I’m mostly interested in Mike Pence’s book So Help Me God for what he says about the experience of Covid controls, for this is what wrecked the administration he served. That will be my focus in what follows but let me first address what everyone is right now thinking: how could anyone give their autobiography such a self-serving filiopietistic title?
I don’t have the answer but he certainly leans in. He must have hired an editor to sprinkle the text as much as possible with Bible verses and other invocations of his deep connection to transcendent concerns, all of which serves as a helpful cover for what he actually did.
And what did he do? From the Birx book, the Kushner book, the WashPo book, and every other of the insider accounts we have so far, he provided cover to Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, and Robert Redfield in their drive to convince Trump of lockdown orders, and then protected the lockdown crew in their national drive to push controls long after Trump had lost the faith. Later, he stuck the knife in deeper and then bailed.
We know that this is true now from his own account. To be sure, his main theme is that the Trump administration, thanks to him and his spiritual maturity, did most everything correct in 2020. Then the Biden administration showed up and messed everything up using a “top-down” and public-sector approach that the Trump administration rejected. This is a brazenly partisan take at multiple levels.
As he summarizes:
We reinvented testing from a standing start, produced and distributed billions of pieces of personal protective equipment, and manufactured tens of thousands of ventilators. In nine short months we developed three safe and effective vaccines; when we left office in January 2021, we were vaccinating a million Americans a day. Together, we saved millions of lives in the greatest national mobilization since World War II. It took all of us, the whole of government, the whole of America. But we did it. Only in America.
There is no evidence, obviously, of this claim that “we saved millions of lives,” but I’ve come to expect this sort of language. “Saved millions of lives” has become a rhetorical stand-in for: please do not criticize my appalling failure. And by the way, the line “Only in America” is deployed constantly throughout the book but this too is ridiculous. The lockdowns and deployment of other NPIs were global in scope. He surely knows this so the phrase is just more self-serving jingoism, which he must assume plays to his potential voting base.
He claims, of course, that the decision to block China was his idea and Trump went along with it:
If this virus, covid-19, was pouring out of China, we had to try to cut off its ability to reach us. I sensed, though, how unprecedented and likely subject to wide-ranging criticism doing that would be. As the conversation in the Oval Office reached its conclusion, for the president’s benefit, I asked members of the task force, “Has any president in American history ever suspended all travel from another country?” The answer was no. Trump sat back in his chair, pondered all that he had heard, and made a decision: the United States would temporarily suspend all travel from China.
Goodness, how could he have been so smart and far-seeing?
What gave me confidence was that I had been a governor and had gone through two different health crises, one including the first MERS case in the United States and the other an HIV/AIDS epidemic in a small Indiana town. I had seen firsthand how the state and federal governments could work together during a health crisis. I understood and readily accepted the challenge.
Oh, and also God and country was at his side:
I stood up, walked out of the Oval Office, headed down the hallway, and pulled the team together in my West Wing office for my first meeting as head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Not knowing what lay ahead, we bowed our heads and opened that first meeting in prayer. From that moment a seriousness settled on me that was nothing short of God’s grace. I didn’t know what was ahead, but I knew America would rise to the occasion.
Also Pence rescued Americans from a cruise ship. I kid you not. This is what he believes. Can you even imagine? Here you are on a delightful cruise and a flu starts going around. Too bad but hey people get sick. Stay on the upper deck and get some sun! Then the helicopters arrive to “rescue” you when you are merely trying to enjoy a vacation. Here is Pence’s account of his own heroics:
As other nations shut down travel in February, almost ninety-five thousand Americans were left stranded abroad. The task force launched a rescue mission to bring them home safely. A number of Americans who were unable to get back home were on cruise ships. … The task force launched a complicated mission to evacuate the passengers, many of them elderly and vulnerable. We coordinated with air force bases in California, Texas, and Nebraska to receive the passengers, who had to be safely transported off the ship and into quarantine on the bases.
You know, that sounds kind of like kidnapping or hostage-taking or something. I doubt seriously that the passengers appreciated being “rescued” in such a way only to be forcibly quarantined. All of this speaks to something extremely strange about these days, the conflation of an infectious-disease outbreak with a military operation requiring martial law and extreme invasions of liberty and property.
As Debbie Lerman has proven, this is exactly what happened. Sorry to say but Pence, knowingly or not, was at the center of it. As even he says, “It was important, then, to have not just public health and national security officials involved in the decision-making…”
Pence further takes credit for solving the testing debacle. Birx was running around freaking out that we needed millions and billions of tests, else everyone would die. Pence stepped up with his astonishing leadership skills:
Thirty minutes later, the CEOs of America’s biggest testing companies were all on the line, including Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics. We explained the testing crisis and made it clear that we wanted the industry to work together. I told them that the pharmaceutical companies would have to create a consortium to work together to develop medicines and vaccines and I wanted the diagnostic companies to do the same. They were eager to help and said they would discuss it in a meeting of the industry to take place the next day. “Can you all be at the White House later this week?” I asked. They all said yes, they would be there. I hung up. Birx was in disbelief. “How did you do that?” she asked. “Welcome to the White House,” I said.
