The White House had no plans in place to swear in VP Mike Pence if Trump became too ill or died of COVID-19, book says

Mike Pence standing behind Donald Trump in the White House's Rose Garden.
Then-Vice President Mike Pence and then-President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden on March 29, 2020. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
  • The White House had no plans in place to swear in Pence if needed during Trump’s bout with COVID-19.
  • A new book by two Washington Post reporters reveals more of the chaos during Trump’s sickness.
  • Trump, who became sick with COVID-19 in October 2020, was a very high-risk patient.
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President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis in October caught the White House so off guard that it was left with no plans in place to swear in Vice President Mike Pence if Trump died or became severely ill, a new book says.

More of the internal panic and scrambling around Trump’s COVID-19 illness was detailed in an excerpt, published in The Washington Post on Thursday, of “Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History.” The book, written by The Post’s reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, is set to be released next Tuesday.

Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 on October 1, throwing the functions of government and the 2020 presidential election into chaos and the White House into a tailspin, with aides unprepared for the possibility of Trump dying or becoming too sick to carry out the duties of his office, the book said.

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Trump was at high risk for severe illness and death because of his age and weight. And his condition was said to be far more serious than the White House let on at the time.

Under the Presidential Succession Act, Pence would have taken over as commander in chief if Trump had died.

A president can also temporarily transfer the powers of the presidency to the vice president under Section 3 of the 25th Amendment. President George W. Bush briefly handed the reins to his vice president, Dick Cheney, when he went under anesthesia for colonoscopies, for example.

The book excerpt also detailed the White House’s frantic behind-the-scenes efforts in October to secure a “compassionate use” exception from the Food and Drug Administration to use a monoclonal antibody, an experimental treatment not available to the public.

After treatment with antiviral therapies and steroids during a short stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Trump returned to the White House and recovered. But the episode did not, as many aides had hoped, help Trump take the virus more seriously in the White House’s coronavirus protocols and policy response.

Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prayed that Trump would recover and that his illness would make him turn a corner and “show some humility,” the book said. But when Trump returned, he walked up to the Truman Balcony and defiantly took off his mask, shoving it in his pocket, and gave a thumbs-up to the cameras below.

“Right then, Redfield knew it was over,” Abutaleb and Paletta wrote. “Trump showed in that moment that he hadn’t changed at all. The pandemic response wasn’t going to change, either.”