WASHINGTON – Here's a look at some of the key takeaways from Vice President Pence's first year in office.
1. Trump loyalty
Pence has been an unfailingly loyal No. 2, neither taking credit for administration actions nor apparently participating in leaking from multiple warring factions at the White House. In fact, his effusive praise of Trump has been much noted – and not often in a good way. In December, conservative columnist Michael Gerson called Pence “the cringing, fawning high priest of flunkiness.” That came after a Cabinet meeting at which Pence offered 14 separate commendations for Trump in less than three minutes, according to a Washington Post calculation..
2. Congressional role
As president of the Senate, Pence has already broken more ties than seven of his last nine predecessors, putting him in position to set a modern record. His first tie-breaking vote, to confirm Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, was the first time a vice president’s vote was needed for a Cabinet nomination. Besides supplementing the Republicans' razor-thin margin in the Senate, Pence has been actively involved in legislative negotiations on health care, taxes and other issues, keeping in close contact with congressional leaders as well as an influential group of conservative lawmakers. Two high points were presiding over the Senate when lawmakers confirmed Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court and when they approved the tax package. A low point was Republican’s failure to repeal Obamacare as they’d been promising to do for years.
3. Russia investigation
Pence has not been interviewed by the special counsel investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. But he hasn’t been unscathed by the still-developing story. Some of his past statements have come back to bite him — including his assertions that former national security adviser Michael Flynn didn't discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition, his explanation for why James Comey was fired as FBI director, and his dismissing as “bizarre rumors” the suggestion that there were contacts during the campaign between Russian officials and Trump associates. He’s faced the charge that if he was not lying when he made his comments, then he was an “out of the loop dupe.”
4. Media attention
The Washington Post in March revived a comment Pence made in 2002 that he wouldn’t eat alone with a woman other than his wife and didn’t attend events featuring alcohol unless she was there. His version of the “Billy Graham rule” that some Protestant Christians follow quickly became known as the "Pence rule." Debate over whether the rule guides good behavior or is demeaning to women intensified after sexual harassment allegations exploded in the entertainment, media and other worlds. Pence also sparked intense debate when he walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game after some players on the opposing team knelt during the national anthem. Some praised Pence, who said he wouldn’t “dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, and our national anthem." Critics called it a preplanned political stunt at taxpayers' expense.
5. Special assignments
After Trump claimed that at least 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election, he put Pence in charge of a commission to investigate voter fraud. But Trump disbanded the commission this month in the midst of multiple lawsuits against it and resistance by states to turning over voter data. Pence still heads a revived space commission that had been dormant since the George H.W. Bush administration, signaling the administration will emphasize the space program. Notably, Pence announced NASA would return to the moon after the Obama administration had decided on other missions.
National Space Council lifts off
6. Liaison to social conservatives
Selected as Trump’s running mate in part for his strong ties to social conservatives, Pence remains a key administration ally for that constituency. He frequently addresses religious groups, collaborates with movement leaders and — days after being sworn in — became the highest-ranked administration official to appear in person at the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally.
7. Foreign travel
Pence made multiple trips abroad, often sparking headlines on how his mission was to reassure allies about Trump’s commitment to the region. He also made a surprise trip to Afghanistan in December, a trip notable in part because Trump has not visited an active U.S. combat zone. On the one-year anniversary of being sworn in, Pence was on a trip to the Middle East that includes a visit to Israel. (Pence was a strong supporter of the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that sparked protests in the region in December when Pence was originally scheduled to visit.) Michael Wolff's controversial book on the Trump Administration suggested a reason for Pence’s foreign trips. After White House chief strategist Steve Bannon observed a “hapless Pence,” in a lot of “wrong meetings” regarding the Russia investigation, Wolff wrote, he helped get Pence — “our fallback guy” — out around the world to look like a vice president.
8. Political activity
Pence raised eyebrows by starting his own fundraising committee, an unusual move for a vice president. Created to help congressional candidates — through donations and campaign appearances — the political action committee also helps Pence build his own brand and strengthen already strong ties with Congress. He plans to be particularly active in this year’s midterm elections. But Pence called "disgraceful and offensive" an August New York Times article suggesting he's positioning himself to run for president in 2020 if Trump does not.
9. Hoosier influence
In addition to the Hoosiers Pence brought with him to work in his office, Indiana boasts many other people in influential positions. That's particularly true at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar is on track to lead. Former Indiana health care consultant Seema Verma heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And former Indiana health commissioner Jerome Adams is the surgeon general.