With the election a little over a week away, the new White House outbreak spotlighted the administration’s failure to contain the pandemic as hospitalizations surge across much of the United States and daily new cases hit all-time highs.
The outbreak around Pence, who chairs the White House’s coronavirus task force, undermines the argument Trump has been making to voters that the country is “rounding the turn,” as the president put it at a rally Sunday in New Hampshire.
Further complicating Trump’s campaign-trail pitch was an extraordinary admission Sunday from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that the administration had effectively given up on trying to slow the virus’s spread.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who regularly wears a mask on the campaign trail and strictly adheres to social distancing guidelines, sought to capitalize on the remark.
“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows; it was a candid acknowledgment of what
PresidentTrump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away,” Biden said in a statement. “It hasn’t, and it won’t.”
Some in the vice president’s office suggested that White House doctors should release a statement saying that Short was positive and that Pence was still okay to travel. But that idea was scuttled by Meadows and others, officials said.
Officials said the new list of those infected includes the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short; his top outside political adviser, Marty Obst; his personal aide Zach Bauer, known as a “body man,” who accompanies him throughout his day; and two other staff members.
Some White House aides said they did not want attention on the outbreak because it would highlight the pandemic in the final week of the campaign and raise questions about the administration’s handling of it.
The vice president continued Sunday with his heavy travel schedule, flying to North Carolina for an evening rally in Kinston. He told aides that he was determined to keep up his appearances through the week despite his potential exposure, irrespective of guidelines, officials said. Some aides said they would have preferred tele-rallies because if the vice president is infected while on the road in the final days of the campaign, it is likely to become a major news story for several days.
On Monday, Pence is expected to visit the Capitol to preside over the Senate vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) decried Pence’s plans to continue with his scheduled events. “God help us,” Schumer said in a speech Sunday on the Senate floor.
he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people stay home for 14 days following possible exposure and to socially distance at all times. The CDC allows an exemption for “critical infrastructure workers” who are not experiencing symptoms so long as they socially distance and cover their faces at all times.
When asked Sunday about Pence’s decision to continue campaigning in person despite the fresh outbreak among his team, Harris told reporters: “He should be following the guidelines. We’re doing it. I think we have modeled the right and good behavior, and they should take our lead.”
The latest outbreak underscored the absence of some basic health safety protocols at the White House and at Trump and Pence’s campaign events, where the two and their aides routinely flout CDC recommendations and state or local health guidelines. They do not wear masks with any regularity, nor do they practice social distancing. Aboard Air Force Two, where Pence and his team have spent considerable time in recent weeks jetting among campaign stops, officials often do not wear masks.
Meadows tried to keep details about the infections within Pence’s orbit under wraps and opposed the vice president’s office releasing such information, according to two officials. It was not until Saturday evening that Short and Obst’s infections were first reported by the media.
New coronavirus cases in the United States reached an all-time high on Friday and hospitalizations have soared, surpassing the mark set during the summer as cases spiked across the Sun Belt in particular.
Campaigning over the weekend, Trump tried to present an alternate reality. At a rally Sunday in Londonderry, N.H., Trump said the pandemic would soon end thanks to a potential vaccine, which he said was “going to be delivered fast.”
Trump also had hoped to divert attention from the pandemic in his final stretch of campaigning, though the new outbreak at the White House could upend that strategy.
At a rally Saturday in North Carolina — where scores of maskless attendees stood shoulder to shoulder — Trump played down the dangers of the virus and predicted that the news media would stop covering the pandemic after Election Day.