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Bush’s Health Again Focus Spotlight on Quayle

May 6, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ As political observers mused about his qualifications, Vice President Dan Quayle was told Sunday that he would be ″acting president″ if President Bush undergoes anesthesia for treatment of an irregular heartbeat.

The president’s hospitalization puts Quayle back in the political spotlight.

Bush ″will have to answer to the American people about this issue,″ said Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, a potential Democratic presidential nominee.

″Does he believe ... again in 1992 that the vice president is the best person in America to succeed him if he’s unable to continue?″ Clinton asked on NBC’s ″Meet the Press.″

Bush and his aides have said that if he runs as expected, Quayle will be his running mate.

John Sununu, the White House chief of staff, briefed Quayle on Sunday about the possibility of a temporary transfer of presidential powers under the 25th Amendment.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said doctors would meet early Monday to determine whether Bush was responding to medication. If not, he said, they would consider delivering a single electrical shock to his heart, called an electrical cardioversion, to return it to normal rhythm.

The transfer of power would remain in effect the several minutes that Bush is under anesthesia. ″The vice president would be acting president under the 25th Amendment,″ Fitzwater said.

Dave Beckwith, Quayle’s press secretary, said the vice president wasn’t concerned with the political implications of Bush’s hospitalization.

″Nothing has changed as far as he is concerned,″ Beckwith said.

But political scientist Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said Quayle’s inclusion on the ticket would be an issue in ’92.

″It wouldn’t have played particularly well politically, though. Now it has a chance of playing much better,″ Ornstein said on CNN’s ″Newsmaker Sunday.″

Quayle attended Sunday morning services at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in suburban Bethesda, Md., where a special prayer was offered for the president’s swift recovery.

″He is doing exceptionally well ... his mood is upbeat,″ Quayle said, telling reporters after church that he had spoken with the president by telephone.

Stephen Hess, a former Republican White House aide now with the Brookings Institution, agreed that Quayle would be under increased public scrutiny while Bush is being treated.

″This is both a trying time for him and an opportunity for him,″ Hess said, adding that he expects Quayle to remain on the ticket and have little effect on the outcome of the election.

″While there’s an awful lot of noise and concern ... ultimately people vote for the presidential candidate that they want and the vice presidential candidate is never considered worth more than a point or two in the ultimate election,″ he said.

In Cleveland for a meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council, Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana was not shy about raising the issue.

″The street talk today is, ’My God, the president is ill and Dan Quayle is the vice president,‴ said Breaux. ″I think the president’s illness will clear up and the president will be fine, but the fact of the matter is that Dan Quayle is still vice president and people are tremendously worried about that.″

In California, former President Reagan was asked if Quayle would be ready to step in for Bush. ″I remember him as a very competent senator. I think he would do just fine,″ Reagan said.

Tom Korologos, a veteran Washington lobbyist and Republican strategist, said in a telephone interview that he had no doubt the president would keep Quayle on the ticket.

″I think Bush is comfortable with Quayle,″ Korologos said. ″I don’t think it is in the cards for him to dump Quayle even in the light of what has happened.″

Herbert Parmet, a biographer of former President Nixon, said the situation strikingly parallels that of 1956, when Nixon was vice president and President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack.

″Nixon had a lot of opposition because he was too controversial,″ Parmet said. ″There is no question that the Eisenhower heart attack increased the pressure.″

Recent polls showing widespread approval for the president also show lingering doubts about Quayle, who was a target of barbs and jokes during the 1988 campaign.

A Washington Post-ABC poll in March found Bush’s approval rating at 90 percent, but 49 percent of those polled said they thought Quayle would not be qualified to take over as president.

″Obviously, the question of who is No. 2 is much more salient in people’s minds than it was before,″ Ornstein said.

Bush, 66, suffered fatigue and shortness of breath while jogging at Camp David on Saturday and was diagnosed as having an atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat. He was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the White House said he continued to experience symptoms Sunday and would remain for observation throughout the day.

Beckwith said Quayle learned of the president’s attack ″a few minutes after it happened″ when Bush’s military aide called him from Camp David. The vice president was at home.

Quayle was preparing to host a reception for the National Space Society, an educational and charitable foundation, and went ahead with the occasion, Beckwith said. Quayle had no scheduled activities Sunday after church.

Beckwith said there was no need for extra security precautions, nor any need to activate succession procedures ″because there’s no reason to believe that the president is incapacitated.″

In April 1989, just a few months into their administration, Bush and Quayle discussed how to handle a transfer of presidential power if Bush were incapacitated.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said then that Bush thought it was important ″that everyone be familiar with the decisions that might have to be made and the roles that might have to be played.″ Their conclusions were not disclosed.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution outlines a procedure for presidents to pass power to their vice presidents when they are incapacitated.

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