By Jordain Carney - 01-06-17 06:03 AM EST
Vice President Elect Mike Pence is poised to become the Trump administration's point man on Capitol Hill.
Trump's No. 2 has deep ties to Washington after spending more than a decade in the House, including a close relationship with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and wide respect from Senate Republicans.
He is already sliding into the role of Trump's top Capitol Hill liaison, offering a preview of the influence he could wield with lawmakers and within the administration.
During the first week of the new Congress, Pence huddled with Republicans to hash out an ObamaCare repeal strategy and met with newly appointed Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), two Democrats who could be critical to getting a deal through Congress.
Republicans-many of whom never fully embraced the brash real estate mogul when he was their nominee-are signaling hope that Pence will be a hands-on vice president as they search for a path to a working relationship with the Trump White House.
"We expect him to play an indispensable role being a liaison between the White House and the Senate," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of Pence.
"Of course, he will be president of the Senate and I'm just very encouraged that he's interested in maintaining that relationship."
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)-who did not support Trump's campaign-said Republicans hope Pence will have an active role working with Congress, given that he's got "good relations" with lawmakers and "understands the process."
"He's a policy wonk; he's very knowledgeable on the policy issues. So, we all hope that he's very involved," he said.
McConnell has repeatedly expressed hope that Pence will attend the weekly policy lunches, which would give the Senate GOP caucus regular face time with the vice president.
Pence's deep knowledge of Capitol Hill draws comparisons to Vice President Dick Cheney, who helped guide President George W. Bush as he settled into the White House.
Cheney, who was also a former lawmaker, frequently attended Republican caucus lunches and met with lawmakers in his Capitol Hill office.
Shortly after the election, McConnell pointed to Cheney as a guidepost for Pence, calling him Bush's "Senate liaison."
"[He] didn't necessarily say anything all the time but he was like a sponge, absorbing our concerns," he told reporters.
The Bush era is the last time Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress and were able to pass big-ticket items such as tax cuts, something Trump is also interested in.
Pence is expected to have offices in both the Senate-where he has the largely ceremonial role of being the president of the upper chamber-as well the House, according to CNN.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Senate's No. 3 Republican, said lawmakers hope they get frequent face time with Pence.
"Mike's got a lot of credibility over here. He understands this place. We're hoping he has a significant influence in the new administration and their policies," he said.
Republicans publicly breathed a sigh of relief when Trump named Pence to be his vice presidential pick, giving the GOP ticket a boost of institutional knowledge. They argue having a familiar face in the No. 2 spot could also help keep lines of communication open even when they disagree with the White House.
The incoming administration's relationship with Congress is in some way a study in contrasts.
Trump has met with Senate Republicans just once since the election. Pence, in addition to his strategy session this week, met with GOP leadership multiple times at the end of last year.
And while Trump has come under fire for his press conference dry spell, Pence took questions from reporters on Capitol Hill this week.
"The promises of Obamacare have -- have all been proven to be false. I was here in a different capacity in March of 2010 when we were told if you like your doctor, you can keep it. Not true," he said, giving a reminder of deep ties to Congress.
It's unclear how much freedom Trump, who is known to delegate, will give Pence. Even as he huddled with Republicans, Trump flexed his own political muscle derailing a House Republican plan to reform an independent ethics office with a single tweet.
But Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., signaled during the vice presidential vetting process that his father plans to let his second-in-command have broad influence over both domestic and foreign policy.
Asked about Pence's ability to balance Trump's inexperience, Cornyn said it would "absolutely" be an asset for the former Indiana governor.
"He spent 12 years here and he knows how this place works and I think that will help a lot," said the Senate's No. 2 Republican.