In coronavirus fight, Mike Pence is caught between Trump and a hard place

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence decided silence was the way to go.

Soon after U.S. President Donald Trump asked him to lead the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, Pence was on the phone with Washington’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, whose state is at the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S.

Inslee told Pence that it would be best if the Trump administration “stuck to the science and told the truth” on the mounting public health crisis — and broadcast his prickly advice on Twitter.

But when the vice-president travelled to Washington state Thursday, Pence opted not to punch back at Inslee — to the dismay of Trump. Instead, Pence heaped compliments on the governor for helping federal and state officials collaborate in a “seamless way.”

As the virus continues to spread through U.S. communities and ravage the stock market, Trump and Pence have been a study in contrasts in their public response.

Trump grumbles that Democrats and the news media are needlessly fueling panic and has a ready retort for any critic. Pence, for his part, walks a fine line — doling out frequent praise for the boss’s performance, taking pains to avoid contradicting Trump’s questionable public health pronouncements and trying to foster bipartisan co-operation for a “whole of America” approach to containing the virus.

It’s a huge moment for Pence — arguably the biggest since Trump picked him to be his vice-presidential candidate.

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