Pence to condemn Republican Putin 'apologists' in speech to RNC donors

By Gabby Orr

    (CNN) -- Former Vice President Mike Pence is expected to condemn Republican "apologists" who have complimented Russian President Vladimir Putin amid his invasion of Ukraine, according to excerpts of a Friday speech to top GOP donors, obtained by CNN.

"There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin. There is only room for champions of freedom," Pence is expected to say.

Pence's prepared remarks come just days after former President Donald Trump described the Kremlin leader as "genius" and "savvy" for launching a full-scale invasion in Ukraine, where civilian casualties continue to pile up despite global condemnation of Putin's actions.

Speaking at a donor retreat hosted by the Republican National Committee in New Orleans, Pence is expected to call on the Biden administration to take stronger actions against Russia, including sanctions on the country's oil exports.

"Putin only understands strength. As members of the party that won the Cold War, we must send a deafening message: Putin must stop or Putin must pay," an excerpt from Pence's speech reads.

"We must demand this administration increases military spending immediately, (arms) Ukraine with lethal weapons to counter Russian armor and aircraft and President (Joe) Biden should sanction all Russian oil exports worldwide," Pence is expected to say.

But it is Pence's comments about Putin "apologists" inside the GOP that are likely to raise eyebrows among the audience. During his appearance at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, Trump doubled down on complimenting the Russian President.

"Yesterday, reporters asked me if I thought President Putin is smart. I said, 'Of course, he's smart,'" Trump told the crowd in Orlando, Florida.

In another thinly veiled swipe at Trump, who remains fixated on false claims about fraud in the 2020 presidential election, Pence is expected to encourage Republicans to stop "relitigating the past."

"We cannot win by fighting yesterday's battles," he is expected to say. "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, let's press on toward the goal."

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