NEW YORK (AP) - In a twist on White House sports team visits that have become increasingly rare as athletes protest the Trump administration, Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday visited New York City police headquarters and heralded its football team for winning a recent national championship among public safety agencies.
Pence said he added the meet-and-greet to a day of events in the city after receiving a letter stating that the NYPD team "was more than willing to come to the White House if we were looking to have a team there."
"So we all said, how about the vice president comes here and congratulates the NYPD on a great, great effort?" Pence said, before shaking hands with players, posing for selfies with them and donning a team cap.
Pence also received a closed-door counterterrorism briefing and praised the department for keeping the city free from a major terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001.
Acknowledging anti-police sentiment and recent assaults on officers, he said that men and women in law enforcement have taken on a "selfless calling" and that they will always have his and President Donald Trump's support.
Across the street, near City Hall and after Pence left, protesters at an unrelated rally called for the firing of all officers involved in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner. The police department fired the officer whose chokehold led to Garner's dying words "I can't breathe," and agreed to lesser sanctions against a sergeant, but has not taken disciplinary action against others who were there.
Players from the NYPD football team appeared excited to meet Pence. The team, nicknamed NYPD Finest, defeated the rival New York City fire department squad 23-0 in June for its 11th National Public Safety Football League title. Pence predicted a 12th championship would happen soon.
"We're thrilled. It's an honor to meet the vice president," the team's president, Det. George Burke, said after the ceremony. "It's good to have support from the vice president of the United States."
The NYPD football team's offer to visit the White House - and Pence's decision to meet them in New York instead - comes as more and more professional sports teams are skipping the traditional presidential photo-op.
Trump disinvited the Golden State Warriors in 2017 after star Stephen Curry said he wouldn't go and the team met with former President Barack Obama in Washington instead of going to the White House after winning the NBA championship in 2018.
Trump also disinvited the 2018 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles after some players objected to going. In June, just days after the NYPD team won its title, Trump blasted U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe on Twitter after she used colorful language to say she wouldn't go to the White House upon winning the World Cup.
Pence's visit to the NYPD was sandwiched between a morning speech at a financial industry conference and a nighttime campaign event in the city. Before meeting the football team, he attended a 45-minute counterterrorism briefing with top police and FBI officials.
Pence recalled his first visit to New York City: as a member of Congress a week after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. He said he, like much of the rest of the country, marveled at the NYPD, the city's fire department and others who helped the city recover and who have been "leaning into the fight" against terrorism since.
"We're still very much the focus of the bullseye," Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said during a short portion of the briefing that was open to reporters.
While there have been no large scale terrorist attacks on New York, the city has been targeted repeatedly - sometimes with serious consequences.
In 2017, a man driving a pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a busy bike path near the World Trade Center in Manhattan on Halloween, killing eight people and seriously injuring 11 others. In 2016, 31 people were hurt when a pressure cooker bomb exploded in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood.
Last year, an ardent Trump supporter sent a series of package bombs to various locations in the city, including CNN's Manhattan offices and the downtown offices of vocal Trump critic Robert De Niro. No one was injured and Trump denounced the mailings, saying political violence must never be allowed to take root in the U.S.
Talking to the officers assembled before him, Pence said: "The fact that there has been no major terrorist attack on this city or on this country in the last 18 years is a credit to each and every one of you."
Follow Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak