Way back in December, when the government was still functioning, President Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the Oval Office to discuss border security. The meeting was an unmitigated disaster, with the three party leaders sparring in front of cameras before Trump ultimately took responsibility for a potential government shutdown over border-wall funding.
If not for the memes responding to the comic lack of vibrancy he brought to the heated exchange, it would have been hard to notice that Mike Pence was there, too. As Trump, Schumer and Pelosi argued, the vice president sat motionless in his chair, his eyes fixed in the middle distance, his mind somewhere else entirely, perhaps home in Indiana. The government entered a partial shutdown 10 days later, and Pence has since been tasked with leading the administration’s negotiations with Democrats over border security. He hasn’t been much more useful than he was during that Oval Office meeting last month.
On both Saturday and Sunday, the vice president met with Democratic leaders to try to make progress regarding a resolution to re-open the government, an all but impossible task considering Democrats have maintained they will not support a spending bill that includes the $5 billion in border wall funding Trump has demanded. If that wasn’t enough, Pence did “not have the president’s blessing to float new or specific numbers” that would have been necessary to reach some any sort of agreement, according to the Washington Post. Even Trump acknowledged the negotiations were futile, telling reporters that he didn’t “expect to have anything happen at that meeting,” before absconding to Camp David for the weekend. “Ultimately, it’s going to be solved by the principals,” he added, a tacit admission that Pence has no real authority.
The Atlantic reported as much on Tuesday, noting that Pence’s sway has taken a hit as the politics surrounding the border situation have spiraled out of control. He’s been undermined by Trump on several occasions in the past month alone, leaving Democrats without any reason to take negotiations with the vice president seriously. “If you were Nancy or Chuck, why would you spend time cutting a deal that may be dismissed out of hand by the ultimate decider?” a former senior White House official told the Atlantic.
Negotiations with Pence’s boss haven’t gone very well, either. The president has been hung up on whether a potential wall would be built from concrete or steel (as of Tuesday, it’s steel), and doesn’t seem to have any issue with keeping the government shut down indefinitely.
Absent any semblance of progress, the duo has decided to try appealing directly to the American people. To warm the nation up for Trump’s Oval Office address on Tuesday night, Pence appeared on the Today Show to defend his boss’s position. Hallie Jackson asked him about Trump’s lie that previous presidents have told him they should have built a border wall. The vice president stammered for a while — it was the president’s “impression,” he managed — before trying to explain that people ultimately don’t care. “Look, honestly, the American people want us to address this issue,” he said vaguely.
“Which former presidents told President Trump, as he said, that he should’ve built a wall? All their representatives have denied that that was the case.” @halliejackson to @VP Mike Pence pic.twitter.com/7xAH05aheE
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) January 8, 2019
The vice president also gave ABC some love, appearing on Good Morning America for a near-identical interview. As did Jackson, Jonathan Karl brought up Trump’s lie about previous presidents calling for a border wall, asking Pence why Americans should trust the president when he has shoveled so many false statements about the situation at the border. Again, Pence essentially said that it doesn’t matter. “Look, the American people aren’t as concerned about the political debate as they are concerned about what’s really happening at the border,” he said.
Vice Pres. Pence talks to @jonkarl on shutdown stalemate: "We need new resources. We need to build a wall. We need Congress to come to the table and work with this president." pic.twitter.com/Ncbx55dkSd
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 8, 2019
Pence continued: “The passion you hear from president Trump, his determination to take his case to the American people, as he will tonight in his national broadcast from the Oval Office, comes from this president’s deep desire to do his job to protect the American people. We’re going to continue to carry that case forward until Democrats in Congress come to the table and start negotiating — not just to end the government shutdown, but to address what is an undeniable crisis at the southern border.”
Trump will speak to the American public from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, where he will certainly peddle more of the same lies and mischaracterizations that Jackson and Karl pressed Pence to explain Tuesday morning. Both of their networks will air the speech live.