Pence Tests Negative for Virus and Will Debate With Harris Next Week

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence, the first in line to occupy the Oval Office if President Trump becomes too ill to carry out his duties, tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday and planned to resume campaign appearances, including at the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday night.

Word of Mr. Pence’s plans came hours after the president and Melania Trump, the first lady, announced that they had tested positive. Mr. Pence’s White House physician confirmed in a statement that the vice president had tested negative and added that he remained “in good health and is free to go about his normal activities.”

“As has been routine for months, Vice President Pence is tested for Covid-19 every day,” said Devin O’Malley, his spokesman. “This morning, Vice President Pence and the second lady tested negative for Covid-19. Vice President Pence remains in good health and wishes the Trumps well in their recovery.”

Mr. Pence worked from his official residence at the Naval Observatory, a few miles from the White House, the rest of the day, filling in for Mr. Trump on a conference call and preparing for his debate next week with Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic candidate for vice president. The debate’s host, the University of Utah, said on Friday that the event would proceed as planned on Oct. 7.

After the debate, Mr. Pence has scheduled campaign events in Arizona and Indiana, according to a senior administration official.

After years of speculation that the vice president might succeed Mr. Trump after potential impeachment or resignation over matters like the Russia investigation and dealings with Ukraine, Mr. Pence now finds the prospect of at least temporarily assuming presidential duties more vivid than ever, although White House officials said they had no plans to transfer power to him even briefly.

But in the coming days, Mr. Pence is poised to take on a more prominent campaign role and may represent the president at events originally planned for a healthy Mr. Trump.

“Vice President Mike Pence does not need to quarantine,” his physician, Dr. Jesse T. Schonau, said in a statement. Under C.D.C. guidelines, Dr. Schonau added, Mr. Pence is “not considered a close contact with any individuals who have tested positive for Covid, including President Donald J. Trump.”

As the events unfolded around the White House on Friday, Mr. Pence filled in for Mr. Trump by opening a scheduled conference call with health administrators, nursing home operators and seniors advocates to update them on measures that the administration had taken to protect older Americans from the coronavirus.

Speaking in matter-of-fact tones, as though the news was of only passing concern, Mr. Pence played down Mr. Trump’s condition.

“I’m pleased to report President Trump and the first lady are both well at this time,” said the vice president, who spoke to Mr. Trump on Friday, according to the administration official. “They will remain at the White House while they convalesce.”

That prediction was short lived: By evening, Mr. Trump had departed for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Mr. Pence, who has been traveling extensively since March to battleground states, attended a news conference on Monday that the president held in the White House briefing room and met with him on Tuesday. Mr. Pence also met this week with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court. The three were seen on Capitol Hill without masks.

As he continues his travels, Mr. Pence’s own health is certain to be the subject of intense speculation. While the 25th Amendment to the Constitution provides the administration the power to temporarily transfer authority to the vice president, it has no provision to remove him or transfer power to another individual.

That was concerning enough to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who had a history of heart problems, to write a secret resignation letter and instruct a top aide to forward it to the president in the event that he was incapacitated.

Some health officials on Friday questioned Mr. Pence’s intention to carry on in public despite his exposure to Mr. Trump, although the statement from his doctor suggested that his interactions with the president had not met C.D.C. quarantine guidelines.

The C.D.C. defines a close contact as an individual “who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset” until the infected person went into quarantine. If Mr. Trump developed symptoms on Wednesday evening, as some officials believe, Mr. Pence’s attendance at the president’s afternoon news conference would not be covered. His interaction with Mr. Trump on Tuesday was not extensive, and the men were several feet from each other.

Mr. Pence and his advisers are often photographed without masks on the road, even after his press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive in May.

The vice president drew criticism in April, when he did not wear a mask while touring the Mayo Clinic, the renowned medical center in Minnesota, in violation of its clearly stated policy that visitors should wear a protective face covering. At the time, he defended his behavior by saying that he did not need to wear a mask because he was tested regularly.

During the summer, however, Mr. Pence, the chairman of the White House coronavirus task force, began encouraging people in areas where the virus was surging to wear masks. “We encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas,” Mr. Pence said in June while visiting the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea, especially young people.”

His top aides, however, have been behind a pressure campaign on scientists at the C.D.C. to put out data that would support the reopening of schools. One staff member said she was repeatedly asked by Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, to get the C.D.C. to produce more reports and charts showing a decline in coronavirus cases among young people.

In addition to Mr. Pence, White House officials said that Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, and Ivanka Trump, who both accompanied Mr. Trump to his debate with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday night in Cleveland, had also tested negative for the virus. Barron Trump, the president’s 14-year-old son, had tested negative, according to Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff.

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