WASHINGTON – For four years, Vice President Mike Pence has crossed Trump’s tightrope more successfully than anyone in the president’s orbit, staying on his good side without having to echo his most inflammatory rhetoric.
But in the final weeks of Mr. Pence’s tenure, his relationship with President Trump faces what could be the vice president’s most difficult challenge to date.
Mr Pence must now balance his loyalty to a rabid president making baseless allegations of electoral fraud against his own political future and his own reputation. He also has to deal with how Mr. Trump’s rhetoric of running for president again in 2024 might leave him with no way to run. It also makes it difficult for Mr Pence to start fundraising if the president displays his own name. .
So far, Mr. Pence appears to be handling the pressure as he has for the past four years: he appears to be unwavering loyalty while avoiding engaging in Mr. Trump’s pressure campaigns.
In the final months of Mr Pence’s tenure as vice president, his advisers want him to focus on leading the coronavirus task force and helping the two Georgia Republicans facing a second turn that will determine whether the party maintains its majority in the Senate.
These advisers have said they would prefer the vice president to avoid the legal fights of the Trump campaign challenging the election results, and so far Mr Pence has been careful not to repeat M’s most baseless attacks. Trump against the electoral system while simultaneously remaining the good soldier.
In his brief remarks early Wednesday morning after election night – he limited them to 53 seconds – Mr Pence tried to do what amounted to a disapproval of the President’s claim that the election was a ” major fraud on our nation ”into something that sounded like unconditional support.
“As the votes continue to be counted, we will remain vigilant, as the President said,” Mr Pence told the crowd. “We will protect the integrity of the vote.”
For nearly a week afterwards, Mr. Pence was not seen or heard from in public, although it was reported that he spent time with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office on Friday.
Then on Tuesday, he sat down with Republican senators at their weekly lunch, continuing his somewhat restrained tone while providing an update on the campaign’s prosecution situation and thanking senators for supporting Mr. Trump without require people who attended the meeting to line up.
Mr Pence told lawmakers he plans to travel to Georgia on November 20 to campaign for Republican senators in both polls. He joked that he considered himself an honorary Iowan because of all the time he had spent campaigning for Senator Joni Ernst, an apparent nod to his own presidential ambitions, which would most likely pass. by Iowa.
But in the same kind of nod to Mr. Trump’s request for a second term that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did on the same day, he also told senators he wanted to continue serving with them. , as President of the Senate, and that he thought he would.
In fact, Mr. Pence’s allies expect him to return to Indiana and make a living giving paid speeches and potentially writing a book. It will be the first time in a long time that Mr. Pence has lived as a private citizen – he moved from the governor’s mansion in Indiana to temporary accommodation in Washington during the presidential transition four years ago at the Naval Observatory. He currently does not own a house.
But before he begins to think about what kind of house he will live in and how to bridge the years leading up to the 2024 election cycle, he still has a role to play as the 2020 election ends.
Mr Pence has already faced a series of public and private tests since election day as he had to calculate how far to go to support the president’s attempts to annul the election.
In one of the most egregious examples, Corey Lewandowski, a Trump ally, urged Mr. Pence to visit the Pennsylvania Convention Center last week to observe the vote count, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The image of the vice president – who enjoys strong support from the social-conservative wing of the Republican Party – descending on a counting center in a state where Mr. Trump’s campaign made baseless allegations of widespread fraud would have helped the president’s account that the election was stolen. Mr Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, vetoed the request, the person said.
The furthest he has gone, rhetorically, is to lend his name to campaign fundraising emails that warn of “DEFEND elections against voter fraud.”
A campaign spokeswoman described her efforts on behalf of the president more effusively.
“Vice President Pence has been in constant contact with our team and extremely involved in the legal efforts of the campaign, doing everything we and the President asked of him and leading the efforts to raise funds for the legal fund,” spokeswoman Ali Pardo said in a statement.
But in his role as Speaker of the Senate, Mr. Pence has a constitutionally appointed role that could be a coda at Mr. Trump’s insistence on re-election – and inconvenient for the loyal vice president.
The Constitution asks the vice president to oversee a joint session of Congress, this time to be held on January 6, in which the votes of the Electoral College are officially counted. Typically, VPs simply read a script and take no action to interfere with the results.
In 2000, Vice President Al Gore had to certify the disputed election results after the Supreme Court effectively handed over the presidential election to his opponent, George W. Bush.
“It was embarrassing and difficult for Vice President Al Gore in 2000, but it was his job,” recalled Michael Feldman, Mr. Gore’s former chief of staff. “The vice president has very few jobs as prescribed by the Constitution. Presiding over this process as President of the Senate is one of them.
For Mr. Pence, the day he will have to announce the defeat of Mr. Trump is two months away. In the meantime, he has returned to more traditional job duties, appearing with the President on Wednesday at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. And he postponed a family vacation to Florida, opting for a speaking engagement instead on Friday.