An infection of Pence Aides Raises New Questions About Trump’s Virus Response

WASHINGTON — “Covid, Covid. Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” President Trump groused at a rally in North Carolina on Saturday, expressing dismay that the lethal coronavirus pandemic had come to dominate the ultimate days of his struggling re-election marketing campaign. He made up a state of affairs: “A aircraft goes down, 500 individuals lifeless, they don’t discuss it. ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.’”

However simply seven hours later, the White Home made its personal Covid headlines when officers acknowledged that one other coronavirus outbreak had struck the White Home, infecting Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and four other top aides — and elevating new questions in regards to the Trump administration’s cavalier strategy to the worst well being disaster in a century.

“We’re not going to manage the pandemic,” Mark Meadows, the White Home chief of employees, mentioned on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, basically providing a verbal shrug in response to any effort to stop an outbreak within the high echelon of the nation’s leaders. “We’re going to management the truth that we get vaccines, therapeutics and different mitigations, as a result of it’s a contagious virus — similar to the flu.”

Mr. Trump made no reference to the brand new instances throughout marketing campaign rallies in New Hampshire and Maine on Sunday. However for voters, the brand new wave of infections on the White Home simply over per week earlier than Election Day was a visceral reminder of the president’s dismissive and erratic dealing with of the virus, even in one of the vital safe areas within the nation. And it comes simply as the US suffers its third surge in infections throughout the nation, with a record number of daily new cases on Friday and a death toll that has risen to almost 225,000.

Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, mentioned Sunday that the assertion by Mr. Meadows was “an acknowledgment of what President Trump’s technique has clearly been from the start of this disaster: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would merely go away. It hasn’t, and it gained’t.”

“It’s sadly no shock then that this virus continues to rage unchecked throughout the nation and even within the White Home itself,” mentioned the previous vice chairman, who has sought to make the administration’s dealing with of the coronavirus the centerpiece of his marketing campaign.

From the start, Mr. Trump has downplayed the specter of the virus, initially insisting that it might simply “go away” and failing to ramp up testing which may have helped sluggish its unfold. Mr. Trump clashed together with his personal scientists, pressuring officers on the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention to vary their restrictive suggestions about how and when to reopen companies and faculties.

The president organized his pandemic response round his political ideology, warring with “blue state” governors whereas praising the hands-off strategy of Republican leaders. And he publicly sided with individuals pissed off with restrictions and shutdowns, demanding on Twitter that the governor of Michigan, amongst others, “liberate” her state.

Mr. Trump turned masks carrying and different preventive measures into political loyalty assessments, dismissing the essential significance of social distancing and pinning his hopes on Operation Warp Pace, a plan to speed up growth and distribution of a vaccine that has proven promise, however that scientists have insisted was by no means going to be fast or straightforward.

The president and his aides have taken the identical strategy contained in the White Home. They’ve declined to observe quarantine tips, ignored warnings from medical doctors, largely refused to put on masks and, within the case of the president, mocked reporters who did as just lately as Friday within the Oval Workplace.

Sustain with Election 2020

“The White Home has had very unfastened guidelines about defending the employees and management,” mentioned Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown College College of Public Well being. “They’ve had one massive outbreak, and it was very clear that they didn’t study from that outbreak and so these are going to proceed.”

The president and vice chairman have largely stayed in messaging lock step because the pandemic unfolded. Mr. Trump has minimized it from the start, and used his personal an infection and hospitalization as a manner of doubling down, telling Individuals after his remedy with experimental medication, “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” and urging them to not “let it dominate your life.” He mentioned throughout his second debate with Mr. Biden final week that the nation was “studying to stay” with it.

Because the chief of the White Home virus job pressure, Mr. Pence has parroted the president’s rosy outlook, even mimicking Mr. Trump’s aversion to masks by refusing to put on one throughout a go to to a hospital in April.

Over the previous a number of months, Mr. Pence stood by because the White Home sidelined Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s high infectious illness specialist, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the duty pressure coordinator, and as an alternative embraced Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a radiologist and senior fellow at Stanford College’s conservative Hoover Establishment, who has advocated a largely hands-off strategy by the federal authorities to stopping the pandemic.

Mr. Pence examined detrimental for the virus on Sunday, and mentioned he wouldn’t quarantine after his publicity to contaminated aides, who embody Marc Quick, his chief of employees, and Marty Obst, a senior adviser. His spokesman wouldn’t say whether or not Mr. Pence was receiving among the medication Mr. Trump was given, together with an experimental cocktail of antibodies by the pharmaceutical firm Regeneron, as a safety measure.

In a press release, the White Home deemed the vice chairman “important” and mentioned he would stick with his marketing campaign schedule. That included an handle on Sunday night to supporters in Kinston, N.C., the place Mr. Pence made no reference to the instances that had infiltrated his employees and as an alternative defended the administration’s coronavirus response because the “best nationwide mobilization since World Warfare II.”

However a number of White Home aides and officers on his marketing campaign mentioned privately that Mr. Pence ought to keep off the marketing campaign path, and as an alternative host digital occasions and cellphone calls to exhibit that the vice chairman and his aides had been taking the outbreak of their ranks critically.

Others mentioned that the newest outbreak can be within the information both manner, and that deploying Mr. Pence to a state like North Carolina, the place marketing campaign aides assume the race will come all the way down to fewer than 100,000 votes, was essential within the last days.

