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White House Odd Couple: Donald Trump And Mike Pence


There's someone else who's going to take the oath of office today. Mike Pence is going to put his hand on Ronald Reagan's Bible. And he will be sworn in as the vice president. It is a job that has varied in influence, shall we say, from administration to administration. NPR's Tamara Keith has this look now at how Mike Pence could cut his own path.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It was clear from the day he was officially 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. Trump ended with a story about how Pence endorsed another candidate in the Republican primary.


DONALD TRUMP: So even though he was under pressure - 'cause I'm so, you know, outside of the establishment - it was the single greatest non-endorsement that I've ever had in my life. In Washington, D.C., this week, Pence recalled getting invited to join the ticket.

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


PENCE: And I can testify that it has been.

KEITH: Already, they've proven to be an odd couple stylistically, with Trump turning to cable or Twitter to say what he's thinking and Pence coming in behind to calm, clarify or just clean up, like when Trump tweeted at the, quote, "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.


PENCE: I wasn't offended by what was said. I'll leave to others whether it was the appropriate venue to say it.

KEITH: And recently, Trump warned congressional Republicans in a series of tweets to be careful as they move to repeal Obamacare. Moments later, Pence met with those very Republicans. In a press conference afterwards, it was as if Pence was translating Trump's tweets into congressional speak.


PENCE: Step one will be to repeal Obamacare. But as the president-elect said today - and I admonished members of the House Republican Conference today - it's important that we remind the American people of what they already know about Obamacare - that the promises that were made were all broken.

JEB HENSARLING: Yeah, he's a different guy (laughter) than the president-elect, but it's very complimentary. And I think it's going to be a great partnership for the American people.

KEITH: Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling became friends with Pence when they served in the House of Representatives together. During the campaign, Hensarling traveled around the country with Pence.

HENSARLING: He and the president-elect have bonded. They were speaking several times a day.

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

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

KEITH: Pence plans to serve as the lead emissary between the White House and Congress. But how well that works may just depend on the strength and durability of Pence's bond with Trump, says VP-watcher and St. Louis University law professor Joel Goldstein.

JOEL GOLDSTEIN: A vice president's usefulness to members of the House and the Senate depends upon his or her access to the president. 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?

KEITH: When asked in a recent interview which vice president he's 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.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.