FENTON, Mo. – Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday strongly condemned vandalism at a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery as a “vile act,” and later donned work gloves and raked up debris at the cemetery.
Pence’s speech to workers and invited guests at a Fenton Caterpillar facility, and his subsequent trip to view the damage and aid in the cleanup at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, came as President Donald Trump is being criticized for what some claim was a slow reaction to the recent outbreak of anti-Semitic incidents around the nation.
The incidents included damage over the weekend of some 200 headstones at the historic Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery.
“We condemn this vile act of vandalism and those who perpetrate it in the strongest possible terms,” Pence told a small crowd at Fabick Caterpillar in Fenton, where he gave a speech on the administration’s economic agenda.
After appearing with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens at the Caterpillar event, both men traveled to the cemetery, where they met with volunteers and others and helped with the cleanup while media cameras rolled.
Trump has been criticized for an initially muted response to a spate of recent threats against Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions around the country. That came after controversy over a White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day last month that failed to mention the Jewish people, the primary victims of the Holocaust. The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect issued a brutal statement against the administration on both issues Tuesday.
Trump ultimately issued a stronger condemnation of the recent threats. Critics have alleged it was too little too late, but Pence stressed it in his speech Wednesday.
“President Trump called this a horrible and painful hour, and so it was,” Pence said. Regarding the vandalism here and the threats around the nation, Pence said, “[Trump] declared it all a sad reminder of the work that still must be done to weed out hate and prejudice and evil.”
Pence’s trip was originally planned to stress the administration’s economic agenda. After Pence started by talking at length about the St. Louis-area cemetery and the fight against anti-Semitism, he gave a more boilerplate speech, hitting familiar themes — the need for lower taxes, fewer regulations and the repeal of Obamacare — while touting Trump as a friend to business.
Speaking to the small businesses in particular, Pence said: “President Trump is your biggest fan.”
He touted Fabick Cat as a prime example of the kind of business that will be aided by the Trump administration’s policies. The company, which sells and services Caterpillar equipment, marks its 100th anniversary this year.