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Donald Trump And Mike Pence, The Odd Couple In The White House

Vice President-elect Mike Pence walks through the halls of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Carolyn Kaster
Vice President-elect Mike Pence walks through the halls of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Shortly before Donald Trump takes the oath of office on Friday, Mike Pence will put his hand on Ronald Reagan's Bible and be sworn in as vice president. It's a job that has varied in influence from administration to administration. So how will Pence cut his path?

It was clear from the day he was introduced as Donald Trump's pick for vice president that Mike Pence came second. Trump took a full 30 minutes to introduce Pence, but he spent most of that time talking about himself and his Democratic rival, before ending with a story about how Pence endorsed another candidate in the Republican primary.

"So even though he was under pressure, cause I'm so outside of the establishment it was the single best nonendorsement I've had in my life," said Trump.

In Washington, D.C., this week, Pence recalled getting invited to join the ticket:

"When the phone call came that night at the Indiana governor's residence and that familiar voice came across the phone line, and he said, 'Mike, I've got an assignment for you and it's going to be great.' And I can testify that it has been."

Already they've proved to be an odd couple stylistically, with Trump turning to cable news or Twitter to say what he's thinking, and Pence coming in behind to calm, clarify or just clean up.

There was the time Trump tweeted at the "overrated" cast of Hamilton for delivering a message to Pence at the end of a performance.

Meanwhile, Pence was on CBS praising the musical and downplaying the kerfuffle. "I wasn't offended by what was said," Pence said. "I'll leave it to others to determine whether it was the appropriate venue to say it."

And recently Trump warned congressional Republicans in a series of tweets to be careful as they moved to repeal Obamacare, moments before Pence met with those very Republicans.

In a press conference afterward, Pence seemed to translate Trump's tweets into congressional speak. "Step 1 will be to repeal Obamacare," he said. "But as the president-elect said today, and I admonished members of the House Republican conference today, it is important that we remind the American people of what they already know about Obamacare, that the promises that were made were all broken."

Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling became friends with Pence when they served in the House of Representatives together. "Yeah, he's a different guy than the president-elect," said Hensarling. "But it's very complementary, and they make an excellent partnership."

Pence retweets Trump, using language more typical of a politician.
/ Screen shot
Screen shot
Pence retweets Trump, using language more typical of a politician.

As Hensarling sees it, Pence has credibility with Trump, and the decision to put Pence in charge of the transition process is one sign of that. Hensarling says Pence also has credibility with Republicans in Congress because of his many years carving a conservative course in the House.

"President-elect Trump has the vision," he said. "And what Mike Pence brings to the table as vice president-elect is someone who knows Capitol Hill. So he can take Donald Trump's vision, help translate into actual policy, legislative language, bill text — work it through the process so that it ends up back on Donald Trump's desk so that he can sign it into law."

Pence plans to serve as the lead emissary between the White House and Congress. But how well that works may depend on the strength and durability of Pence's bond with Trump, according to vice president-watcher and St. Louis University School of Law professor Joel Goldstein.

"A vice president's usefulness to members of the House and the Senate depends on his or her access to the president," he said. "If the vice president's not getting much face time with the president, or is out of favor with the president, then what's the point of talking to the vice president?"

When asked in a recent interview which vice president he is looking to as a model, Pence said he saw parallels to George H.W. Bush, who served under President Ronald Reagan — another larger-than-life personality who came from outside of Washington promising to shake things up.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.