Mike Pence: The rare times he made headlines

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Pence and TrumpImage source, Getty Images

In picking veteran politician Mike Pence as his vice-president in 2016, Donald Trump went with a safe choice that would also help secure him the evangelical Christian vote.

"A Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order" is how Mr Pence once described himself. In the last three years, you could say he's added steadfast Trump soldier to that list.

Since becoming Mr Trump's right-hand man, Mr Pence has stayed largely out of the headlines, diligently following the president's lead, defending his policies and demonstrating the sort of public loyalty Mr Trump values.

"Pence works for a president who insists on the spotlight and he is very careful to defer so as not to ruffle Trump's feathers," says Joel Goldstein, a professor of law at St Louis University who has written books about the vice-presidency.

But there are times when he is very visible, like last week when he did a number of talk shows after the Democratic convention, says Mr Goldstein. Other vice-presidents have not been so keen to get in front of the cameras.

Here are five times during Mr Trump's first term that the vice-president took centre stage.

Leading the coronavirus taskforce

In February, Mr Trump set the job of heading the White House Covid-19 taskforce on his vice-president's shoulders.

Since then, Mr Pence has fervently defended the administration's response to the pandemic, praising Mr Trump's actions even as the US faces millions of cases and over 177,000 deaths.

He's denied the notion of a second wave of infections and misleadingly attributed the nation's surges to testing. More recently, he made headlines for refusing to wear a mask during a visit to a top US hospital, despite its policies.

But the ever-calm Mr Pence has also garnered some praise for working with governors on both sides of the aisle behind the scenes, even as the president publicly feuded with them during briefings.

No dining with women (without his wife)

In 2017, Mr Pence sent the internet into a tizzy after it emerged that the vice-president once said he did not dine alone with women or attend events where alcohol is available unless his wife joins him.

The decades-old remark came up in a Washington Post profile of his wife, Karen, and is a rule relatively common among religious conservatives. The late Billy Graham, an influential US evangelist, helped popularise the idea.

"If there's alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me," Mr Pence told the Hill newspaper in 2002, calling it "building a zone around your marriage".

Twitter was quick to jokingly wonder if Mr Pence would refuse to meet with female world leaders, but it's not clear if Mr Pence still abides by the rule.

Michael Flynn's resignation

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was the highest ranking official brought down by the inquiry into Russian election meddling - and his lies to Mr Pence were at the centre of it.

In a phone conversation with Mr Pence before Mr Trump took office, Mr Flynn lied about having discussed lifting US sanctions on Russia with Russia's ambassador.

Flynn was forced to resign in 2017, as Mr Trump said he had lost faith in him after Flynn misled Mr Pence.

That December, Pence told CBS News: "What I can tell you is that I knew that [Flynn] lied to me, and I know the president made the right decision with regard to him."

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the same contacts, but in 2020, withdrew that plea.

Since then, the White House has warmed up to him - in May, after the Justice Department dropped Flynn's charges, Mr Pence said he would welcome Flynn back to the administration.

Addressing anti-abortion rallies

Mr Pence became the first sitting vice-president to attend the anti-abortion March for Life rally in 2017, telling the demonstrators: "Life is winning again in America."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mr Pence, his wife Karen and daughter Charlotte at the 44th March for Life anti-abortion rally

During his tenure as Indiana governor, he enacted some of the most restrictive laws against abortions. He's also long been an opponent of Planned Parenthood, which provides family planning and abortion services across the country.

His anti-abortion track record endeared him to religious conservatives and helped bring some evangelical heft to Mr Trump's campaign.

It's a voting bloc that's remained a key part of Mr Trump's base - and his re-election efforts. In 2020, Mr Trump also attended the March for Life rally, becoming the first sitting president to do so.

Being booed at Hamilton

Mr Pence found himself centre stage in more ways than one when he attended the Broadway musical Hamilton shortly after the climax of a tumultuous election campaign.

The newly elected vice-president was met with boos - and some cheers - by the audience.

At the end of the show, actor Brandon Victor Dixon delivered a message from the cast: "We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights."

Media caption,

The cast of the Broadway hit musical Hamilton address Mr Pence

The incident split opinions online, with some noting the irony of the evangelical Trump defender Mr Pence attending a musical performed and written by members of the LGBT, immigrant, and minority communities. Others, however, felt it was wrong to boo him just for watching a Broadway show.

For his part, Mr Pence said the reactions didn't offend, and Hamilton was a "great show".

"When we arrived we heard a few boos, we heard some cheers. I nudged my kids and said, 'That's what freedom sounds like,'" he told Fox News.