Sen. John Thune of South Dakota embodies the unexpected turns of the 2016 campaign. Once considered a presidential prospect himself, he watched the primaries from the sidelines, complimenting Senate colleague Marco Rubio but not endorsing him.
Once Donald Trump wrapped up the Republican nomination, Thune started showing up on vice presidential short lists before Indiana Gov. Mike Pence got the nod. By October, after disclosure of taped remarks in which Trump discussed groping women without their consent, Thune called on the billionaire businessman to withdraw from the race in favor of Pence.
Now, as third-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership and chairman of the Commerce Committee, he's a key ally of the president-elect as the all-Republican Congress moves to implement shared priorities such as tax cuts and repealing the Affordable Care Act. Yet he's also prepared to buck Trump by pressing to curb Medicare and Social Security benefits to address their looming insolvency.
Thune sat down with me in his Commerce Committee hearing room to discuss Washington's path forward in 2017. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of our conversation.
HARWOOD: So Donald Trump comes in January 20th. Do you think of your job in the Senate and the Congress' job in general is to hit the gas for what he wants, or to pump the brakes?
THUNE: I think our job is to work with him to try and put together something that we think is achievable and doable. I think it's not to over promise. I think it's to set realistic expectations. It may be some of both.