Trump backs Pence, dismisses ‘phony’ report he questioned loyalty

President Trump on Saturday pushed back on a “phony” New York Times story that said Trump was questioning Vice President Mike Pence’s loyalty and that a 2020 shakeup could be on the cards -- telling reporters that Pence was “100 percent loyal.”

“No, I don’t question his loyalty. He is 100 percent loyal,” he told reporters before departing for California. “It was a phony story. I doubt they have any sources, a typical New York Times phony story.”

The article, published Friday, reported that Trump has repeatedly asked aides and advisers about Pence’s loyalty to the point that it has “alarmed” advisers. The Times reported that Trump has not openly suggested dropping Pence from the 2020 ticket but advisers said that such questions indicate that he is irritated with someone.

The Times reported that while most White House advisers have backed Pence, others outside the White House have said that Trump now has his own relationship with evangelical voters and he may benefit from a running mate who could help him with women. According to the Times, some of Trump's advisers outside the White House have mentioned outgoing U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley as a potential running mate. But the report says that few advisers believe he would really go through with a change on the ticket.

But Trump brushed off the report and said he “couldn’t be happier” with his vice president.

“Mike Pence is 100 percent, not even a doubt of it in my mind, he’s a trooper. He’s been with me as soon as I won the primaries, he was the one I chose and I couldn't be happier and I don't question his loyalty at all. He’s already been tested in many ways," he said.

Trump also said the outlet “never called me for a comment.” However, the article does include a comment from the White House.

“The president absolutely supports the vice president and thinks he’s doing an incredible job helping to carry out the mission and policies of this administration,” Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told the outlet.

This was seconded by reporter Maggie Haberman, who tweeted a "fact check" on Saturday:

"Emailed with @PressSec and spoke with first deputy Hogan Gidley, who is quoted. POTUS would need to talk to them about why they didn’t provide us with a quote from him."

Trump later followed up on Twitter, criticizing the Times again and saying he "can’t imagine any President having a better or closer relationship with their Vice President then the two of us."

Trump’s remarks come after a press conference last week at the White House in which he was asked about the 2020 ticket, and he asked Pence to be his running mate on the spot.

“Mike, will you be my running mate?” Trump asked Pence, who stood up and nodded.

“Will you? Thank you. OK, good,” the president said. “That was unexpected, but I feel very fine.”