However the resolution to proceed Mr. Pence’s schedule risked making the outbreak in his ranks an even bigger story than if he pulled again from the marketing campaign path.

Robert C. O’Brien, the president’s nationwide safety adviser, defended Mr. Pence’s resolution to keep up his marketing campaign schedule, at the same time as he acknowledged that the virus was “ripping by this nation.” He cited the C.D.C.’s tips that enable important personnel to proceed working.

“Important staff going out and campaigning and voting are about as important as issues we are able to do as Individuals,” Mr. O’Brien mentioned.

Those guidelines, issued in April and up to date in September, had been developed to make sure that “people who find themselves serving to us hold the lights on and the water working can do their jobs,” mentioned one federal well being official who participated in drafting them. And whereas Mr. Pence has to date examined detrimental, well being consultants denounced his resolution to proceed touring to marketing campaign stops across the nation.

“The thought which you can simply be declared a vital employee with out being quarantined undermines the entire idea of quarantine,” mentioned Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the C.D.C. below President Barack Obama.

On the marketing campaign path, blaming the information media for overlaying the virus incessantly has change into a inventory a part of Mr. Trump’s rally efficiency — an indication he’s interesting to voters by leaning into the nation’s normal virus fatigue. The president has repeatedly mentioned the nation is “rounding the nook” within the battle in opposition to the virus — at the same time as all proof is on the contrary.

The president’s evaluation stood in stark distinction to extra aggressive steerage from Dr. Fauci, who mentioned in an interview Sunday that the nation ought to contemplate mandating the usage of masks — one thing Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to think about — as a result of “the common carrying of masks” is crucial to curbing the unfold of the lethal virus.

“It will be optimum if this might be completed with out resorting to a masks mandate,” Dr. Fauci mentioned, repeating feedback he first made late final week. “Nonetheless, if the state of affairs continues to deteriorate concerning numbers of instances, hospitalizations and certain deaths whereas many individuals nonetheless refuse to put on masks, we must always critically contemplate masks mandates.”

The outbreak within the vice chairman’s workplace is the third to strike the White Home, following a small outbreak in May that included Mr. Pence’s spokeswoman and a bigger explosion of infection in late September after a Rose Backyard ceremony for Decide Amy Coney Barrett, Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court docket nominee.

The most recent one started late final week, when Mr. Obst fell unwell. As soon as that occurred, individuals who had been involved with him went into quarantine and call tracing measures had been employed, in accordance with a senior administration official. However throughout that interval, two different high aides to Mr. Pence examined constructive for the virus. Officers within the vice chairman’s workplace didn’t make it public on the time.

Then on Saturday, each Mr. Quick and Zach Bauer, Mr. Pence’s private aide, examined constructive, two senior administration officers mentioned. Two officers acquainted with the occasions mentioned Mr. Quick needed White Home medical doctors to situation a press release about his prognosis, including that Mr. Pence had examined detrimental.

However Mr. Meadows didn’t need the data changing into public on Saturday, the officers mentioned. He pressed the White Home medical workplace to not launch a press release, and urged the vice chairman’s employees to not publicly reveal the diagnoses, the officers mentioned. A number of individuals mentioned they believed Mr. Meadows was making an attempt to maintain the state of affairs from changing into public so near Election Day. Mr. Meadows has indicated to those who he was doing what the president needed.

A senior administration official mentioned that Mr. Meadows was not making an attempt to stop the outbreak from changing into public, however as an alternative that he thought the White Home medical workplace shouldn’t situation the assertion and needed the vice chairman’s workplace to interact involved tracing earlier than placing out a press release. After the Rose Backyard ceremony final month, the White Home made little effort to trace the unfold of the virus.

Throughout the White Home advanced, there was a mix of hysteria about what the outbreak means for the election, and intense frustration with Mr. Quick, who has been among the many leaders within the administration in arguing the dangers of the virus have been overblown.

Mr. Quick has additionally performed down the worth of masks carrying, administration officers mentioned. Mr. Quick was anticipated to remain residence for at the very least 10 days.

Consultant Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, mentioned he gave the vice chairman’s workplace credit score for acknowledging that Mr. Quick was sick, and took no situation with Mr. Pence being out on the path.

“I don’t assume they need to overdramatize this,” Mr. Cole mentioned. “It’s close to the tip of a marketing campaign. I’m certain all this stuff are weighed fastidiously by a presidential marketing campaign. I suppose you could possibly name it both manner, but when I had been in an identical state of affairs I’d be doing an identical factor to what Vice President Pence is doing.”

Requested by reporters on Sunday whether or not Mr. Pence ought to come off the marketing campaign path, Mr. Trump mentioned that “you’ll need to ask him” and bragged in regards to the measurement of the vice chairman’s rally crowds, saying that they had been socially distanced.

The one individual within the president’s orbit whose personal expertise with the virus appeared to have altered his considering is Chris Christie, the previous New Jersey governor, who was hospitalized after testing constructive and now urges Individuals to put on masks and follow social distancing.

“These minor inconveniences can save your life, your neighbors and the economic system,” he wrote final week in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. “Seldom has so little been requested for a lot profit. But the message can be broadly heeded solely whether it is persistently and actually delivered by the media, spiritual leaders, sports activities figures and public servants.

“These in positions of authority,” he mentioned — with out straight mentioning Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence — “have an obligation to get the message out.”

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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