On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence issued a public, written statement about the White House's posture toward North Korea. By all appearances, it was intended to be unambiguous.
"Whichever direction talks with North Korea go, we will be firm in our resolve. The United States and our allies remain committed to applying maximum pressure on the Kim regime to end their nuclear program. All options are on the table and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization."
Got it. The administration's position "will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization." Literally two days later, Donald Trump changed the administration's posture, agreeing to meet directly with Kim Jong-un -- without credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization.
I suspect Pence thought he was telling the truth about U.S. foreign policy when he issued the statement earlier this week. The vice president simply didn't know that his boss would soon decide to do the exact opposite.
And while that's likely the source of some embarrassment for the Indiana Republican, there's a larger context to this: Trump keeps doing this.
It was just last week, for example, when the president hosted a White House discussion with senators on gun policy, and Pence talked about providing law-enforcement officials with "additional tools" to deal with those who are reported to be a potential danger to themselves or others. The vice president emphasized "allowing due process, so that no one's rights are trampled."
Trump interjected, dismissing Pence's concerns, and complaining that the judicial process "takes so long." The president added, "I like taking the guns early.... Take the guns first, go through due process second."
If Pence is getting tired of these public contradictions, it'd be hard to blame him. In fact, as regular readers may recall, the trouble started before they even took office. In the second presidential debate in 2016, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz reminded Trump that his own running mate said, in the context of a discussion about U.S. policy in Syria, that “provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength.” In an unusual display, Trump denounced the position.
In fact, the then-Republican candidate said of Pence, “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.”
It was the first hint that Trump doesn’t much care what his ostensible governing partner thought. In August 2017, for example, Pence declared that when it comes to our country’s policy toward Russia, the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress are “speaking with a unified voice.” Soon after, Trump himself denounced Congress’ sanctions against Russia, effectively siding with Putin’s government.
During the fight over health care, Pence encouraged Senate Republicans to pass one kind of bill, while Trump recommended another. Even on the Russia scandal, Pence said Trump didn’t fire former FBI Director James Comey over the investigation, only to watch Trump say the opposite soon after.
I’m not talking about private deliberations, in which there’s back and forth between a president and top members his team. I'm referring to public disagreements, in which the vice president, under the impression that he’s articulating the administration’s position, says one thing, only to have the president say something altogether different soon after.
I joked last week that the next time the vice president makes a declaration, give it a little time. His boss may have some thoughts to share on the matter. Little did I know Pence and Trump would bolster the point so quickly.