Pence revs up communications operation to combat impeachment

Vice President Mike Pence has beefed up his West Wing communications team as he confronts an accelerating impeachment inquiry into President Trump and an unpredictable 2020 reelection campaign.

Pence is under pressure to answer questions about Trump’s actions and own his role in the administration’s dealings with Ukraine, which are the focus of a widening investigation by Democrats in the House of Representatives. The vice president is simultaneously trying to reassure skeptical voters that Trump can be trusted with a second term.

To maneuver, Pence is leaning on a few key aides: chief of staff Marc Short, a savvy strategist with deep Washington connections; press secretary Katie Waldman, a veteran of congressional campaigns and the Homeland Security Department; and Hannah MacInnis, who worked under Trump digital guru Dan Scavino in the White House and is helping the vice president invigorate his social media operation.

Republican insiders, conceding the political risks of impeachment, say it is crucial that Pence communicate quickly and effectively.

“I know Short and Waldman well. They’re both really good at their jobs. Pence is lucky to have them. But I think it’s too soon to say how any of this works out for anyone,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist.

The Trump campaign often deploys Pence to woo establishment-oriented Republicans and swing voters in critical battlegrounds. He hit the trail this month amid the unfolding impeachment inquiry to bolster Trump’s 2020 position and immediately faced challenges.

In a swing through Iowa to talk trade, Pence was grilled by reporters about his knowledge of Trump’s effort to prod Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden. Pence was pressed about Democratic allegations that Trump withheld U.S. military aid to Ukraine in a bid to pressure Kyiv to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, to target Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

The vice president, disciplined and calculating, was not flustered, although he sidestepped some questions.

“The good thing is, Pence fights back on everything that anyone throws up at him,” said Charlie Black, a Republican lobbyist who has worked in D.C. since the early 1970s and has advised past GOP presidential candidates. “What’s important in impeachment proceedings, and whenever you’re being accused, is to respond quickly with facts that refute it.”

Beyond Democrats’ allegations, Trump’s comments and social media posts on the matter, which typically hit without warning, is another issue the vice president is going to have to deal with.

The recent Pence hire that piqued particular interest among West Wing observers is MacInnis.

As the vice president’s digital director, she is moving to invigorate his presence and expand his reach on Twitter and other social media platforms. There is no intent to compete with, or mimic Trump. But MacInnis’ experience under Scavino, who amplifies the president’s aggressive approach to social media, is viewed internally as a major plus for Pence, a politician who is more comfortable with traditional methods of communicating.

The vice president’s office declined to comment for this story.

In Washington, Republican operatives concerned about Trump’s response to impeachment point to Pence and his operation as a bright spot. The vice president’s team is small compared to the president’s, as is typical for the No. 2. But so far, it is efficient and coordinated. However, one Republican operative who worked in the George W. Bush White House had a suggestion.

“If I were them, I’d bring in a communications aide with deep legal experience as well,” this GOP insider said.


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