Mike Pence could be key to Donald Trump avoiding clashes with Congress

He has been placed at the centre of the legislative agenda for Mr Trump’s team in a way that few Vice Presidents have

Chris Stevenson
International Editor
Friday 20 January 2017 23:20
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Mike Pence takes the oath of office on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington
Mike Pence takes the oath of office on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington

When Donald Trump was elected President, it came as the Republicans kept control of both sides of Congress – meaning an easier route to pushing through any legislative agenda.

Mr Trump has proved to be combative in the run-up to him taking office, taking on China, journalists, Congressmen and women, and numerous others – primarily through the use of Twitter.

It is that combative nature that might worry some about the potential for clashes between Mr Trump and Congress over differences between the agenda of the Republican Party and the agenda of the Trump administration.

That is without the difficulty of the GOP itself between a party with its own fissures and factions – from the conservative Tea Party faction to the moderate Republicans. Many Republicans differ with Trump on issues such as free trade and worry he might be too willing to spend money that could increase budget deficits.

Mr Trump himself has appeared to potentially row back on a number of policies over the last week. The President’s administration is seen as very pro-business – particularly when it comes to simplifying things like the tax code – but Mr Trump has recently criticised a key Republican Party tax plan, known as the border adjustment tax as "too complicated".

Even more troubling for some, the main aim for a Trump presidency of repealing and replacing Barack Obama’s healthcare plan may not be as simple as it looks. The signature policy sought to extend health insurance to cover more Americans, and Mr Trump muddied the waters over a repeal this week by calling for healthcare insurance for all.

The key to keeping such utterances from causing major problems may end up being the Vice President Mike Pence. He has been placed at the centre of the legislative agenda for Mr Trump’s team – in a way that few Vice Presidents have.

In Mr Trump's first 100 days in office, Mr Pence will be “leading the charge” on a number of initiatives in Congress, such as rewriting Obamacare, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told Reuters.

“He has the assurance and the green light to do so from President Trump,” Ms Conway said.

“He is a major part of every serious conversation and important decision that is made, especially when it comes to the legislative agenda,” she added.

Mr Pence is seen by many on Capitol Hill as being affable and that could work to his advantage. But it won’t remove all his issues. The fact that the calm Mr Pence and the more dynamic – to put it mildly – Mr Trump are such different characters could mean that many of the people negotiating with Mr Pence may not believe completely that he speaks for the President.

There is also the fact that Mr Pence's stance on many issues has raised the ire of Democrats – particularly his anti-abortion rhetoric, his work against gay rights, his opposition to measures aimed at women’s pay equity in the workplace and his determination to repeal Obamacare.

If Republicans in the House of Representatives can rally around Mr Trump's agenda, Democrats will have few tools to block them.

But in the Senate, Democrats can use procedural moves to stop legislation that does not otherwise have support from 60 senators. Republicans control 52 votes in the 100-member chamber.

Beyond the Democrats, Mr Pence will have to smooth over some feelings of Republicans that Mr Trump took aim at during his campaign. It is useful that he has such a good relationship with Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, whom Mr Trump clashed with repeatedly on the campaign trial.

So, while Mr Trump may back his own ability to get a deal done, he may end up relying on Mr Pence to make sure that his administration achieves what he claims it will.

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