Pence’s pickle: How to bargain when no one speaks for Trump


WASHINGTON — Progress made, said one.

Not so, said the other.

We’ll meet again, said one.

Waste of time, said the other.

Such has been the life lately of Mike Pence, the loyal soldier dispatched by President Donald Trump to lead negotiations over the partial government shutdown.

The vice-president has been one of the administration’s most visible emissaries during the shutdown fight, meeting with lawmakers, sitting for interviews and leading staff-level talks. But he’s been repeatedly — and very publicly — undermined and contradicted by his boss, who’s demanding billions from Congress to build a wall along the southern border.

Lawmakers and aides in both parties say it’s become increasingly clear that, in this White House, no one speaks for the president but himself, leaving Pence in an all-but-impossible position as he tries to negotiate on Trump’s behalf.

“He doesn’t really have the authority to make a deal,” said Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, who worked alongside Pence back when Pence was a member of Congress. He said legislators respect the vice-president even if he is just “the messenger.” But he adds: “Trump is the one who’s going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.”‘

Even before the shutdown began, Pence was in an awkward spot in the wall debate — quite literally. When Trump hosted then-incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer at a heated Oval Office meeting in December that ended with the president saying he’d be “proud” to own a government shutdown, a stone-faced Pence sat by, speechless in his chair, drawing quips on social media comparing him to a statue or the “Elf on the Shelf.”

Trump later sent Pence to lead a weekend of budget talks with staff for Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, an effort that Democrats dismissed as little more than a public-relations effort by the White House to give the impression it was working to end the impasse. Some also saw Pence’s meetings with legislative staffers as unbefitting of his title.

When the first negotiation session ended that Saturday, Pence tweeted: “Productive discussion.”

Trump countered an hour later: “Not much headway made.”

The next morning, as Pence was set to return to the negotiating table, Trump again threw cold water on the effort.

“I don’t expect to have anything happen at that meeting … nor does the vice-president,” Trump told reporters. “Ultimately, it’s going to be solved by the principals.”

Allies of the vice-president minimized the significance of the comments and the White House denied any friction.

“The vice-president has been very effective in communicating on behalf of the administration,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “He has been in lock step with the president throughout the entire process.”

Pence, too, rejected the idea that he’d been undermined by the president or had difficulty building trust on Capitol Hill because of Trump’s tendency to change his mind.

He described to reporters an offer he brought to Schumer from the president on the Saturday before Christmas to try to cut a deal.

“I didn’t have any impression that whole week that they doubted that it was a …read more

Source:: Nationalpost – News

      

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