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When Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January, he will be the most politically inexperienced man ever to become president. That's why lawmakers expect Trump to lean on his vice president, Mike Pence, as his legislative guide to usher his agenda through Congress. Pence is a familiar face on Capitol Hill, as NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: One way lawmakers say they know becoming vice president hasn't changed Mike Pence - he hasn't changed his number.
LOU BARLETTA: Yeah. He said, you know, we - he said most of you have my cellphone, which we found out after the election.
DAVIS: That's Pennsylvania Republican Lou Barletta after a recent private meeting between Pence and House Republicans.
BARLETTA: He wants to encourage us to continue to reach out to him.
DAVIS: Pence told them that while his job in Congress is now as president of the Senate, his heart remains in the House.
MIKE PENCE: It's just very humbling to me to be back in the room - I spent 12 years as a member of Congress - and to be there with members I served with - many men and women have been elected to Congress since then - and to see the enthusiasm for the president-elect's agenda for this country.
DAVIS: While many lawmakers described their president-elect as a wildcard, they see Pence as their pocket ace, like Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart. He was a Trump skeptic, but when he tapped Pence as his running mate...
MARIO DIAZ-BALART: I think that gave me a lot of us such a sense of comfort.
DAVIS: Trump has indicated that he'd like Pence to be a legislative point man for his administration. He'll work out the granular details, and Trump will make the final decisions. That is just fine with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we all really like Mike Pence. If you ask any of us who've served with him, everybody likes him.
DAVIS: McConnell says there's a recent model for how this could work.
MCCONNELL: Dick Cheney was a classic guy who didn't necessarily say anything all the time, but he was like a sponge absorbing what our concerns were. And he acted almost like President Bush's Senate liaison.
DAVIS: President George W. Bush's early years in office are a template for how a Republican Washington might govern. It was the last time the party held all levers of government, and Congress churned out legislation affecting Medicare, national security and tax cuts at a steady clip and, generally, on strict party-line votes.
But, back then, Pence was a conservative back-bencher who was often a thorn in the side of the Bush administration. Now, Pence will be the one picking out the thorns. In preparation, he's launching a bipartisan charm offensive on Capitol Hill. Here he is praising House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
PENCE: A worthy opponent and leader of the loyal opposition, but I have great respect for you and for your service to the country. And I was pleased today to be able to convey the respect of President-elect Donald Trump.
DAVIS: And Democrats, like Pelosi, believe Pence will be the key negotiator at the table for the Trump administration.
NANCY PELOSI: You're going to be a very valued player in all of this because you know the territory. And I know - with no disrespect for the sensitivity and knowledge of the president-elect, you know the territory. So in that territory, we will try to find our common ground where we can and, of course, stand our ground when we can't.
DAVIS: Pelosi has already offered an olive branch to Trump. She says Democrats are ready to work with him on some of his campaign proposals, like paid family leave and more infrastructure spending. But Democrats are lining up to oppose Trump's plans to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes and build that wall. With narrow Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump's ability to get any of that done will require Republican Party unity.
This is Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, one of Pence's oldest friends on Capitol Hill.
JEFF FLAKE: I think it will be an outsized role for a vice president. And I hope so, and a lot of people here hope so.
DAVIS: Pence can count on Flake's friendship. But now the challenge is can he count on his vote. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol.
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