Wow, such drama! What happened next?
I told them, “Make as many tests as quick as you can, and the federal government will buy them from you. Make a billion a month if you can.” And with that we launched an effort to redesign testing.
Yes, you can roll your eyes.
Also, Pence is the reason we had so many masks! He was campaigning around the country when God spoke to him:
As I was thinking about the nation’s supply of personal protective equipment, I realized that Minnesota was home to 3M, which happens to be the nation’s largest producer of masks. It was God’s timing. I asked Birx and Stephen Hahn, the director of the FDA, to come along. We got onboard Air Force Two and landed in Minnesota on our way to Seattle.
What a man! Then what happened?
I knew [CEO Roman] Walz from Congress—we had been in the House together—and our governorships had overlapped. I asked them how 3M could increase its production of masks. Roman explained that the company produced 35 million masks a month, but only 10 percent were for hospital use; all the rest were for construction workers. “But are they essentially the same mask?” I asked. The answer was yes. “Great, then, can we just purchase those for hospital use?” No, I was told, the masks had not been approved for medical use by the FDA. The company could be sued if they were used in hospitals. “What’s the answer here?” I asked. Roman explained that if 3M could be afforded legal protection by Congress, we could sell them across the country. So after the meeting ended, I grabbed Walz by the elbow. I told him he would have to call Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer—Congress was quickly putting together a covid emergency bill—and tell them we needed the Democratic leaders to put language into a bill that would provide temporary protection for companies such as 3M to sell their masks for medical use, which he did. With that reform alone we went from having 3 million N95 masks available to 20 million when Trump signed the bill a week later.
A better savior for the country one cannot imagine! And yet he was more than just an incredibly competent testing and mask master. He was also a spiritual counselor to the president’s son-in-law!
Shortly after I took over the task force, Jared Kushner approached me. He told me he was dropping everything he was working on to help me in whatever way I needed…. Two weeks in, on the evening of Sunday, March 15, he called me. When I heard his voice on the other end, I could tell he was discouraged about the challenges we were facing in ramping up testing, getting enough medical supplies distributed, and coordinating that effort at the ground level. “We can’t do this from the White House,” he confessed. “It’s too much, we will never be able to meet the needs.” “You want me to make you feel better?” I asked, not even waiting for his answer. “We don’t have to,” I said. “The framers of the Constitution gave us a system of fifty CEOs leading states across the country.… We just need to make sure they have what they need, and they will get it done.” To that, he sighed in relief, saying, “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” adding, “You know what? You’re right!”
Is there no problem this man cannot solve? The answer is obviously no, if we are to believe his autobiographical account.
He further proves this on the subject of ventilators, which he knew from his extensive experience in hospital therapeutics that we desperately needed.
When it came to the matter of the nation’s ventilator supply, we faced another shortage with dire consequences. In severe cases of covid, the patients’ lungs become so inflamed that they can no longer deliver oxygen to the bloodstream. Ventilators provided a lifeline to the lungs while patients fought off the virus. The Strategic National Stockpile hadn’t been refilled since the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, and at the outset of the year, we had ten thousand ventilators on hand. It wasn’t nearly enough. In the first few weeks, we had requests for fifty-five thousand ventilators from the states. If there was anything that kept me up at night, it was the idea that any American who needed a ventilator could be denied a ventilator.
All you widows out there whose husbands were vented to death in those days – we might be talking many thousands – are surely comforted to know that Pence lost sleep worrying that there weren’t enough. And you can predict the ending of the ventilator vignette: Pence got the ventilators we supposedly needed but actually did not.
As for his relationship with Fauci, it was tight. He has no words of criticism at all.
And I was glad [Fauci] was there. He was a reassuring voice to the public; Mitch McConnell had advised me, correctly, that Fauci would be a valuable member of the team because of his stature. He and Dr. Birx had known each other for years; they had almost a mentor and mentee relationship. Fauci played an invaluable role in helping the president and our team understand the true scope of the threat… I always worked well with Tony, as he was keen to stay in his own important lane. He offered his expertise and advice, but in all our dealings he always recognized that there were economic and social factors to consider in the president’s decisions. I never thought his role was to lead the government’s response to the pandemic or be its point person, and neither did he.
