Pence faces crisis moment weeks from election as Trump hospitalized with COVID-19

Michael Wilner
·3 min read

Vice President Mike Pence was already planning to hunker down at his residence in Washington this weekend as he prepares for his debate Wednesday with the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

But President Donald Trump’s diagnosis Friday morning that he has the coronavirus, followed by a rapid onset of symptoms and hospitalization at Walter Reed Medical Center, has upended his support role in the shadow of a president who has lived his entire life in the spotlight.

A sudden health crisis for the commander-in-chief — who could face serious complications from COVID-19 as a 74 year-old overweight man on cholesterol medication — creates the possibility that Pence, 61, could at some point have to step into the role of presidential duties if Trump is incapacitated.

But it also leaves Pence to carry the full load of campaigning as the only member of the Republican presidential ticket able to travel to crucial battleground states one month before Election Day, and as polls were already showing victory slipping away.

DEBATE PREP DURING CRISIS

Pence spent Friday at home after both he and his wife, Karen, tested negative for the novel coronavirus.

He spoke with Trump before the president left for the hospital aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter, one source familiar with the matter said.

Pence has no plans to change his routine — nor did the president ask him to take any special steps. But Trump did ask him to step in and take at least one call on Friday that was scheduled with the nation’s governors.

“I know many of you were expecting to hear from President Trump today,” Pence said on the call. “The president asked me to take this call today.”

One national security official said there are no plans for Pence to assume presidential powers as the president undergoes treatment at Walter Reed.

“He’s not going there to sit in a hospital bed,” the official said, speaking of the president. “That’s certainly not the plan at this time.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that Trump plans to “be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days.”

Pence plans to continue hunkering down in preparation for Wednesday’s debate — a moment that Republican aides now believe will have renewed significance to voters currently gripped by a real and ongoing presidential health crisis.

Harris will have to navigate criticisms of Trump while he is battling a serious disease. And Pence will have to adapt his debate prep to the moment, as well, demonstrating leadership while defending his performance as the head of the White House coronavirus task force.

How Pence plans to change his posture after that debate at the University of Utah is far from clear, and will largely be determined by the president’s health, aides said.

The vice president plans to move ahead with planned campaign travel that two aides described as “extensive” and “significant.”

The Trump campaign is increasingly relying on Pence as it becomes clear that the president’s campaign schedule, at a minimum, will shrink by a matter of weeks.

“All previously announced campaign events involving the president’s participation are in the process of being moved to virtual events or are being temporarily postponed,” Bill Stepien, the president’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “Previously announced events involving members of the first family are also being temporarily postponed.

“Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative for COVID-19, plans on resuming his scheduled campaign events,” Stepien added.