The White House prepared last night to run the government from President Reagan's bedside at Bethesda Naval Hospital during the week to 10 days that he is expected to be hospitalized after his operation today.
White House officials met to map strategy for this period, and a spokesman said aides would meet regularly with Reagan at the hospital. Press briefings are planned at the hospital today and possibly throughout next week, a spokesman said.
Asked whether power would be transferred temporarily to Vice President Bush, White House spokesman Larry Speakes replied, "We are prepared for any contingency."
"The doctors have told us that they expect a normal recovery, and we anticipate that the president will be able to work the phones if necessary on budget or tax matters, possibly as early as Monday," Speakes said.
He said that Reagan's announced schedule next week is routine, except for a planned budget meeting, and that it had not been determined who will preside in the president's place at a ceremonial meeting for diplomats at the White House Monday.
Aides said they do not know whether Bush or other high-ranking officials would have to take over some of Reagan's duties. Speakes said such decisions probably would not be made until Monday.
Bush continued his out-of-town weekend schedule yesterday. After delivering a speech in Boston, he departed on a 70-mile motor- cade to his home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Marlin Fitzwater, the vice president's press secretary, said Bush will remain there today and plans to return here about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, as scheduled. Fitzwater said that Bush will confer with White House officials by telephone after the operation and could return earlier, if necessary, although there are no expectations he will have to do so.
No decision has been made on whether Bush will continue with his plans to make speeches next Tuesday and Wednesday in Springfield and St. Louis, Mo., and Cincinnati. Fitzwater said it is "unlikely" that the appearances will be canceled.
Bush was told about Reagan's precancerous growth at 4:06 p.m. yesterday in a telephone call from White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan. Subsequently, the vice president and his chief of staff, Craig L. Fuller, talked several times with Regan and national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane.
Reagan's weekly radio speech, usually delivered live, was taped earlier this week and is to be heard as usual at 12:06 p.m. EDT today, officials said.
The subject is the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as "Star Wars," one of Reagan's favorite topics. But the customary Democratic response to this speech was canceled, a party spokesman said, "in deference to the president."
Bush performed many of Reagan's ceremonial duties and presided over key White House meetings in the weeks after the president was shot in an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981.
During Reagan's 12-day hospital stay from the assassination attempt, his top aides met with him George Washington University Hospital, although his work schedule was severely limited.
Nancy Reagan spent yesterday afternoon at the hospital with the president and returned to the White House last night, a spokesman said. She plans to return to the hospital today.