Pence defends Trump campaign events, citing freedom of speech and assembly

Vice President Pence on Friday defended the Trump campaign's decision to hold large indoor campaign events amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite the federal government’s own guidelines advising social distancing and avoiding large groups.

"The freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble is enshrined in the Constitution in the United States, and we have an election coming up this fall," Pence said during a coronavirus task force briefing when asked about the rallies.

"President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE and I believe that, taking proper steps as we created screening at recent events and giving people the very best counsel we have, we still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process, and we respect that," he added.

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Pence cited data from Oklahoma that showed the state has not seen a rise in positivity rate for coronavirus tests in the six days since the Trump campaign held a rally there. The incubation period for showing symptoms can take up to two weeks.

Trump has in the past week resumed holding large events for the first time since March, packing crowds into enclosed spaces in conditions that public health experts have said are most dangerous for spreading the virus. 

Pence has also hit the trail in recent days, speaking at "Faith in America" events tailored toward evangelical supporters. He has two such events scheduled for next week.

The Trump campaign handed out masks and hand sanitizer and conducted temperature checks ahead of the Tulsa rally, though it did not require attendees to wear masks and few did so once inside. Thousands of people attended last Saturday's event.

The president on Tuesday addressed hundreds of young people in Arizona, where there were scant masks and minimal social distancing. Arizona has seen one of the sharpest recent increases in coronavirus cases in recent days.

At least eight Trump campaign staffers have tested positive for coronavirus following the Oklahoma rally. Several Secret Service agents who were there have been directed to self-quarantine, as have Trump campaign staff who attended.

Attendees at both the Arizona and Oklahoma events were required to agree that they would not sue the hosts in the event they contracted the coronavirus.