“We are not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday, arguing that “proper mitigation factors” like therapies and vaccines should be the priority.
The window into the administration’s thinking came as Trump spent the weekend constructing a giant confidence trick for voters, declaring the country was “rounding the corner beautifully” in the battle against Covid-19.
The latest signs that Trump is putting his political priorities ahead of his duty of care to the American people come as the President plans a frantic week of packed rallies that flout good social distancing practice.
Meadows sends shock waves through Washington
The extent to which the White House has all but given up fighting the pandemic — for instance, public briefings by top government scientists have disappeared — was made clear by Meadows.
Biden leapt on Meadows’ comments as he tries to make a case that Trump’s denial and downplaying of the greatest public health crisis in 100 years means he should be disqualified from serving a second term.
He said the White House chief of staff had “stunningly admitted this morning that the administration has given up on even trying to control this pandemic, that they’ve given up on their basic duty to protect the American people.
“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows, it was a candid acknowledgment of what President Trump’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. It hasn’t, and it won’t.”
The President and Pence — the head of the coronavirus task force — have consistently refused to model the social distancing and mask wearing that is the most effective way to cut infections until treatments and vaccines arrive.
On Sunday for instance, the President mixed with supporters who were unmasked and closely huddled together, offering fist bumps and signing “Make America Great Again” hats.
“Deaths are starting to rise again, and vaccines won’t be widely available until next year even in the best-case scenario. Everyone banding together to wear masks, for a limited time, will be the least costly way for society to weather a difficult winter,” Gottlieb wrote.
Pence an ‘essential worker’
Even as news broke of the multiple infections in the vice president’s office, the White House declared he was an “essential worker” — a designation normally reserved for first responders and front-line medical staff — and said he would go on with his campaign program.
Pence, who was wearing a mask, clapped and jogged up to his podium at an event in North Carolina Sunday, the latest attempt by Trump and his team to foster a false impression of normality as the crisis deepens every single day. He never brought up the infections among his inner circle, barely mentioning the virus at the rally.
But the virus is now rising in 35 states and is steady in 15. New infections rose past 80,000 cases on both Friday and Saturday, breaking previous single-day records. US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams cautioned Friday that hospitalizations are up in 75% of the jurisdictions across the country. Deaths will likely also soon start rising.
The utter disconnect between the fast worsening reality and the behavior of Trump and Pence prompted David Gergen, an adviser to presidents of both parties who was speaking on CNN, to condemn what he said was, “a President and a vice president putting their own peoples’ lives at risk to advance their own political good fortunes.”
Meadows’ statement also had troubling echoes for another expert.
“I hear a lot of herd immunity in that statement and that is horrifying,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of Medicine at George Washington University, told CNN on Sunday.
“We can control the pandemic,” said Reiner, citing Washington, DC’s low incidence of the virus after earlier spikes and crediting mask wearing for the improved situation..
“What the chief of staff is saying is surrender. No, no, no, we get everyone to mask up — that is how we get the rates down.”
The responsibilities of leaders
The comments by Meadows caused awkward moments for several Republican senators, in town to advance the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to a final floor vote on Monday.
“We all have control, and we all have responsibility as leaders to set an example that consists of doing the right thing to stop the spread,” the second-ranking Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, told reporters.
“There are certain elements of it that yes, we cannot control. It’s a virus. It’s very aggressive. It wants to infect a lot of people, but there are things about our own behavior that we can control.”
The other South Dakota senator, Mike Rounds, said the government should “definitely not” stop trying to control Covid-19. Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun advised throwing “the kitchen sink at getting the virus under control.”
The new cases of Covid-19 in the White House could not be closer to Pence.
Marc Short, his chief of staff, tested positive on Saturday, the vice president’s office announced in a statement late in the day. Sources told CNN that Marty Obst, a senior adviser to Pence who is not a government employee, and at least three staffers in Pence’s office also tested positive for the virus in recent days. Zach Bauer, a longtime aide and one of the staffers who works closest with Pence, has tested positive for coronavirus, CNN learned Sunday.
The event is due to take place at 9 p.m. ET, outside, a source familiar with the invitation told CNN.