I confess, however, there are still stories emanating from this government that have the capacity to surprise me. The Trump administration being unable to track down the parents of 545 children separated at the border? Yes, that still shocks the conscience (though perhaps it shouldn’t, given that two years ago Corey Lewandowki literally said “womp, womp” on air in response to a similar story).
As a general rule, the administration’s malevolence shocks me more than its incompetence. Over the weekend, however, it was the latter that came to the fore. One would think that after a covid-19 cluster developed in the White House earlier this month because of its incompetence, Trump officials would have been more conscientious about taking precautions to prevent any further spread.
In retrospect, this was silliness on my part. The day Trump was diagnosed, the Associated Press reported, “The White House does not appear to be making any changes to current virus protocol, even after President Trump and the first lady tested positive for the coronavirus. A senior White House official said Friday that masks will still not be mandatory at the White House, describing facial coverings as ‘a personal choice,’ despite overwhelming evidence that they help to stop the spread.” Trump’s reaction after returning to the White House also suggested willful disregard for any precautionary measures.
Sure enough, another cluster has emerged in the White House, in Vice President Pence’s office. That is correct: The head of the federal government’s coronavirus task force has been unable to prevent the spread of covid-19 to his own staff.
According to ABC News’s White House team, “Five individuals in Vice President Mike Pence’s orbit have tested positive for the coronavirus, including his chief of staff Marc Short and political aide Marty Obst.” Both ABC News and the New York Times further report that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows did not want to immediately reveal that Short and the others had tested positive. My Post colleague Josh Dawsey reports that Pence’s body man is among the others who tested positive.
Pence and his wife tested negative for the coronavirus Saturday and Sunday mornings, but given his proximity to those who tested positive, it would seem like Contact Tracing 101 that he should quarantine. However, Pence’s press flack issued a statement explaining “while Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.”
Neither this new White House cluster nor the overall alarming national trends showing a third surge in infections lend any support to Trump’s contentions that the United States is “rounding the turn” on this pandemic and that the virus will disappear from the news after Election Day.
On Sunday, Meadows went on CNN’s “State of the Union” to talk to Jake Tapper about all of this, and finally revealed the truth about how the White House thinks about the pandemic: It has decided there is no longer any point in fighting back. As the AP reported, “With covid-19 cases surging in the United States, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows acknowledged that the Trump administration can’t stop the spread and is focusing instead on getting a vaccine.”
Think this is an exaggeration? Watch this clip:
The United States is weeks, if not months, away from a functional vaccine. Even then, it will take several months after that for daily life to appreciably change. Nonetheless, the Trump White House has looked at this difficult problem and decided to allocate the bulk of its efforts into concealing the truth and failed PR stunts involving department store Santas.
The Trump White House has forfeited this pandemic. The country is taking the loss.