White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Monday rejected Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s assertion that the Trump administration was waving a white flag in its fight against the coronavirus — but nevertheless doubled down on his controversial acknowledgment that the United States would not “control” the pandemic.
“The only person waving a white flag, along with his white mask, is Joe Biden,” a maskless Meadows told reporters outside the White House on Monday morning. “I mean, when we look at this, we’re going to defeat the virus. We’re not going to control it. We will try to contain it as best we can.”
Meadows went on to defend remarks he made on Sunday in an interview with CNN, where he said the U.S. was “not going to control the pandemic,” but would instead “control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”
The concession from President Donald Trump’s top aide — which came shortly after news of another White House coronavirus outbreak among the staff of Vice President Mike Pence — was quickly criticized by congressional Democrats and some Republicans, as well as Biden’s campaign.
“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “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.”
Meadows insisted on Monday that the “full context” of his remarks referred to the “need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines” to treat Covid-19. He also said that administration officials were “very hopeful, based on a number of conversations, that vaccines are just a few weeks away, and we’re in preparation for that.”
But public health experts warn that a coronavirus vaccine likely will not be widely accessible until the second half of 2021. And even if a vaccine is authorized on a narrow basis for a subset of health care workers and the vulnerable, several leading candidates require two doses that would be administered weeks apart.
The late-stage phase three clinical trials for potential coronavirus vaccines enroll tens of thousands of participants and take months to complete. The first few candidates are not expected to file for emergency use until late November at the earliest.
David Lim and Sarah Owermohle contributed to this report.