Attention shifts to VP Pence as Trump contracts life-threatening virus, enters quarantine
I was with the VP on Thursday in Des Moines. Here’s my extended report on how he is doing and what he said before the news of Trump’s health broke.
DES MOINES, IOWA — What a difference a day can make.
Yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump was healthy and vigorous and barnstorming the country, campaigning in the political fight of his life.
By day’s end, Trump announced that despite the best efforts of the Secret Service and the White House medical team, he and the First Lady have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, have entered quarantine, and have had to cancel all of their campaign events.
The president is now in a literal fight for his life.
At 74, Trump is in a vulnerable age group. He recently shared on an ABC News town hall broadcast that six of his friends have died because of the virus.
“I have learned that life is very fragile,” he said.
Tens of millions of Evangelical Christians and other Americans — whether they politically support Trump or not — are now praying for him and the First Lady.
Now, all eyes are shifting to Vice President Mike Pence.
Questions abound. Among them:
• Will Pence need to pick up many or most of the president's official duties?
• If Trump becomes significantly ill and effectively incapacitated, would Pence have to assume — even if only temporarily — the full responsibilities of the presidency under Article 25 of the Constitution?
• If the Secret Service was unable to keep the president safe from the coronavirus, how will they keep Pence safe?
• Should Pence come off the campaign trail, avoid in-person events, and do only media interviews and Zoom events?
• And what happens if Pence contracts COVID-19, as well?
Yesterday, I was with the VP and his team in Des Moines at a conference organized by The Family Leader, an Evangelical public policy organization based in Iowa.
Pence and I spoke on “Faith, Leadership and Revival.” The other speakers were Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; CEO and entrepreneur Mike Lindell of the “My Pillow” company; and Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader who also serves on the Advisory Board of ALL ISRAEL NEWS.
All of us were required by the Secret Service to get COVID tests yesterday morning in order to be with the VP.
Yesterday, all of us who were tested — including my 23-year-old son, Jacob, who drove from college in Minnesota to meet me for the conference — tested negative.
This is standard operating procedure.
Everyone who is invited to spend time with the president or VP — be they White House staff, Congress members, foreign dignitaries and others — must get tested and be cleared before entering a room with Trump or Pence.
When I attended the Abraham Accords ceremony at the White House on Sept. 15, and was scheduled to meet with Pence for 30 minutes for an ALL ISRAEL NEWS interview, I was tested by a member of the White House Medical Unit. She took a special cotton swab, swirled it through both of my nostrils three times each, then inserted it into a machine built by Abbott Labs. About 15 minutes later, the test came back negative. I was cleared and the VP entered the room.
This morning, thank God, the White House confirmed that the VP does not have the virus.
“As has been routine for months, Vice President Pence is tested for COVID-19 every day,” tweeted the VP’s press secretary Devin O’Malley, at 6:52 a.m. EST on Friday. “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.”
I have known the VP for nearly a decade. We met in Washington when he was a congressman from Indiana. This was before he served as governor of Indiana, and long before he became vice president.
Because the conference was a non-partisan event — not a campaign rally — I agreed to speak. I have been writing and speaking for two decades about the need for revival, even another Great Awakening in America, and for more Evangelicals to be willing to serve the U.S. in national office. So, the theme of the event was one that interested me.
Pence surprised me by talking not only about the COVID threat and how the administration has responded — and the need for a spiritual revival in the country — but also about Israel and the Middle East.
Because enormous attention will now be paid to the VP, I’m going to provide an extended report on Pence’s last formal address before the president was diagnosed with this life-threatening disease.
• To read the full text of the VP’s remarks, please click here.
• To watch the VP’s remarks, please click here.
Let’s start with the Middle East portions of his message.
“You know, it’s remarkable to think that four previous presidents in both political parties had promised the American people and our most cherished ally to take action,” Pence said about halfway through his remarks. “But it was President Donald Trump who kept that promise when he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem — the capital of the State of Israel.”
The audience erupted in applause.
“I was alongside the president when the phone started to ring and he was preparing to keep that promise, Bob [Vander Plaats]. And to say that virtually every leader in the world and every foreign policy elite in Washington, D.C., was against it would be an understatement. I mean, one call after another — didn’t they, Ben [Carson]? — that said, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it.’ They said that it would make peace less possible, but President Donald Trump believed that it would make peace more possible.”
“The man who wrote The Art of the Deal had the view that if you want to negotiate peace, the first thing you do is you take off the table what’s non-negotiable — and Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel.”
Again, huge applause.
The VP also referenced the signing of the Abraham Accords, making peace between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“I don’t know if you all saw it just a couple short weeks ago — for the first time in 26 years, two Arab nations formally recognized the Jewish state of Israel, and we believe there are more on the way.”
This, too, brought warm applause from the nearly 600 pastors and Evangelical leaders in attendance.
