Feb 25, 2019

How Mike Pence wields foreign policy power

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Political commentators often paint Mike Pence as an impotent toady. But those caricatures miss an important reality: The vice president has much more power than many people realize.

Why it matters: Most people know Pence has been a driving force behind perhaps the most socially conservative presidency in modern history — especially on abortion rights. But that's just the start. For the past two years, the vice president has done more than arguably any other senior administration official to propel President Trump's most hawkish foreign policy positions. He's done so consistently in private and, increasingly, in public.

Nobody has had more influence over Trump's Venezuela policy than Pence.

National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sen. Marco Rubio also play pivotal roles, but from the first days of the Trump presidency, Pence has dominated the issue.

  • It was Pence who ushered the wife of a Venezuelan political prisoner into the Oval Office for a historic meeting with Trump.
  • It was Pence who made the administration's first tour of Latin American countries, in the summer of 2017, soon after Trump threatened to use military force in Venezuela.
  • It was Pence who phoned Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, in January, and told him Trump would back him if he declared himself Venezuela's interim president. (Guaidó did so the next day, and Trump kept Pence's promise.)
  • Pence has rallied Venezuelan expats at churches throughout Florida and Latin America, making the faith-based case for overthrowing Maduro.
  • On Monday, Pence will give a speech in Bogotá, at the invitation of Colombia’s president, touting the U.S.'s "unwavering support" for Guaidó, who he will also meet with. It will be Pence's fifth trip to Latin America as VP.

The big picture: Pence also exerts power on other critical foreign policy issues. He publicly — and controversially —attacked European allies in a recent Warsaw speech for not supporting Trump's maximum pressure campaign on Iran.

  • He infuriated Turkish officials while working with Trump to secure the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson from a Turkish prison.
  • He also gave the toughest speech on China by any American leader in recent history, and has worked with key officials, including John Bolton, to shape the administration's China policy.

But Latin America is closest to his heart. As an Indiana congressman, Pence fiercely opposed Castro and railed against communism in Latin America. His faith colors his work. "We are with you," Pence told a crowd of several hundred South Florida Venezuelans at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church after his first vice presidential trip to Latin America, in the summer of 2017.

  • "I remember standing at a shelter in Colombia where he was deeply impacted by the stories of the refugees," recalls Pence's former chief of staff Nick Ayers.
  • "One grandmother told the story of watching her young grandchildren leave their home before 5 a.m to go stand in breadlines all day, only to receive one small piece of bread. She held his hand while crying and explained that they were once proud and happy people, now they were hungry and homeless. It was an emotional moment for him."

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Coronavirus stay-at-home orders crater voter registration efforts

A volunteer looks for persons wanting to register to vote on July 4, 2019 in Santa Fe, N.M. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic is scuppering usual "get out the vote" efforts, leading to fears that large swaths of Americans could miss out on this year's elections.

What’s happening: Advocacy groups typically target college campuses, churches, festivals, fairs and other gatherings to seek out people who have yet to register, but many of those places are now closed. Voter registration efforts have largely moved to the internet, but advocates question whether that will be as effective as the person-to-person pitch.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 5,471,768 — Total deaths: 344,911 — Total recoveries — 2,223,523Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,660,072 — Total deaths: 98,184 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 57 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.