On Saturday, November 16, 2019, President Donald Trump made an unexpected visit to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. That visit is among the many things that author Michael S. Schmidt discusses in the new book, “Donald Trump v. the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President.”
New York Times reporter Gabriel Debenedetti, discussing Schmidt’s book, notes that it “reports the White House wanted Mike Pence ‘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.’ The vice president never had to take this step.”
Donald Trump and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Getty Images/MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Salon
The fact that Trump’s visit to Walter Reed in November 2019 was unannounced raised questions about the president’s health. But Dr. Sean Conley, Trump’s physician, described the visit as “routine” that month and wrote, in a memo, that it was only kept secret because of “scheduling uncertainties.” And Trump described the visit as a “very routine physical.”
“Despite some speculation, the president has not had any chest pain; nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues,” Conley said in the memo. “Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations.”
But if this is true, it’s not clear why, as Schmidt reported, Pence was prepared to take over the presidential duties. Other vice presidents have taken this step when the president has been temporarily incapacitated. For example, Dick Cheney stood in for George W. Bush when the then-president had to have a colonoscopy.
While it wouldn’t be unprecedented for such an event to take place, it’s perplexing why such arrangements were reportedly made for Trump and Pence in November when no clear explanation has been provided to the press.