The standing ovations came when the VP talked about the president’s pro-life record and his appointment of conservative judges and Supreme Court justices, like Amy Coney Barrett.
As head of the coronavirus task force, Pence also defended the administration’s handling of the crisis.
When “the coronavirus struck from China,” he said, “I want you all to know that before the very first documented case of community transmission within the United States, our president did what no American president had ever done before. Before the month of January was out, he suspended all travel from China, the second largest economy in the world.”
“I can tell you, as the head of the task force, that action alone saved untold American lives, and it bought us invaluable time to stand up the largest national mobilization since World War Two.”
“We reinvented testing,” he added. “More than 100 million tests performed to date and 150 million new point-of-care tests that are being distributed to states all across the country as we speak.
“We worked with manufacturing, here in Iowa and all across the country, to see to the production and the distribution of literally billions of medical supplies for our doctors and nurses and healthcare workers.”
“Our FDA worked to make new medicines available, like remdesivir and convalescent plasma. And I’m proud to report to you that with American innovation — our dedicated researchers — we believe are just literally weeks away from the first coronavirus vaccine for the American people. And we’ll have tens of millions of doses available the moment that it’s approved.”
The VP certainly made an aggressive defense of the administration’s economic policies, and a wide range of other policies.
But his discussion of the need for urgent prayer for the nation, and his description of how he came to faith in Jesus Christ in the late 1970s moved many in the audience to tears.
“You know, in all my travels across the country over the last four years to big cities and small towns, I’m convinced of two things: that America is a freedom-loving nation and America is a nation of faith,” Pence said.
“Everywhere I go, people speak to me about their faith with a word of encouragement. The sweetest words I ever hear is when people will say, as they did over a Carter Lake earlier today — reach out maybe across the rope line and just say, ‘I’m praying for you.’ And I want you all to know: We feel those prayers every day.”
“President Lincoln reminded us, quote, ‘It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all histories that those nations are only blessed whose God is the Lord.’”
Pence went on to say: “Let’s remember to pray. The Bible tells us that the prayer of the upright pleases Him; the prayer reaches Heaven, His holy dwelling place; and that in times of great challenge in our life or in the life of the nation, we’re not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, in every form of prayer and petition with thanksgiving, we’re to present our request to God and know that the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Then he referenced one his favorite Bible verses, 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“As we think of the challenges and the times in which we live, the more than 200,000 of our countrymen that have been lost; we think of the grief of those families who have always been on our hearts, those that are struggling with disease today; as we think of the economic hardship that people still face in the midst of the recovery that’s underway; we think of the violence besetting families in our major cities, let’s — let’s claim that ancient promise that if His people who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray and turn, that He’ll do like he’s always done in the long and storied history of this country. He’ll hear from Heaven, and he’ll heal this land.”
Pence closed with a story I had never heard — a story that visibly choked him up.
Those newly interested in who Pence is and where he comes from would do well to read — or watch — the story in full.
As I close, let me just share a story. It was a few months ago, I was reminded that, even when it doesn’t seem that way, God is still working. You see, I got a letter from a pastor who leads a small church just outside Jacksonville, Florida. He wrote to me of a time many years ago that he and his wife were attending Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. It was back in the 1970s. It was a place where they held, in the spring of every year, a Christian music festival where they would have music, and then they would have preachers who would present the gospel and invite young people from all across the region.
But he wrote to me that, in 1977, he had decided at the seminary — they had collectively decided to end the Christian music festival; it was known as Ichthus.
But he and his new bride felt a burden to take on the task, even though he wrote — and I quote — that “several friends told us that it would be very hard on our new marriage and we shouldn’t do it.” But he said, “We answered the call.” And they gathered a few other seminarians, as he told me, and they worked a whole year long to arrange the event in the spring in 1978.
And then he told me that the night came — the culminating evening on Saturday night, when everything was to come together and the main preaching was done. And he and his new bride were walking through the camp area, and it was raining, and they were disappointed. They thought it had all been for naught.
And then he wrote these words in a letter. And I quote: “And that’s because, on that night, I didn’t know that a future Vice President of the United States of America would be giving his life to Jesus Christ.”
He continued, “I cannot write this without tears,” and I still can’t read it without tears, because I remember that night: Sitting on a hillside, it was raining, and it was like I heard the words for the first time that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son, that whoever might believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.
And that 19-year-old young man stood up, walked down that night — not out of a sense of intellectual agreement, but because my heart was broken with gratitude for what had been done for me on the cross.
I wrote a letter to that pastor, which I couldn’t write without tears. And not long after that, we actually met him and his wife, and laughed together and prayed together. But I told him, “Now I know who else to thank for that night so many years ago.” It changed my life.
You know, the lesson in that letter, to me, though was: Even when things don’t seem like they’re going the way we expect, they’re going the way He expected.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.