Vice President Mike Pence kicks off the Trump campaign's "Faith in America" tour in Pewaukee on June 23, 2020. Photo by David Wise.

By David Wise, Adam Kelnhofer and Caroline Kubzansky,

PEWAUKEE: Vice President Mike Pence during a pair of suburban Milwaukee visits today dismissed calls to defund police, touted an improving economy and praised private school choice.

Pence, during his visits in the GOP stronghold of Waukesha County, called the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer a “tragedy that shocked the conscience of the nation” and declared “justice will be served.”

“There’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd, but there’s no excuse for the violence and rioting and looting” that followed, he said during his fourth visit to the state this year.

Pence said during the rioting, “Biden sent out a press release,” while “President Donald Trump sent in the National Guard.”

As protests continue, he said the administration has been sitting down with law enforcement and listening to leaders in the African American community.

“We’re listening, we’re learning, we’re leading, but we’re not going to defund the police,” he said to cheers.

Later, he noted the attempted arson of the  St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., an attempt to tear down a statue of Andrew Jackson and other acts.

“Burning churches is not protest; desecrating a synagogue is not free speech,” he said.

“There will be no tolerance for vandalism and violence in the United States, and we will prosecute those who do it to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued to loud cheers.

Pence made his remarks in Pewaukee, the kickoff for the Trump campaign’s “Faith in America” tour, before a group of about 200 supporters in a large ballroom at the Ingleside Hotel. It was the second event of the day.

To address concerns over COVID-19, groups of two chairs were placed six feet apart, with a roughly six-foot space between rows. Over 100 additional people were gathered in an overflow room, which Pence addressed before speaking in the main ballroom.

Before entering the event, attendees had to undergo temperature checks and sign a waiver regarding COVID-19 risks. Surgical masks were made available to attendees, though few wore them inside. Stations with hand sanitizer were also placed near entryways.

Outside the event, a small group of protesters lined one side of the street ahead of Pence’s arrival.

Among those Pence recognized in the crowd were former Gov. Scott Walker, who addressed the crowd earlier, and Reps. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, and Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah.

Pence touted economic gains under Trump, saying the “economy was on a roll” until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The vice president praised Trump’s response to the pandemic, noting he took action before the first domestic transmission was reported. He drew applause when he mentioned that Trump early on halted travel from China to the U.S.

He also noted the increase in COVID-19 testing, saying the country is now administering 500,000 tests per day, and touted the ramp-up in production of protective equipment and ventilators.

Pence said all 50 states are now reopening after shutdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19, and that “because of the strength and resilience of the American people” 2.5 million jobs were created last month.

“The great American comeback has begun, and President Trump is leading the way,” he said.

Pence slammed former President Barack Obama and his former vice president, Joe Biden, and said they presided over the slowest economic recovery in history.

He said Biden, the presumptive Dem nominee and Trump’s opponent this fall, wants to raise taxes, “stifle American energy,” “roll out an avalanche of regulations” and “get back to the old days of economic surrender to China.”

“But that’s not going to happen because we’re going to reelect Donald Trump,” he said to cheers.

Watch video of the event here:

The Pewaukee stop followed a visit from Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to the Waukesha STEM Academy, where the two promoted private school choice programs in Wisconsin and around the nation.

Pence and DeVos agreed the overall school landscape is changing and school choice is becoming more important to facilitate that growth and change. Pence emphasized the importance of parents having the freedom to choose which schools to send their children, regardless of where they live.

“We really believe school choice’s … time has come, and I particularly believe that every parent should be able to choose where their kid goes to school,” said Pence.

DeVos said education savings accounts are another way to promote school choice by allowing parents to take a tax credit to pay for charter and private schools.

“We know that more students need school choice now than ever before,” said DeVos.

DeVos pointed to Trump’s Education Freedom scholarships as a way to address the problems facing students caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

State participation in Trump’s plan will be optional, and scholarships provided to students will be funded through private contributions, according to DeVos.

The plan would make more than $5 billion available to schools that decide to participate.

Protestors gathered outside the Waukesha STEM Academy holding signs denouncing the current administration and police violence against African Americans.

Inside the school gymnasium, chairs for members of the public were spaced six feet apart to facilitate physical distancing, but far less than half of the small crowd wore masks.

See video here:

Prior to Pence’s visit, DNC Chair Tom Perez knocked President Trump’s record on trade and farm policy, saying trade wars with China put Wisconsin farmers “over the barrel.”

Perez, alongside farmers and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, said that Trump’s eagerness to tangle with China on trade had injured farmers well before the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic damage. He called Wisconsin the “farm bankruptcy capital of the U.S.” for both 2018 and 2019.

“Instead of forcing China to the table to negotiate a trade deal that protected us, China sensed Trump’s desperation and played him like a fiddle,” Perez told reporters in a teleconference. “He got conned, the fool got fooled, and we’ve all paid the price.”

Buttigieg took the opportunity to connect the manufacturing recession and worsening economic situation for farmers to the election in November. Trump not only betrayed American manufacturing workers and farmers, Buttigieg said, but also American values.

“His silence was purchased on fundamental issues of our values like democracy and formation of concentration camps in Xinjiang province in hopes of getting a better deal,” he said. “The deal he got is so much worse than where we started out.”

Buttigieg added that with former Vice President Joe Biden, “we’ll actually have someone who knows what he’s doing” with Chinese foreign policy.

Craig Myhre, a western Wisconsin farmer, said he’s watched the president’s tariffs chase buyers away and is pessimistic that those customers will return.

“This is going to be a market that we’ve lost and is never going to come back,” he said.Today’s visit marked Pence’s fourth to the state this year.

He joined Trump for a Milwaukee campaign rally in January. He then made two official stops — one at the state Capitol in January for a pro-school choice event and the other at the GE Healthcare facility in Madison in April to tout the company’s efforts to produce ventilators.

Pence had a campaign event planned for Onalaska in early March. But he canceled it to deal with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump is to be in the state Thursday to tour Fincantieri Marinette Marine and hold a televised town hall in Green Bay.

The town hall with Fox News host Sean Hannity is to be held at the Jet Air facility at Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport.

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