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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."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

10 mins ago - World

Netanyahu doesn't want a fight with Biden over Iran — yet

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hoping to avoid an immediate clash with President Biden over Iran, will give dialogue a chance, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: Biden intends to try to resume the 2015 nuclear deal, which Netanyahu vehemently opposes. The two are on a collision course, and memories are fresh of the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations when Netanyahu was publicly campaigning against Barack Obama's attempts to reach a deal — including in a speech to Congress.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
44 mins ago - Technology

Doomsday Clock stays at 100 seconds to midnight

Robert Rosner, left, and Suzet McKinney reveal the 2021 setting of the Doomsday Clock. Photo: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists/Thomas Gaulkin

In its annual update on Wednesday morning, scientists announced the Doomsday Clock would be kept at 100 seconds to midnight.

Why it matters: The decision to keep the clock hands steady — tied for the closest it has ever been to midnight in the clock's 74-year history — reflects a picture of progress on climate change and politics undercut by growing threats from infectious disease and disruptive technologies.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden to sign major climate orders, setting up clash with oil industry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden will sign new executive actions today that provide the clearest signs yet of his climate plans — elevating the issue to a national security priority and kicking off an intense battle with the oil industry.

Driving the news: One move will freeze issuance of new oil-and-gas leases on public lands and waters "to the extent possible," per a White House summary.

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