That takes us to the lockdowns. Here is Pence’s justification:
By the second week of March 2020, with cases on the rise in several major cities and the threat of an outbreak that could overwhelm our health care system, the task force took a plan to the president, developed by Fauci and Birx, to shut down much of the US economy for two weeks. We called it “15 Days to Slow the Spread.” It was a mitigation tactic driven by the knowledge that the virus was extremely contagious. The president urged citizens who could stay home to do so and to avoid interacting with others, and temporarily shut down huge parts of the economy, other than businesses and workers deemed essential. Ramping up testing, bolstering the nation’s supplies of medical equipment, and getting it all to the states was an effort to save our medical system from collapsing under the weight of the virus. The goal of the so-called lockdown was never to stop the spread of the virus; it was to slow it to buy time for the US health care system while its innovators got to work producing supplies and developing a medical arsenal.
Incredible, because none of this is true. The medical system was never collapsing. Hundreds of hospitals furloughed nurses because the hospitals emptied out! This is because the Trump administration issued nationwide orders to reserve hospitals for Covid patients while blocking all diagnostics and elective surgeries. But of course we don’t hear a word of this from Pence’s book.
How does he justify having a central government under an effective dictatorship issuing a nationwide edict that closed all places where people congregate? It was an incredible and totalitarian dictate. Pence simply says the following: “I believe in limited government; I am not anti-government.”
Oh. And here, so far as he was concerned, government was merely doing what it is supposed to do.
Of course, it was never going to end in two weeks. Pence tells the story:
They informed us that if we failed to keep the mitigation in place for another thirty days, up to 2.2 million Americans could die before the year was out. The graph presented two waves, the worst-case scenario in dark blue, the “if we do everything right” outcome in light blue. The former looked like a mountain; the latter was significantly smaller but still heartbreaking in size. The president digested it all for a quiet moment. It was another hard decision, but he made it. On March 31, we presented the chart to the American people and extended the 15 Days to Slow the Spread protocol for another thirty days.
The pathology or stupidity here is simply astonishing! They looked at some bogus modeling chart with colors and decided to abolish the Bill of Rights for longer? Yep, that happened and Pence blessed it. So far as I can tell, Pence is not mortified but proud of this decision that ended up tanking the entire Trump presidency. “I know we saved millions of lives,” he says.
I know you are tired of this review already but I must share with you another virtue of Pence. He is also a blessed peacemaker:
In a weekend series of tweets, President Trump called [Michigan Governor] Gretchen “half Whitmer” and said she was “way over her head.” At a Monday press conference, Trump said he told me not to call “the woman in Michigan.” I called her. When I did, she said we had done a great job but she was going to keep pushing for more. I respectfully asked her to talk to me if she needed anything rather than take it to cable television. The next day, President Trump said he had had a “productive conversation” with Whitmer. Blessed are the peacemakers.
What about when the lockdowns were ending but sustained in many places? We know from the records that this was due to nationwide tours by Birx, Redfield, and Fauci who would show up in governors’ offices to urge them to keep schools closed, force everyone to wear masks, and otherwise ban large gatherings. By this time, Trump was fed up with that whole kabuki dance but his team had already gone rogue and tried to keep lockdowns going until November.
How in the world did they get away with this? Guess what? It was Pence and he admits it:
When our press briefings waned, I encouraged Birx and Redfield to visit the states and meet with governors and health officials. I believed that our role was to give our best counsel but respect the state leaders—which we did without fail.
I don’t even need to report that he is enormously proud of the vaccines too, even go so far as to report, without irony, that “they were both nearly 95 percent effective against contracting covid:”
To have two safe and effective vaccines available to the American people within nine months of the start of a pandemic was a medical miracle. While those research companies are to be commended, so, too, are the leaders of Operation Warp Speed, Moncef Slaoui and HHS assistant secretary Paul Mango, who shepherded the vaccines through the process in record time, and General Gus Perna, who worked with states and American companies such as FedEx to distribute the vaccine across the country before the year was out. The day we left office in 2021, we were vaccinating a million Americans a day. Only in America.
We can stop there and finish by observing that nothing in this book contradicts what we’ve learned over these two years, namely that Mike Pence served as both a carrier pigeon and protecting veil for the national security state that took over the country in March 2020. It was he who gave the okay to Birx’s subversions. It was he who assisted in convincing Trump of the lockdowns. It was he who pushed the panic that led to massive spending, overpurchases of masks and ventilators, he who pushed for the deployment of the Defense Production Act, and he who sent the Navy hospital ship to New York that went unused. And he not only defends all his actions but implies that they were all blessed by God.
And now he encourages us all to stand back in awe and, quite possibly, elect him as the next president. As Pence might say, only in America.