Metro-East News

Pence defends Trump during visit to region, is met by protesters at Bost fundraiser

GOP fundraiser with VP Pence draws anti-Trump protest

Anti-Trump protesters in O'Fallon, IL, lined the street near where Vice President Mike Pence was attending a fundraiser for Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost.
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Anti-Trump protesters in O'Fallon, IL, lined the street near where Vice President Mike Pence was attending a fundraiser for Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost.

Vice President Mike Pence defended President Donald Trump against claims that the president is too soft on Russia, telling a St. Louis crowd Thursday that Russian aggression has been met with “American strength and action.”

Pence spoke Thursday at a downtown hotel. After the St. Louis appearance, he attended a fundraiser in the metro-east for U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, where a group of protesters gathered.

In St. Louis, Pence said Trump’s policies are making a positive difference in St. Louis and around the country. Trump has drawn criticism stemming from his performance on Monday at a summit meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Finland. But Pence listed sanctions and other steps the administration has taken against Russia.

More than 100 protesters stood and chanted behind barricades outside the St. Louis hotel. The host for the event was America First Policies, a nonprofit organization set up to promote Trump’s policy agenda.

The fundraiser for Bost was held at the Regency Conference Center in O’Fallon. The event was closed to the public and the press.

Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier attended the event and said Pence spoke favorably about tax cuts, increased military spending and job growth.

“The economy is doing great,” Vernier said. “I support the vice president and the president both.”

Vernier said attendees paid $900 or more for entrance to the event.

Shiloh Mayor James Vernier talks about meeting Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday at a private fundraiser in O'Fallon.

Roughly 40 protesters arrived at the O’Fallon location shortly before 2 p.m. Police directed them to stay across the street from the conference center.

Tony Mueller, of Belleville, cycled to Regency Park to protest.

“This administration is a disgrace. It’s an embarrassment,” Mueller said.

Mueller said he’s disappointed there weren’t more protesters, and that authorities weren’t allowing people to be closer to the venue.

“We are here to express our First Amendment rights but being this far away isn’t very effective,” Mueller said.

Protesters gathered in O’Fallon to show opposition to Vice President Mike Pence.

Matt Saunchegrow, a 38-year-old from Belleville, also came to protest. As someone who works with people with developmental disabilities, he said he was concerned about health care issues. Saunchegrow said lack of funding and cuts to programs harm his patients.

“I see the effects every day,” Saunchegrow said, adding that he hopes the United States will adopt a health care system similar to Australia or France. Saunchegrow said he hadn’t decided if he would vote for Bost’s Democratic opponent, Brendan Kelly, in the 12th Congressional District election, although he said he won’t vote for Bost.

Bost will face Kelly, who currently serves as St. Clair County state’s attorney, in what is considered a toss-up election for the 12th Congressional District, which covers much of the metro-east and a large chunk of Southern Illinois.

Picture with Pence
Joni Roy takes a selfie with, from left, Vice President Mike Pence, Congressman Mike Bost and her husband, Norman. Pence was in O’Fallon on Thursday for a fundraiser for Bost. Jim Vernier Provided

Protester Dan Nickerson, of Lebanon, said he is “tired” of Bost not holding more town hall meetings in person.

“I’ve participated in the conference call town halls and I’m cut off or not allowed to speak, and the ones who do get to speak are always in support of him and his policies,” Nickerson said.

Bost told the BND in 2017 he doesn’t hold in-person town halls because they are “organized at the national level to cause chaos.” He said he prefers instead to hold meetings with small groups of constituents where he said he gets “the opportunity to talk to them.”

“Rep. Bost values constructive dialogue with his constituents, whether they agree on issues or not,” said George O’Connor, a spokesman for Bost.

Supporters of Kelly also attended the Pence event, saying they believe he’s a “well-rounded” choice for office. Karen Sandefur, of Fairview Heights, said Kelly is able to see multiple sides of an issue.

“He can do both sides. We need that,” Sandefur said “But Bost is too divisive.”

Bost’s spokesman said the congressman “has always strived to work with other members of Congress — regardless of party — to do what’s best for Southern Illinois.”

Pence was also scheduled to attend a fundraiser event Thursday for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is running for Senate.

The race between Hawley, a Republican, and incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is also expected to be a tight race in the Nov. 6 election.

Reporter Joseph Bustos and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kelsey Landis: 618-239-2110, @kelseylandis
Robyn Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch
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