THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me, maybe, start: We've had a very brisk trip over the last two days, and a very successful day here in Italy.
The relationship between the United States and Italy is strong. It's vibrant. We have 30,000 American troops that are stationed here. Strong NATO Ally.
My conversations today with President Mattarella, with Prime Minister Conte really focused on how important our strategic partnership is, and also our ongoing desire to see Italy and other NATO countries increase their investment in NATO, which is a consistent message of President Trump.
We also talked about strengthening our economic relationship. And I assured Prime Minister Conte that -- that -- particularly with the announcement of a phase one deal with China, with the signing next week of the USMCA -- the President now intends to turn his focus to negotiations with the European Union.
We're looking for a more level playing field -- fair and reciprocal trade. We have a dynamic economic relationship with Italy. But, as President Trump has been clear, we have real challenges with the European Union. And ensuring that our farmers, that our manufacturers have the same access to this marketplace as they have to ours will be a priority for this administration.
So, good strategic discussions here in Italy -- advancing what is already a stronger relationship than it's ever been before.
But this morning, my meeting with Pope Francis was substantive, and personally meaningful for me. As someone who was raised in the Catholic Church, the opportunity to sit one-on-one with the Holy Father was a privilege I'll cherish the rest of my life.
Beyond that, I can -- I'm extremely grateful for the time that the Pope afforded me, as we spoke about a range of issues, beginning with the sanctity of life. I thanked Pope Francis for the strong support the Catholic Church has provided to the Right to Life movement since 1973's decision in Roe v. Wade. I assured him that, in the March for Life today, where the President will speak before hundreds of thousands of people from around the country, that a large number gathered there will be Catholic students and laypeople and priests and nuns gathering from around the country and I thanked him.
He expressed to me his strong support for the pro-life movement in the United States and his solidarity with Catholic bishops who have been so instrumental in leading on the right to life.
Beyond that, we talked about -- we talked about critical issues in our hemisphere, beginning with Venezuela. I was anxious to better understand Pope Francis's view of Venezuela. He is a son of South America. He is someone who, himself, lived in a country under the oppression of dictatorship and tyranny.
And I informed him that, at President Trump's direction, the United States was going to continue to bring economic and diplomatic pressure to bear until Nicolás Maduro steps down and we can restore democracy and liberty for people that were once one of the wealthiest countries in our hemisphere, but, because of socialism and dictatorship and repression, now are impoverished with nearly 5 million of their citizens having fled to neighboring countries just to escape the deprivation.
The Pope assured me that the Church would continue to engage on the issue, and we had -- we had a very meaningful and productive dialogue on that subject.
So, for me, to have the opportunity to meet with Pope Francis today was substantive. He extended his regards and greetings to President Trump. During the President's visit here in 2017, they -- they forged a bond; that was clear to me in the way the Pope spoke about the President.
And when I spoke to the President after the meeting, he -- I know he was pleased with the -- with the exchange that we had had, and with the -- with the strength of the relationship that the United States of America enjoys with the Vatican and the Holy See.
So, with that, it's been a very productive day today. Following a very meaningful day in Israel yesterday, culminating in the invitation of Prime Minister Netanyahu and General Benny Gantz to come to Washington, D.C., next week to begin a dialogue about moving the peace process forward.
So, with that, I'd be happy to take some questions.
Q Mr. Vice President, ABC just released audio of the President talking at the Trump Hotel, speaking of the Ambassador to Ukraine. And he said, "Get rid of her. Take her out." Do you believe this language is appropriate -- in an appropriate way for the President of the United States to speak of one of his own ambassadors?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, I have not heard the tape and would not be prepared to comment on it. But all of the ambassadors for the United States of America serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States. And I don't think the President has made any secret of the fact that he had concerns about our Ambassador to Ukraine and wanted her replaced.
So, what the tape that's been released today and my judgement would only confirm what the people already know is that the President had concerns, and, in his authority as President, made a decision to make a change.
Q But it also confirms an account from Lev Parnas, who is an associate of Rudy Giuliani, that what he actually said about the President's statements about Yovanovitch was true. Are you concerned at all with Parnas giving interviews about your involvement in the affair? Were you ever aware of any sort of pressure campaign between Ukraine and the Bidens?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not aware of what -- what Mr. Parnas said about the Ukrainian ambassador. But I can tell you what -- what he has said -- what he had said about me has been completely false. I don't recall ever having met Mr. Parnas, although I've seen a couple of photographs where, apparently, he was in my vicinity.
But what I've said over and over again is: I was never aware of the allegations that there was some pressure campaign for investigations against the Bidens that was underway until those matters became public. And I'm -- I still am not aware that it occurred.
The American people have the transcript. They can read the transcript. They can see there was no quid pro quo. The President did nothing wrong.
