MR. COSTA: Let’s talk about someone who will be at that State of the Union address, Vice President Pence, who has emerged as a point person when it comes to foreign policy, but he’s also a quiet power player inside the White House. His trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel this week is a good example of how much the Trump administration is shifting America’s Middle East policy.
The vice president has also proven to be somewhat of an asset of sorts when it comes to courting the conservative base. And that’s why on Friday, when much of Washington was consumed by those reports that the president tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, Vice President Pence was meeting with Republican senators to plan out a strategy to limit the midterm losses that we’ve been discussing, the potential ones, because it could be a pretty bruising midterm election.
Brian, you’ve covered Vice President Pence very closely, traveled with him. What is his role in the administration right now?
MR. BENNETT: So two things. One, he’s going to be out there trying to bolster Republican ‒ trying to bolster the Republican candidates during the midterm elections. He’s planning to go to Pennsylvania on February 2nd for a rally. He was making calls on Capitol Hill and was at a fundraiser on Capitol Hill today. Today was actually kind of his launch off for really being out there on that.
He’s going to do that and he’s also going to be doing a lot of foreign trips this year, which is unusual for him. It’s a new step for him. He’s really trying to develop a relationship with a few world leaders. I mean, he went to Egypt and met with the Egyptian president there, Sisi, and went to Jordan and was berated by the Jordanian king. And then he went to Israel and did kind of a victory lap for Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
MR. COSTA: And he was forcefully defending President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem while he was abroad in the Middle East. What does that tell us about U.S. foreign policy and his role in that?
MS. TORBATI: Well, it shows, you know, partially that he’s a driving force in that decision and that the Trump administration isn’t backing down from that choice, which was very controversial and which, you know, even U.S. allies have condemned and said, you know, is really not constructive and is not going to get the Palestinians and Israelis closer to a deal. The administration, although some officials have said some contradictory things, appears to be moving ahead with that decision.
MR. COSTA: Inside of ‒ he’s a former House member.
MR. SHERMAN: He is.
MR. COSTA: But he’s not always involved in the deals on Capitol Hill. It seems like the president often goes to Senator Schumer or others. He’s not relying on Vice President Pence in the same way he used to in the health care debate.
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, I do think he does, Pence does have his ear to the ground when it comes to the conservatives. And there’s plenty of anecdotes that many of us have heard about Pence going into the conservative meetings and saying I’m one of you guys, when I was in the House I was a rabblerousing conservative, you should come and listen to me and listen to the president. It works sometimes, doesn’t work others.
Listen, Pence has relationships with Paul Ryan and a lot of the members in the House and could be very useful in the House, a little bit less so in the Senate. But he does appear at every Senate Republican lunch every week, something that Joe Biden did not do; he came periodically. Mike Pence is there every single week, he’s a constant presence.
MR. COSTA: Karen, what does it mean for Pence? Our colleague Jenna Johnson at The Washington Post was with the vice president, just talked about in her reporting how he echoes the president everywhere he goes. Is he the future of Trumpism?
MS. TUMULTY: And I think he is also positioning himself to be the future of the Republican Party. To see him, you know, a person who’s experienced as a House member, as a Midwestern governor, on the world stage standing toe-to-toe with world leaders, standing up for policies like moving the embassy to Jerusalem, it doesn’t exactly hurt him with the conservative base back at home to be being criticized by the king of Jordan.
MR. COSTA: That Evangelical community in the country, the conservative side of it, has stayed with the president, in part because of Vice President Pence?
MR. BENNETT: I think that’s exactly right, and Pence has pushed for this robust pro-Israel policy. He’s also pushed for some of the pro-life initiatives that Trump has pushed through.
I mean, another interesting thing about Pence was that when he went overseas he brought domestic politics with him, which the vice president doesn’t usually do. So he did leave town on Friday, which was during the shutdown, which was sort of strange since he is supposed to have influence. I mean, someone told me that basically his influence is with the conservatives in the House, so he wasn’t going to be that useful in trying to broker a deal on the shutdown. But he went over there, and he stood in front of troops on Sunday at a – at a military base, and he launched a broadside against the Democrats over the shutdown and blamed them for playing politics with military pay.
MS. TUMULTY: Something, by the way, that American leaders usually do not on foreign soil practice partisan politics.
MS. TORBATI: And in front of the troops. That’s usually not done.
MR. COSTA: And how does the immigration advocacy community see him amid all of this? Do they –
MS. TORBATI: I don’t – I don’t think that he’s really been sort of a driving force behind the administration’s immigration policies. I think he sort of leaves that to some of the hardliners within the White House, namely Chief of Staff John Kelly, Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller. And of course the president himself has some pretty far-right or right views on immigration. I don’t – I don’t see Vice President Pence being kind of a driving role in that debate.
MR. COSTA: But that visit, it’s interesting. He’s going to Pennsylvania, southwestern Pennsylvania – Trump country – ahead of a March special election. That’s a race I’m paying close attention to. Conor Lamb is the candidate down there, in his 30s, a Democrat. If the Democrats can win in southwestern Pennsylvania in a special election, watch out.
We’re going to have to leave it there tonight. Thanks, everybody, for being with us.