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Pence forcefully denies report of 2020 presidential ambitions

 (Win McNamee / Getty Images)
(Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Vice President Mike Pence denied that he is considering a run for the presidency in 2020, issuing a statement the vehemence of which underscores how sensitive the White House is to any questioning of whether President Trump will seek a second term. 

In what appeared to be a coordinated message, the White House also hit back Sunday at a report in the New York Times that described steps Pence and other GOP lawmakers have taken that could position themselves for presidential bids.

Pence went so far as to call the newspaper’s report “disgraceful and offensive.”

“The American people know that I could not be more honored to be working side by side with a president who is making America great again,” the vice president said, invoking Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.

“Whatever fake news may come our way," he said, citing another favored presidential phrase, "my entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the president’s agenda and see him reelected in 2020.”

While Trump began fundraising for a 2020 campaign almost immediately upon taking office, there are several potential obstacles to a reelection bid:

He was 70 when he took office, the oldest first-term president to be inaugurated, and has since turned 71, and would be the oldest second-term chief executive were he to run again and win the 2020 election.

If age is not enough of an issue, his approval ratings are at a low that is unprecedented at this point in a presidential term.

Moreover, an increasingly complex special counsel investigation, looking at whether Trump’s campaign cooperated with Kremlin interference in the 2016 race, has been gathering momentum. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III recently began working with a grand jury in Washington.

Mueller has not commented on the course of the probe, but his investigators have sought documents related to several associates of Trump's, including his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Investigators are also examining a meeting that Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., held with several Russians in early June 2016, a few weeks before the senior Trump received the Republican nomination. 

Trump has talked with friends and aides about firing Mueller. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have explicitly warned him against trying to do so.

Despite those troubles, most prominent Republicans have avoided hinting at a challenge if Trump does seek the 2020 nomination. The main exception has been Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who opposed Trump to the end in 2016 and has not ruled out running against him. 

Some other Republicans, including Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have been making the rounds of political dinners and fundraisers, building the sort of support that they could use for a presidential bid.

The subject is extremely sensitive within Trump’s White House; the president has been known to punish underlings he perceives as engineering too high a personal profile for themselves.

In an appearance that coincided with the release of Pence’s statement, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said it was “absolutely true the vice president is getting ready for 2020 – for reelection as vice president.”

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” she said she had “zero” concern of any presidential aspirations on Pence’s part in the coming election cycle.

“Vice President Pence is a very loyal, very dutiful, but also incredibly effective vice president,” she said.

Trump, who has embarked on a 17-day visit – which he describes as a working vacation – to his golf property in Bedminster, N.J., was uncharacteristically quiet Sunday morning on Twitter. He confined himself to a single tweet: “Make America Great Again.”

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