Trump: 'Surprise' question about Pence led him to hesitate

President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, speaks from the Truman Balcony of the White House during the annual Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn, Friday June 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he hesitated when he was asked about backing Vice President Mike Pence if Pence runs for president in 2024 because the question caught him off-guard.

"You can't put me in that position," Trump said June 14 when one of the hosts of Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" asked him about endorsing Pence should the vice president decide to seek the presidency in 2024. Pence hasn't explicitly said he'll run in 2024, but he is widely expected to.

Offered a chance to explain, Trump said he hesitated "because it was a surprise question."

"I'm not even thinking of it. It's so far out. I mean, It's so far out," Trump told NBC's "Meet the Press" in a wide-ranging interview taped Friday at the White House and broadcast Sunday. "Now what happens in 2024? I don't know that Mike is going to run. I don't know who's running or anything else."

Also in the interview, Trump criticized Fed chairman Jerome Powell and said his biggest mistake was choosing Jeff Sessions to be attorney general.

For his part, Pence glossed over the flap Trump's comments caused, telling CNN's "State of the Union" that the president's comment reflected "the fact that the only election he and I are focused on is 2020." Trump formally announced his 2020 reelection bid last week, with Pence at his side.

In the NBC interview, Trump lashed out at Powell over past interest rate hikes and denied threatening to demote Powell to the Fed's No. 2 job.

The Federal Reserve voted last week to leave its key interest rate unchanged, but the independent agency signaled that it is prepared to begin cutting interest rates to protect the U.S. economy from trade conflicts and other threats.

Last week, Trump did not answer directly when he was asked about news reports that the White House in February had explored whether Trump had the authority to demote Powell to the Fed's No. 2 job. Trump denied to NBC that such a threat has been issued.

"I have the right to do that. But I haven't said that," Trump said.

Trump has previously explored firing Powell, who, under the law, can only be fired for cause.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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