GOP Looks To Pence As Trump's Point Man On Capitol Hill | KERA News

GOP Looks To Pence As Trump's Point Man On Capitol Hill

Nov 23, 2016
Originally published on November 25, 2016 5:29 pm

There's one way Republicans on Capitol Hill say they know becoming the vice president-elect hasn't changed Mike Pence: He hasn't changed his phone number.

Pence recently met with House Republicans in a closed-door session. "He said, 'Most of you have my cellphone,' which he found out after the election," laughed Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., one of Trump's earliest allies in Congress. "He wants to encourage us to continue to reach out to him," Barletta added.

Pence's accessibility is a comfort to Republicans, who still view President-elect Donald Trump as a wild card. When he takes the oath of office in January, Trump will be the most politically inexperienced man to ever enter the Oval Office. Trump has never served in government or had to cut a legislative deal.

But Pence is a familiar face on Capitol Hill, where he served for 12 years before becoming Indiana governor. At the same meeting, Pence told Republicans that while his role in Congress is now as president of the Senate, his heart remains in the House.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said Trump adding Pence to the ticket assuaged a lot of concerns early on. "I think that gave us a lot of us such a sense of comfort," he said.

Trump indicated early on that he'd like his vice president to be a legislative point man for his administration. Pence can work out the mundane, granular details of the legislative process and Trump will make the final calls.

That arrangement sits well with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "We all really like Mike Pence, if you ask any of us who served with him, everyone likes him," he told reporters recently.

McConnell said he would like Pence to follow the example set by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill during the Bush era. Cheney "was a classic guy who didn't necessarily say anything all the time, but he was like a sponge absorbing what our concerns were and he acted almost like President Bush's Senate liaison," McConnell recalled.

President George W. Bush's early years in office are a template for how a Republican Washington might govern.

It was the last time the party held all levers of government and Congress churned out legislation affecting Medicare, national security and tax cuts at a steady clip, usually on strict party line votes.

But back then, Pence was a conservative back-bencher who was often a thorn in the side of the Bush administration. He voted against many of Bush's major initiatives, like the Medicare Part D prescription drug program and the No Child Left Behind Education law.

Now, Pence will be the one picking out the thorns.

In preparation, he's launched a bipartisan charm offensive on Capitol Hill, where he made a point to meet with and praise Democratic leaders. Pence called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "a worthy opponent and leader of the loyal opposition."

Democrats likewise believe Pence is the face they are more likely to see at the negotiating table next year.

"You're going to be a very valued player in all of this, because you know the territory. With no disrespect for the sensitivity and the knowledge of the president-elect, you know that territory," Pelosi told Pence. "So in that territory we will try to find our common ground where we can, and of course stand our ground when we can't."

Pelosi has already offered an olive branch to Trump. She says Democrats are ready to work with his administration on some of his campaign proposals, like paid family leave and more infrastructure spending.

Unlike most congressional Republicans, Trump has indicated a willingness to spend money without offsetting spending cuts and to expand or protect certain government programs like Medicare and Social Security.

But Democrats are lining up to oppose Trump's plans to repeal Obamacare and cut taxes for the wealthy. With narrow Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump's ability to get any of that done will require Republican Party unity.

"I think it will be an outsized role for a vice president. I hope so and I think a lot of people here hope so," said Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, one of Pence's oldest friends on Capitol Hill.

While Pence can count on Flake's friendship, the challenge for him now as vice president is whether he can he count on his vote.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January, he will be the most politically inexperienced man ever to become president. That's why lawmakers expect Trump to lean on his vice president, Mike Pence, as his legislative guide to usher his agenda through Congress. Pence is a familiar face on Capitol Hill, as NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: One way lawmakers say they know becoming vice president hasn't changed Mike Pence - he hasn't changed his number.

LOU BARLETTA: Yeah. He said, you know, we - he said most of you have my cellphone, which we found out after the election.

DAVIS: That's Pennsylvania Republican Lou Barletta after a recent private meeting between Pence and House Republicans.

BARLETTA: He wants to encourage us to continue to reach out to him.

DAVIS: Pence told them that while his job in Congress is now as president of the Senate, his heart remains in the House.

MIKE PENCE: It's just very humbling to me to be back in the room - I spent 12 years as a member of Congress - and to be there with members I served with - many men and women have been elected to Congress since then - and to see the enthusiasm for the president-elect's agenda for this country.

DAVIS: While many lawmakers described their president-elect as a wildcard, they see Pence as their pocket ace, like Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart. He was a Trump skeptic, but when he tapped Pence as his running mate...

MARIO DIAZ-BALART: I think that gave me a lot of us such a sense of comfort.

DAVIS: Trump has indicated that he'd like Pence to be a legislative point man for his administration. He'll work out the granular details, and Trump will make the final decisions. That is just fine with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we all really like Mike Pence. If you ask any of us who've served with him, everybody likes him.

DAVIS: McConnell says there's a recent model for how this could work.

MCCONNELL: Dick Cheney was a classic guy who didn't necessarily say anything all the time, but he was like a sponge absorbing what our concerns were. And he acted almost like President Bush's Senate liaison.

DAVIS: President George W. Bush's early years in office are a template for how a Republican Washington might govern. It was the last time the party held all levers of government, and Congress churned out legislation affecting Medicare, national security and tax cuts at a steady clip and, generally, on strict party-line votes.

But, back then, Pence was a conservative back-bencher who was often a thorn in the side of the Bush administration. Now, Pence will be the one picking out the thorns. In preparation, he's launching a bipartisan charm offensive on Capitol Hill. Here he is praising House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

PENCE: A worthy opponent and leader of the loyal opposition, but I have great respect for you and for your service to the country. And I was pleased today to be able to convey the respect of President-elect Donald Trump.

DAVIS: And Democrats, like Pelosi, believe Pence will be the key negotiator at the table for the Trump administration.

NANCY PELOSI: You're going to be a very valued player in all of this because you know the territory. And I know - with no disrespect for the sensitivity and knowledge of the president-elect, you know the territory. So in that territory, we will try to find our common ground where we can and, of course, stand our ground when we can't.

DAVIS: Pelosi has already offered an olive branch to Trump. She says Democrats are ready to work with him on some of his campaign proposals, like paid family leave and more infrastructure spending. But Democrats are lining up to oppose Trump's plans to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes and build that wall. With narrow Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump's ability to get any of that done will require Republican Party unity.

This is Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, one of Pence's oldest friends on Capitol Hill.

JEFF FLAKE: I think it will be an outsized role for a vice president. And I hope so, and a lot of people here hope so.

DAVIS: Pence can count on Flake's friendship. But now the challenge is can he count on his vote. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.