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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Mike Pence has his place in President Trump's orbit - and beyond

The vice president often appears in the news trying to help Trump score points. But some day, he may be speaking solely for himself.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks as President Donald

Vice President Mike Pence speaks as President Donald Trump listens in the Rose Garden of the White House on Jan. 4. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Alex Wong

The comparison sounded highly contrived and painfully awkward. But Vice President Mike Pence always seems ready to do his job jamming rhetorical square pegs into round holes in the service of President Donald Trump.

Honoring the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. last week, Pence said: "You think of how he changed America. He inspired us to change through the legislative process, to become a more perfect union.

"That's exactly what President Trump is calling on Congress to do — come to the table in the spirit of good faith," Pence said. 

Pence is an important figure right now — and not merely because he would instantly ascend to the top if Trump's tenure suddenly meets an unlikely end. Pence is widely seen as a key link between an often chaotic White House and ardent Republicans and conservatives. He's seasoned in the legislature, and sidesteps much of the controversy in which his boss indulges.

In November, reports surfaced from the White House that Trump was asking others about Pence's loyalty, whether he should be on the 2020 ticket. Whatever answers came back, Pence appears on track to stay as vice president and presumably run later for the top spot in the event his mentor is re-elected.

These days the former Indiana governor plays an influential role in the administration's support for Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who seeks to supplant the nation's besieged and failing president Nicolas Maduro.

Pence emerges in the news not only as aTrump factotum.

The recent decision by his wife, Karen, to teach at a Virginia private school that has a policy of rejecting homosexual and transgender students and staff caused the expected stir. The vice president called the fallout "deeply offensive."

“My wife and I have been in the public eye for quite a while. We’re used to the criticism,” Pence told EWTN, a television network that airs Catholic-themed programming. “But I have to tell you, to see major news organizations attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us."

He didn't cite a specific news outlet, but LGBTQ groups were quoted by several publications as criticizing Karen Pence. The Huffington Post quoted JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, saying, "Why not teach at a school that welcomes everyone, instead of choosing one that won’t serve LGBTQ kids, kids of LGBTQ parents?”

Before Trump caved on his federal shutdown last week, Pence also carried out the awkward duty of projecting Trump's position on a border wall.

On Fox News, Pence called it "disappointing to see [House] Speaker Nancy Pelosi reject [a compromise] offer before the president gave his speech."

When host Chris Wallace said Democrats won't accept the Trump package, Pence said: "I’m not sure that's true, Chris . . . We’ve had a lot of dialogue... As the president often says, we'll see."

We saw. The Democrats reject the measure and it failed. But since the shutdown has ended, Pence's exchange with Wallace becomes moot. 

Some day, we may see how much a Pence term would resemble a Trump term. From this distance, at this moment, their differences in style and emphasis seem stark.

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