The outbreak around Pence, who chairs the White House’s coronavirus task force, undermines the argument Trump has been making to voters that the country is “rounding the turn,” as the president put it at a rally Sunday in New Hampshire.
Further complicating Trump’s campaign-trail pitch was an extraordinary admission Sunday from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that the administration had effectively given up on trying to slow the virus’s spread.
“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who regularly wears a mask on the campaign trail and strictly adheres to social distancing guidelines, sought to capitalize on the remark.
“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,” Biden said in a statement. “It hasn’t, and it won’t.”
The outbreak in Pence’s orbit comes roughly three weeks after Trump was hospitalized with the virus and a number of his advisers tested positive. Officials said the new list of those infected includes the vice president’s chief of staff, Marc Short; his top outside political adviser, Marty Obst; his personal aide Zach Bauer, known as a “body man,” who accompanies him throughout his day; and two other staff members.
Pence has been in close contact with a number of those infected in recent days, but spokesman Devin O’Malley said the vice president and second lady Karen Pence both tested negative for the virus on Saturday and again Sunday, and have been “in good health.”
The vice president continued Sunday with his heavy travel schedule, flying to North Carolina for an evening rally in Kinston. He told aides he was determined to keep up his appearances through the week despite his potential exposure, irrespective of guidelines, officials said.
On Monday, Pence is expected to visit the Capitol to preside over the Senate vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) decried Pence’s plans to continue with his scheduled events. “God help us,” Schumer said in a speech Sunday on the Senate floor.
O’Malley said that Pence was cleared to travel in consultation with White House doctors. “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,” O’Malley said in a statement Saturday night.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people stay home for 14 days following possible exposure and to socially distance at all times. The CDC allows an exemption for “critical infrastructure workers” who are not experiencing symptoms so long as they socially distance and cover their faces at