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

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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 airplane goes down, 500 individuals lifeless, they don’t speak about 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 regulate the pandemic,” Mark Meadows, the White Home chief of employees, stated on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, primarily providing a verbal shrug in response to any effort to forestall 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 circumstances 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 every week earlier than Election Day was a visceral reminder of the president’s dismissive and erratic dealing with of the virus, even in probably the most 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, stated 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 received’t.”

“It’s sadly no shock then that this virus continues to rage unchecked throughout the nation and even within the White Home itself,” stated the previous vp, 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 could simply “go away” and failing to ramp up testing that 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 alter 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 sporting and different preventive measures into political loyalty checks, dismissing the important significance of social distancing and pinning his hopes on Operation Warp Pace, a plan to speed up improvement 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 lately as Friday within the Oval Workplace.

Sustain with Election 2020

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

The president and vp 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 means 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 stated 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 drive, 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 drive coordinator, and as a substitute 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 stated he wouldn’t quarantine after his publicity to contaminated aides, who embrace Marc Brief, his chief of employees, and Marty Obst, a senior adviser. His spokesman wouldn’t say whether or not Mr. Pence was receiving a number of the medication Mr. Trump was given, together with an experimental cocktail of antibodies by the pharmaceutical firm Regeneron, as a safety measure.

In an announcement, the White Home deemed the vp “important” and stated he would keep on with his marketing campaign schedule. That included an tackle on Sunday night to supporters in Kinston, N.C., the place Mr. Pence made no reference to the circumstances that had infiltrated his employees and as a substitute 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 stated privately that Mr. Pence ought to keep off the marketing campaign path, and as a substitute host digital occasions and cellphone calls to display that the vp and his aides have been taking the outbreak of their ranks significantly.

Others stated that the most recent outbreak can be within the information both means, and that deploying Mr. Pence to a state like North Carolina, the place marketing campaign aides assume the race will come right down to fewer than 100,000 votes, was essential within the remaining days.

However the determination to proceed Mr. Pence’s schedule risked making the outbreak in his ranks a much 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 determination 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 employees going out and campaigning and voting are about as important as issues we are able to do as Individuals,” Mr. O’Brien stated.

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

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

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

The president’s evaluation stood in stark distinction to extra aggressive steering from Dr. Fauci, who stated in an interview Sunday that the nation ought to think about mandating the usage of masks — one thing Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to contemplate — as a result of “the common sporting 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 stated, repeating feedback he first made late final week. “Nonetheless, if the scenario continues to deteriorate concerning numbers of circumstances, hospitalizations and certain deaths whereas many individuals nonetheless refuse to put on masks, we must always significantly think about masks mandates.”

The outbreak within the vp’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 Courtroom nominee.

The most recent one started late final week, when Mr. Obst fell sick. As soon as that occurred, individuals who had been in touch with him went into quarantine and get in touch with tracing measures have 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 vp’s workplace didn’t make it public on the time.

Then on Saturday, each Mr. Brief and Zach Bauer, Mr. Pence’s private aide, examined constructive, two senior administration officers stated. Two officers accustomed to the occasions stated Mr. Brief needed White Home medical doctors to problem an announcement about his prognosis, including that Mr. Pence had examined detrimental.

However Mr. Meadows didn’t need the knowledge changing into public on Saturday, the officers stated. He pressed the White Home medical workplace to not launch an announcement, and urged the vp’s employees to not publicly reveal the diagnoses, the officers stated. A number of individuals stated they believed Mr. Meadows was attempting to maintain the scenario from changing into public so near Election Day. Mr. Meadows has indicated to those that he was doing what the president needed.

A senior administration official stated that Mr. Meadows was not attempting to forestall the outbreak from changing into public, however as a substitute that he thought the White Home medical workplace shouldn’t problem the assertion and needed the vp’s workplace to interact in touch tracing earlier than placing out an announcement. After the Rose Backyard ceremony final month, the White Home made little effort to trace the unfold of the virus.

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

Mr. Brief has additionally performed down the worth of masks sporting, administration officers stated. Mr. Brief was anticipated to remain residence for at the least 10 days.

Consultant Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, stated he gave the vp’s workplace credit score for acknowledging that Mr. Brief was sick, and took no problem with Mr. Pence being out on the path.

“I don’t assume they need to overdramatize this,” Mr. Cole stated. “It’s close to the top of a marketing campaign. I’m positive all this stuff are weighed fastidiously by a presidential marketing campaign. I assume you possibly can name it both means, but when I have been in the same scenario I’d be doing the same 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 stated that “you’ll need to ask him” and bragged in regards to the dimension of the vp’s rally crowds, saying they’d been socially distanced.

The one particular person within the president’s orbit whose personal expertise with the virus appeared to have altered his pondering is Chris Christie, the previous New Jersey governor, who was hospitalized after testing constructive and now urges Individuals to put on masks and apply 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 shall be broadly heeded solely whether it is persistently and truthfully delivered by the media, non secular leaders, sports activities figures and public servants.

“These in positions of authority,” he stated — 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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