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Mike Pence's Visit To Wisconsin Reveals Challenges Of Getting Back To Normal


Vice President Mike Pence took a trip yesterday. He was leaving Washington for the second time in a week to fly to Wisconsin, a key battleground state. It's a test run in what the political normal may look like after the coronavirus, and it revealed some challenges. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez was along for the ride.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: We're at Andrews Air Force Base, and it's clear things are not the same as they used to be.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Traveling with the bird today?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right. We'll take that. If I could get you to step on the first blue line over here.

ORDOÑEZ: The terminal is the same, but now there are greeters. There's a circle of officers wearing masks and camouflage wielding thermometers and clipboards at the door.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Good morning. Just the forehead - 96.8. You're good.

ORDOÑEZ: Inside, almost everyone is wearing masks, from the officers scanning the bags to those driving the trucks pushing the stairs so that Vice President Pence can board Air Force Two.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Flight attendants, please be seated for departure. tense.

ORDOÑEZ: The vice president is flying to Madison, Wis., to talk about ventilators. He's visiting a GE plant where the company and workers ramped up production to go 24 hours a day on three shifts.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: These are all ventilators. Yep.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: From over there, they come around and back down.

ORDOÑEZ: Everyone meeting the vice president had their temperatures checked before he arrived.

TOM GRAGG: That's where the line starts. So it's like - it's kind of like an assembly line.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Tom Gragg, who's been working on this assembly line for 14 years.

GRAGG: I just want to help out. Yep. I just - I want to help out the elderly and save people's lives. None of us have ever been through a pandemic like this. And I just didn't realize how important our machines really are.

ORDOÑEZ: These trips are always about signaling something. In this case, it's partly a chance for Pence to praise workers.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: It is truly remarkable what you've accomplished here. It is a testament to a great company. It's a testament to a great workforce.

ORDOÑEZ: It's also a way to push back on criticism from some governors for a slow response in medical supplies for the virus, to show progress, and it's an opportunity to show things are on the way to getting back to normal. But there's another goal here, too. Johanna Maska says where he is is also important. This is a state critical to winning the November presidential election.

JOHANNA MASKA: This White House has never shied away from making political statements in virtually everything that they do.

ORDOÑEZ: Maska helped organize political travel for the Obama White House. She suspects Pence's trips are a trial run for Trump, who is raring to get out of the White House.

MASKA: They're going to be trying to figure out how they can get President Trump traveling again. That is without a doubt because every president wants to be able to travel.

ORDOÑEZ: Indeed. A source familiar with the vice president's plans said the White House is learning from Pence's early trips. After his first trip to Colorado on Saturday, Pence and Trump staffers got together to talk about the lessons they learned from the new security and health protocols and how things were working out.

PENCE: Thank you for being here.


ORDOÑEZ: Before leaving the GE plant, Pence promised workers the White House would help make sure they had the supplies they need. And he told reporters he was already planning another trip next week to visit another ventilator factory in his home state of Indiana.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Madison, Wis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.