A top White House official on Sunday acknowledged that President Donald Trump’s administration will not “control” the coronavirus pandemic, though he later suggested the U.S. would defeat it because, he said, that’s what Americans do.
“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “We are gonna control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation.”
Asked why the U.S. won’t get control of the pandemic, which has infected more than 8.5 million Americans and killed more than 224,000 people in the U.S., Meadows said, “Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu.”
Trump himself, however, privately said in a February interview with journalist Bob Woodward that the virus may be five times deadlier than the flu.
Meadows’ admission comes nine days before Election Day — though more than 58 million Americans have already cast their ballots, according to the U.S. Elections Project — and the morning after Vice President Mike Pence’s office announced that chief of staff Marc Short tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. Pence’s office said both he and second lady Karen Pence had tested negative.
In a lengthy interview with CNN, Meadows said he wished Short and any Americans who have contracted the virus well but declined to identify how many staffers inside the vice president’s office or the White House have tested positive or reported symptoms over the last week.
“We don’t give out that kind of information,” Meadows said.
The New York Times reported Saturday that at least four members of Pence’s staff had tested positive in the past few days and that Meadows “had sought to keep news of the outbreak from becoming public.”
“When we actually have people’s health at risk,” Meadows explained Sunday, “sharing personal information is not something that we should do, not something that we do actually do, unless it’s the vice president or the president or someone that’s very close to them where there’s people in harm’s way.”
The second White House outbreak is yet another reminder of the administration’s uneven response to the pandemic. Trump, first lady Melania Trump, their teenage son Barron Trump, White House advisers Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller and several other staffers have all tested positive for Covid-19 in recent weeks.
The president was briefly hospitalized with the virus earlier this month but has since recovered and held a series of multiple rallies, crisscrossing the country to rescue his flagging campaign. But masks are not required to attend the president’s crowded rallies, a stark contrast from the intimate, socially distant in-person and drive-in events former Vice President Joe Biden has. Polls show Trump trailing Biden in national and several battleground state surveys.
Pence will also continue to campaign, despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to quarantine for 14 days. But Meadows said the vice president, who the White House insists is an essential worker, will wear a mask.
“I spoke to the vice president last night at midnight, and I can tell you that what he’s doing is wearing a mask, socially distancing and when he goes up to speak, he will take the mask off, put it back on,” Meadows said. “He’s wearing a mask as it relates to this particular thing because the doctors have advised him to do that.”
Meadows added that the U.S. needs to make sure it has mitigation factors such as therapeutics, vaccines and other treatments to prevent deaths. He also said Americans, including the president, should “certainly” follow CDC guidelines, but when it comes to wearing masks at rallies, he said, it’s not mandated because, “We live in a free society.”
“When we look at the number of cases increasing, what we have to do is make sure that we fight it with therapeutics and vaccines, take proper mitigation factors in terms of social distancing and masks when we can,” he said. “And when we look at this, we’re going to defeat it, Jake, because what we are, we’re Americans. We do that, and this president is leading while Joe Biden is sitting there suggesting that we’re going to mandate masks.”
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that only one candidate is campaigning safely. She cited a recent news report of coronavirus spikes following Trump’s campaign events, which she called health-jeopardizing “super-spreader rallies.“
“We’re never going to do that. You know, first and foremost, we are going to be looking out for public safety,” Bedingfield said. “We’ve done that from the outset of the pandemic. I think we have campaigned aggressively and creatively and safely, and you know, frankly, I think that’s what Americans are looking for.”