White House

Pence projects steady hand at home, as Trump makes deals abroad

Vice President Pence returned Monday to Capitol Hill to pursue President Trump's legislative agenda at home as the president works to strengthen U.S. alliances abroad -- remaining perhaps Trump’s most steady advocate amid a turbulent period for his administration. 

Spokesman Marc Lotter told Fox News the vice president would discuss Trump’s tax and 2018 budget plans during meetings with lawmakers, while downplaying the notion that Pence's past life as a House member puts him in any unique deal-making position. 

“The vice president’s experience on Capitol Hill … is definitely something that helps,” Lotter said Monday on "America's Newsroom." “But ultimately what we’re talking about is the president’s agenda, something that he’s talked to the American people about … and something that Vice President Pence hopes to get pushed over the finish line.”

The deference sounded like quintessential Pence, touting the boss and trying to avoid the political subplots that have slowed the president’s agenda in the first five months.

On Sunday, Pence gave the commencement speech at Notre Dame University after the school president, Rev. John Jenkins, made clear he didn’t want Trump, whom he thinks has anti-Muslim views, to deliver the speech.

“The greatest honor of my life is to serve as vice president to the 45th president of the United States of America -- President Donald Trump,” Pence said after dozens of students had walked out on his speech.

The vice president also praised Trump for a speech the president made earlier in the day in Saudi Arabia in which Pence said the president “spoke out against religious persecution of all people of all faiths” and condemned the oppression of women.

To be sure, Pence already had done much heavy lifting for Trump before going to Capitol Hill on Monday, ahead of the president’s budget proposal being released later this week.

Pence helped bring conservatives to the ticket in November and was instrumental in getting the GOP-led House to pass White House-backed legislation that dismantles ObamaCare.

And while Pence appears beyond reproach in Trump’s hunt to find who’s behind destructive White House leaks, he couldn’t avoid becoming ensnared in the controversy about whether Trump and his associates colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign. 

Shortly after winning the White House, Pence defended incoming-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn against accusations he’d talked with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about easing economic sanctions on Russia, only to learn that Flynn had misled him on the matter.

Flynn was fired in February, but some news reports continue to raise questions about whether Pence knew about such discussions and in fact was covering for Flynn.

And recent reports about Flynn telling the Pence-led presidential transition team the he was under investigation for ties to Turkey has added to speculation about Pence’s ties to the Russia meddling, now under federal investigation.

Pence continues to defend himself, particularly on learning about Flynn’s lobbying in Turkey. He told Fox News in March that “hearing that story today was the first I heard of it.”

And last week, Pence’s office told Politico: “The vice president stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding General Flynn's ties to Turkey and fully supports the president's decision to ask for General Flynn's resignation.”

Pence again appeared off-guard a few weeks ago when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

The vice president publicly said Trump made the decision based on the recommendations of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

However, the president later said he had planned to fire Comey regardless of the DOJ recommendation. 

A slew of critical media reports last week, in the wake of the Comey firing, only fueled speculation about whether conservatives might see Pence as a desired alternative to Trump in the Oval Office. Pence incidentally started a leadership PAC last week, stoking renewed interest in his future plans. 

The political action committee, though, will in fact be used to cover Pence’s travel to promote Republican candidates during the 2018 congressional midterm races. And sources quickly dismissed speculation about a presidential bid.