The White House issued a written statement on Tuesday summarizing Vice President Mike Pence's conversation with Juan Orlando Hernandez, the president of Honduras. It seemed pretty straightforward: the Republican "commended" Hernandez for "the proactive and vigorous response to the most recent migrant caravans, including the arrest of several organizers."
Pence went on to express his commitment "to building a closer relationship with the Hernandez Administration and disavowed any efforts by opportunistic political actors to distract from our priorities."
Did someone say "opportunistic political actors" who might try to distract from a constructive foreign-policy partnership? The day after the Pence-Hernandez conversation, Donald Trump shared some related and unprompted thoughts on the subject.
"Honduras is doing nothing for us. Guatemala is doing nothing for us. El Salvador is doing nothing for us. And we pay them hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but we're going to be stopping pretty soon. In fact, we're looking at it right now. We don't want to do it. Because when caravans form in the middle of a country, the country can very easily stop those caravans from forming, very easily. I actually think they encourage the caravans because they want to get rid of the people from their country, and certain people. [...]"The caravan now, they're saying, is massive. The caravan that's coming up. Thank you very much, Honduras. We send Honduras hundreds of millions of dollars, and they send us caravans."
For the record, the idea that officials in Honduras actually "encourage the caravans" as a way of exporting dangerous criminals to the United States is absurd. Similarly, there's an obvious difference between some desperate Hondurans seeking asylum and the government of Honduras "sending" a caravan.
But I'm also fascinated by the White House division: the American president's rhetoric was wholly at odds with what Mike Pence said 24 hours earlier. In fact, to hear Trump tell it, his own vice president had the whole story backwards.
It wasn't the first time.
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 didn’t much care what his ostensible governing partner thinks. Last August, 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. On North Korea, Pence rejected direct bilateral talks, while Trump endorsed them. On gun policy, Trump also dismissed one of Pence’s ideas during a televised discussion over gun policy at the White House.
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.
Last month, Pence tried to broker a deal with Democratic lawmakers to avoid a government shutdown, only to have Trump reject the terms Pence offered soon after.
To reiterate a point from our previous coverage, I’m not talking about private deliberations, in which there’s back and forth between a president and top members his team. This is about 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.
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.