I know the Democrats in the Senate right now are finishing up their presentation, their case for impeachment. The American people are starting to realize what a weak case it is. Soon the President's team will take the floor of the United States Senate, and I think you will hear a strong defense of this President. And then the senators will have a choice to make.
But I think when -- when the American people hear all the facts, they can see that the outcome that should happen here is the President should be acquitted. These charges should be dealt with quickly. And then Congress should get back to working on the kind of things the President and I have been working on every day for the last three years: a stronger and more prosperous America, a more secure America, a stronger military, more secure borders. That's where we've been focused.
Even in the last month, the American people have seen the President take decisive action to make America more secure, taking one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world off the battlefield. We've stood by our military. We've stood up to Iran. We've taken the kind of steps that now have us in a position where many in the world community are beginning to reconsider their view and their relationship with Iran in new and in renewed ways.
And at home, our economy is booming like never before, because this is a President who cut taxes, rolled back regulations, unleashed American energy, and who has been fighting for the kind of free and fair trade deals that we saw initiated with the phase one deal with China, and that we'll see signed next week with the USMCA.
I think that the American people see this partisan impeachment for what is. They want Congress to finish their work, the Senate to make their decision, acquit the President, and get back to working for the American people.
Q It's been almost three months since you said you would consider releasing the transcript of your call with President Zelensky. Do you still plan to do that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll work with members of the Senate and cooperate in any way. I said I had no objection, but that was before we saw what a sham investigation the Democrats conducted in the House of Representatives.
I mean, think about it: The President wasn't allowed to have counsel present, wasn't allowed to bring witnesses. There was no due process for this President in the House. And so we took the position that if the matter ever made its way to the Senate, that we would consider any reasonable request by the Senate, and we'll work with the White House Counsel about any reasonable requests.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q Mr. Vice President, what does it say about Rudy Giuliani's judgment to bring a person like Lev Parnas in the President's orbit?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I hold Rudy Giuliani in the highest regard. I met "America's Mayor" just 10 days after September 11th in the emergency center that -- it was one of the docks in New York City. I traveled with a delegation of congressmen up to visit Ground Zero. I saw his extraordinary leadership then. I saw the way he turned around New York City. And I've seen the way he has been a great champion for this President and this administration from the very earliest days of the President's campaign. And so I have great confidence in him.
I don't know this Mr. Parnas. I know that what he said about me is completely false. But look, we'll -- we'll let -- we'll let all the facts come out. We'll let the American people judge this for what it is.
But I honestly think -- I honestly think the American people know what's going on here. For the last three years, there's been an effort by Democrats in Congress to overturn the results of last election. We went through two and a half years of Russia collusion. We were actually told by Chairman Adam Schiff that he had seen actual evidence of Russian collusion. But then, when Mueller finished his work, there was no collusion. The Justice Department found no obstruction. Case closed.
And then we went through just a few brief weeks of respite, and then, on the basis of a phone call the President made to the leader of Ukraine, we were on this headlong rush for an urgent need to pass articles of impeachment on partisan lines. And it's extraordinary to think about that.
Nancy Pelosi said she would only bring articles of impeachment if the evidence was overwhelming and if the support was bipartisan. But what the American people are seeing now in the trial before the Senate is the evidence is weak at best, and, in many cases, non-existent. And it was a partisan vote in the House of Representatives. The only bipartisan vote was the vote against articles of impeachment.
And that's why I think we'll -- our team will be on the floor making their case. Over the next several days, the American people are going to hear a forceful, a constitutional argument for acquittal. And we fully expect the Senate will acquit the President, and we'll move on -- and not just move on to the election year, but move on to continuing to work for the kind of things that make for a safer and more prosperous America.
Q Could you clarify one thing you said before? Could we give you the chance to clarify it? I just want to give you the chance to clarify.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q What -- you said you had no awareness of a possible pressure campaign involving the Bidens on Ukraine, if it even exists.
My question is: Before your potentially scheduled trip to Ukraine for the inauguration was cancelled, Rudy Giuliani was out there, publicly -- in the New York Times and on Twitter and in other public statements -- making that case.
So my question is: Did you have -- did you just not see those articles or those tweets? Did you not have awareness of sort of the public channel?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I wasn't aware of it at all. And until these allegations -- which I don't think have been proved -- that there was a quid pro quo or some kind of pressure campaign became public, I wasn't aware of it at all.
Every conversation I ever had with President Trump on this topic was focused on his concern about corruption in Ukraine and his concern about the lack of European support. Those are the issues that I raised when I spoke to President Zelensky, when I met with President Zelensky. When he reported to me the progress that he'd made on those things, I informed the President, and the President made the decision to release all the aid.
Those are the facts. And those are the facts the American people, I think, can see plainly. And that's why the Senate should finish their work, acquit the President, and let us move on to focusing on issues that matter most to the American people.
But I want to thank you all. Thanks for efforts and your travels, and I hope you have a good evening.
Q Thank you. You too.