Politics

Kelly Should Keep Job Despite Missteps, Pence Says

VP: ‘Talking’ to North Korea ‘is not negotiation’

Vice President Mike Pence says he's all in with John F. Kelly as White House chief of staff. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Vice President Mike Pence wants embattled White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to keep his job even as he admits officials mishandled the fallout of the Rob Porter domestic abuse scandal.

“John Kelly has done a remarkable job as chief of staff for the president of the United States,” Pence said Wednesday at an event in Washington sponsored by Axios. “And I look forward to continuing to work with him for many, many months to come.”

Still, Pence was critical of how Kelly and his staff bungled the White House’s response to reports — including graphic images — that the former staff secretary and Kelly confidant had abused his two ex-wives.

[Analysis: Trump Takes the Budget Out of Budget Day]

“I feel the White House could have handled this better,” he said. “Any more counsel I have on this, I’ll share with the president of the United States.”

Pence trumpeted Kelly’s career as a Marine and Homeland Security secretary, painting him as a “good man.”

Porter was forced to leave his White House post last week, though Kelly spent nearly two days staunchly defending his protege. President Donald Trump also has praised Porter, and didn’t speak out about domestic violence until Wednesday.

Watch: FBI Director Discusses Porter Security Clearance Timeline

‘Talking is not negotiation’

Meantime, Pence also walked back administration officials’ stance on talking to the North Korean government about its nuclear arms and ballistic missile programs.

“Talking is not negotiation,” he said. “Talking is understanding one another.”

“We want to exhaust every opportunity that North Korea understands our intentions,” he said.

He reiterated that it is the “fixed policy” of the United States that “all options” for dealing with Pyongyang’s programs are on the table as part of the administration’s “maximum pressure campaign.”

[Short DACA Fix Would Be 'Insufficient' To Trump, White House Warns]

And, as South Korea and its northern neighbor appear moving toward warmer relations, Pence contended there is “no daylight” between the White House and Seoul.

He was also asked about his decision to not speak with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at this month’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I didn’t ignore” her, Pence said, adding he did not believe it would have been “appropriate” to engage her.

“She’s the leader of the propaganda effort of that government,” he said, adding that it kills its own citizens.

“I wanted to send a very clear message that the people of the United States know who we are dealing [with],” Pence said, condemning the North Korean government’s human rights abuses.

Finally, the vice president said he does not think that much about the ongoing Justice Department investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.