Vice President Pence was happy to speak for himself Wednesday during an interview with an Ohio TV station when asked whether the new Republican health-care plan will preserve Medicaid coverage for Ohioans who obtained it under the Affordable Care Act.
"As a former governor from your neighboring Indiana, I can tell you I'm very confident," Pence began his response.
But when the subject of President Trump's unsubstantiated wiretapping charge against former president Barack Obama came up, Pence was willing to speak only for "the president and our administration." This was his exchange with WEWS-TV's John Kosich:
KOSICH: The president has alleged that the former president committed a felony in wiretapping Trump Tower. Yes or no — do you believe that President Obama did that?
PENCE: Well, what I can say is that the president and our administration are very confident that the congressional committees in the House and Senate that are examining issues surrounding the last election — the run-up to the last election — will do that in a thorough and equitable way.
As The Fix's Aaron Blake pointed out earlier this week, Trump surrogates have been unwilling to give full-throated defenses of the president's accusation, sometimes deflecting reporters' questions by saying that Trump's own words speak for themselves.
When White House press secretary Sean Spicer faced a question similar to the one posed to Pence, during a press briefing a day earlier, he refused to engage. "I get that that's a cute question to ask," Spicer said. "My job is to represent the president and to talk about what he's doing and what he wants. ... I'm not here to speak for myself. I'm here to speak for the president of the United States and our government."
Spicer's explanation might work, if speaking only for Trump were his usual practice. Like Pence and other Trump surrogates, however, Spicer freely offers his own views on other matters.
It is, of course, difficult to know for certain what goes on in someone else's head. But if you are wondering whether Trump's spokesmen really believe in the positions they are tasked with representing, their willingness to share their own opinions — or not — could be a clue.
At the same news conference in which Spicer said, "I'm not here to speak for myself," he volunteered his own thoughts on the GOP health-care bill more than once:
We're not jamming this down anybody's throat. It's going to go through a committee process. All parties involved, all representatives in the House will be able to have input into it. I think that's the way to conduct this process. (Emphasis added)
We've lost the element of choice and competition in health care, and by bringing all of that back, I think there's a higher degree of likelihood that you're going to get the plan that you want and you're going to get the doctor you want. (Emphasis added)
Spicer actually loves sharing his own thoughts with journalists. A few more examples, with emphasis added:
Feb. 27: "I think that's one of the biggest problems right now — is that people in Washington aren't necessarily talking to job creators."
Feb. 8: "[Trump] has talked about building a wall, he's talked about making sure we go after criminals in this country, he's talked about walking through the process and addressing DACA and DAPA in time. I think this is a big problem."
Jan. 31: "I think that we have done a very, very good job of getting a [Supreme Court] nominee in place that will be announced tonight that meets the criteria that they set forth."
So much thinking for a guy who says his job is merely "to speak for the president of the United States." Spicer's top deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders routinely does the same thing.
March 3: "As a senator, [Jeff Sessions] obviously in his official capacity met with the ambassador but, again, that was a senator, not as a campaign official. And so to try to muddy the waters in that way is, I think, pretty unfair to the attorney general."
Feb. 28: "I would disagree that Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson has been marginalized. I think nothing could be further from the truth."
Feb. 19: "I think one of the biggest problems that we've had is the obstruction by Democrats."
Sanders ran out of strong personal opinions when asked about the wiretapping charge on ABC's "This Week" last Sunday, saying that Trump is "going off of information that he's seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential." Sanders didn't say what she thinks about the validity of the accusation.
It is always striking when Trump's surrogates appear reluctant to back him up. And it is even more striking when you consider how eager they are in other instances to attach their own views to the president's.