The resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser this week underlined the growing power of Vice President Pence in the Trump administration.
Insiders say Pence’s clout has been overlooked in media coverage that has often focused on more flamboyant or enigmatic Trump advisers.
But Flynn’s demise, which came as a direct result of him apparently misleading Pence about phone conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., was a reminder of the influence the former Indiana governor exerts.
“His force was shown with Flynn’s removal,” said one White House insider who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “You cannot lie to the vice president, to Mike Pence, and expect to survive.”
Flynn had apparently told Pence that he had not discussed sanctions with Sergey Kislyak. This was untrue, which reportedly outraged Pence.
Adding to the indignity, Pence was reportedly not informed of Flynn’s deception for weeks after President Trump first learned of it from the Justice Department.
The fact that Pence was kept in the dark has led some to question how much power he actually wields in Trump’s orbit.
But people who know the vice president say his bond with Trump is real, partly based upon the loyalty he showed the business mogul during his tumultuous run for the White House.
The two men did not know each other well before Trump added Pence to the ticket.
Pence, a devout Christian, was widely reported to have been horrified when a tape emerged of his running mate talking in crude terms about grabbing women. But, in public, Pence remained a calm but fervent advocate for Trump through that drama — and many others.
A Trump ally who works outside the White House described Pence as “steadfast” during the campaign.
In a White House that has been afflicted by leaks and rocked by competing egos, Pence stands apart.
He has none of the outward flamboyance of Stephen Bannon, Trump’s controversial chief strategist, or Kellyanne Conway, a frequent presence on the airwaves. Nor has his performance drawn the kind of anonymous internal criticisms that have hounded chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer.
The Trump ally noted that part of the reason Pence was “very influential” was that “he is not looking for recognition, per se. He is not looking to be the narrative, to be the story.”
The White House source sounded a similar note.
“With all the personalities in the Oval Office, and the fact that people are trying to find out what Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser] are actually doing, Pence has been just quietly going about his job of being vice president, building on his relationships with Capitol Hill, as well as just being a solid foundation at the White House.”
Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a friend of Trump, said that one only had to look at Trump’s statements to see “that he greatly respects the vice president and sees him as a very important part of the team.”
Ruddy added, “I don’t think he is saying that just for public consumption.”
A key part of Pence’s official role is to pilot Trump’s agenda at the Capitol. He met with the conservative House Freedom Caucus on Monday, a day on which he was also spotted in the GOP cloakroom in the lower chamber. The next day, he met with the more centrist Tuesday Group.
Meanwhile, his longtime aide Marc Short is now the Trump administration’s director of legislative affairs.
While there are tensions bubbling just beneath the surface of the relationship between Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill, Pence’s role as de facto point man soothes nerves.
Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), the GOP Policy Committee chairman who now occupies the seat Pence previously held in the House, asserted that the vice president is “considered an honest broker, and he’s got relationships built over time. Knowing who someone is over time helps build trust.”
Messer added, “With that trust comes influence.”
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a Trump supporter, concurred.
“We’re hoping he has a lot of influence. Obviously, the president is the final decider, but we hope he seeks his advice, because Pence is level-headed — he’s the calm in the storm, and he knows how the process works here on Capitol Hill. He can keep giving the president good advice about moving his agenda forward.”
Pence alone can’t solve problems inherent to the GOP’s legislative agenda, such as getting an agreed-upon replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act in place. Trump’s volatility will also likely cause consternation from time to time.
But the vice president’s perceived steadiness is likely to be an asset both inside the White House and beyond.
Pence is a somewhat unusual figure in this administration in that he has no obvious enemies at the White House. Sources say that Trump himself seems to take pride in his vice president’s performance. And the former Indiana governor is also close to key figures beyond Trump and Short, including White House counsel Don McGahn.
There is one other advantage that Pence has with his boss, according to the White House source.
“He looks like a vice president,” the source said. “And in Trump’s world, that’s everything.”