Presidential opponent, Joe Biden, for embracing them.

Asked if he's concerned about the optics of putting political aspirations above American lives, Pence reiterated to Davis that Americans know enough to take care of themselves.

"The American people, really throughout the course of the last eight months, have demonstrated the ability to put the health of their family and their neighbors first," he said.

As the nation mourns the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the vice president said he remembers her as a "tenacious advocate for her judicial philosophy," and told Davis that Trump soon will nominate "a woman who will bring a judicial philosophy in the tradition of Justice Antonin Scalia."

"It'll be his focus entirely on choosing a woman who brings the background, the intellect and the judicial philosophy that is -- that is consistent with justices the president has appointed and the more than 200 federal judges we have appointed to the courts," Pence added.

Trump has said he would announce his nominee from the White House on Saturday.

A leading contender for the vacancy is Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a former Notre Dame law professor who clerked for Scalia. She's a devout Catholic and a favorite pick for religious conservatives who see an opportunity to overturn Roe vs. Wade, though Barrett has not ruled on any abortion-related cases.

"Judge Barrett is an extraordinary jurist," Pence said. "And she's among a number of women that are currently under consideration."

Linsey Davis' interview with Vice President Mike Pence airs tonight on "ABC News Live Prime" at 7 ET.

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