Vice President-elect and current Indiana Governor Mike Pence is leading the presidential transition team and is expected to be the chief liaison between the incoming Trump administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Morning Shift talks to WBEZ Northwest Indiana reporter Michael Puente about Pence’s current role, his backstory and his ambitions.
We also speak with vice presidential historian Joel Goldstein, author of The White House Vice Presidency: The Path To Significance, Mondale to Biden, about what could be in store for Mike Pence when he is sworn into office as vice president.
Here are some highlights from their conversation.
Gov. Mike Pence is opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. How might that play out in the vice presidency?
Puente: [Mike Pence’s stance] has shaped bills he’s introduced to things he’s done as governor of Indiana, including a big one had to do with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was not a popular bill in Indiana. It was the very thing that knocked Pence off that trajectory of actually running for president himself. And then regarding abortion, Pence is pro-life. Much of that is going to play into his role as VP.
Trump could cut Pence down to size if they don’t agree on certain things, but if Trump does that, he risks alienating Christian conservatives. I think there’s no question that Trump and Pence aren’t going to see eye to eye on issues, including LGBT rights. But I think the president-elect is going to give his VP-elect lots of leeway.
Donald Trump and Mike Pence have major differences in experience, style and ideology. Will he be able to work across the aisle?
Puente: It looks like he’s part of selecting members of Trump’s cabinet. Last week he met with leaders of Congress, including meeting with Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. We know that Pence is already getting national security briefings every day, and there are reports that President-elect Trump has participated in just two security briefings. It appears that Pence is going to be the one that lawmakers want to deal with if nothing else because Pence served in Congress for 12 years.
It’s going to help him because he’s crossed the aisles in many ways; he knows how to push bills, he knows how to introduce them. His big thing was foreign affairs — we know he had spent six years on the Foreign Affairs Committee and we also know that he’s not a big fan of the Iranian Deal. A lot of people say it’s going to be unprecedented how much influence a vice president is going to have on the day-to-day basis when Trump actually becomes president.
Goldstein: Ultimately a lot will depend upon the relationship between Pence and Trump. To a great extent people take their cues from the president. If the president values the vice president, others will as well.
So when Gov. Pence was named to head the transition, that was a signal that suggested he’d have a lot of influence. He’s got the experience in Congress and he’s someone politicians in the House feel comfortable with. If Trump decides he doesn’t want Pence to have an influential role, he can cut the VP down to size.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.