Pence Reportedly Told to Be on Standby to Assume Presidential Duties During Trump's Hospitalization Last Year

President Donald Trump's unannounced visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last year reportedly prompted Vice President Mike Pence to be told to be on standby to assume presidential duties, according to New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt’s upcoming book. The president had visited the medical facility in November 2019 for what was later said to be part of his annual physical exam.

According to Schmidt, however, the reality was much more serious. In his book, which was obtained by CNN, he wrote that "in the hours leading up to Trump's trip to the hospital, word went out in the West Wing for the vice president to be on standby to take over the powers of the presidency temporarily if Trump had to undergo a procedure that would have required him to be anesthetized." Schmidt did not reveal how he "learned" this information, and the White House declined to comment on the record.

As Schmidt pointed out, Pence did not have to assume the powers of the presidency, though the book raises questions about the unscheduled hospital visit. The president had made the unannounced visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Nov. 16, a day on which he did not have anything on his public schedule, according to previous reporting by The Hill. He left the White House at 2:15 p.m., arriving at the facility approximately 30 minutes later, and did not leave until 5 p.m.

At the time, Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the president underwent a "quick exam and labs" as part of his annual physical exam preparing for "a very busy 2020." Grisham said the president decided to "advantage of a free weekend" to begin "portions of his routine annual physical exam." Although the White House added that the president "remains healthy and energetic without complaints" and the president tweeted that his health was "very good (great!)," speculation arose that his health was not well. That speculation was only fueled by the fact that the president did not make any public appearances on Sunday or Monday following the visit, leading to rumors that he was dealing with an undisclosed illness

Days later, Navy Cmdr. Sean Conley, physician to the president, in a letter released by the White House, shot down such rumors. Conley wrote that "despite some of the speculation, the President has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues." He added that the "visit was part of "a routine, planned interim checkup."