Michael Flynn’s communiqués with Russia behind Vice President Pence’s back has clogged mainstream media channels this week, but the incident raises an interesting question: How much power does Pence actually wield in the White House?
Reports from within the White House describe two radically different scenarios, a possible reflection of the “establishment” and “insurgent” divisions within the Trump administration.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that President Trump knew “for weeks” that Flynn was purposefully misleading the White House on his true contacts with Russia, but did not report him. Flynn had told Pence that he had not discussed sanctions with Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak, and Pence had reportedly been “outraged” when he’d been informed of the truth as late as Feb. 9.
Pence as “point man”
Some insiders claim that Mike Pence’s power has been quietly growing under the whirlwind of scandals that have punctuated the first few weeks of Trump’s administration.
“His force was shown with Flynn’s removal,” said one White House insider to the Hill. “You cannot lie to the vice president, to Mike Pence, and expect to survive.”
According to these reports, Pence’s clout – far more than the Vice President office has traditionally offered – comes largely from two traits that are missing from the rest of Trump’s cabinet: his steadfast support of Trump and support from establishment politicians. Connections he built during years in politics have made him a de facto point man to the Republican Party.
At the moment, he is in charge of creating Trump’s agenda at the Capitol.
“I don’t know who’s exercising the most influence, but I know the White House would be very well served to listen to Mike Pence a lot, and I hope they do,” said Senator John Thune to CNN.
Ornamental and out of the loop
Other sources report that Pence revolves outside Trump’s inner orbit, a “troubling” revelation for many establishment Republicans.
“I don’t think he’s quite as close to the inner circle as the inner circle is,” a Republican senator told CNN.
Although most White House officials agree that there wasn’t a falling out between Trump and Pence after the Flynn incident, the exclusion of Pence from sensitive information reveals a troubling chasm between the two.