White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows conceded that the Trump administration had given up in containing the coronavirus crisis that has killed over 225,000 Americans, saying that the White House is “not going to control the pandemic,” and will instead just hold out hope for a vaccine.
In a statement, former Vice President Joe Biden called Meadows’ televised admission “stunning,” but unsurprising.
“This wasn't a slip by Meadows,” Biden said. “It was a candid acknowledgement 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.”
Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, called Meadows’ comments an admission of “defeat.” And leading scientists told The Daily Beast his words represented “an utter abdication of the government’s responsibility to keep the public safe.” One said President Trump “has blood on his hands.”
Amid another COVID-19 outbreak at the White House, this time in Vice President Mike Pence’s office, Meadows appeared on CNN’s State of the Union, and anchor Jake Tapper immediately pressed the chief of staff on reports that he tried to keep news of the positive coronavirus tests from going public.
“Why would you do that? Is it because it’s another sign the way the White House has failed to contain the virus?” Tapper wondered aloud, prompting Meadows to falsely claim that wasn’t reported.
“That was in the New York Times story,” Tapper shot back.
Meadows, meanwhile, justified the attempt to keep the outbreak under wraps by saying that “sharing personal information is something we should do” before claiming that the White House also has an “obligation to let people know to contact trace” when there is a positive case.
Tapper reminded the chief of staff that the administration didn’t do that during the previous outbreak that resulted in President Donald Trump’s hospitalization, noting that Chris Christie said he was never contacted despite his own battle with the virus.
The CNN anchor went on to press Meadows on Vice President Chief of Staff Marc Short’s diagnosis, asking why Pence isn’t quarantining and out on the campaign trail considering his close contact with Short in recent days. Meadows dismissed the need for Pence to follow CDC guidelines, saying Pence is an essential worker and “he’s not just campaigning, he’s working.”
After asserting that Pence is wearing masks in public and socially distancing when possible, Meadows then expressed doubt that large gatherings cause the spread of the virus, citing recent reports that small groups and family events are leading to an increase in infections. Tapper pointed out that the virus is coming from many different places because the pandemic is out of control.
“Here is what we have to do,” Meadows declared. “We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics, and other mitigation areas.”
Reaction from the Biden campaign to the comments—exactly one year after Biden warned that the Trump administration had “not prepared” the United States to fight a pandemic—was swift.
“This is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of America,” Harris told the pool reporter covering her swing through Michigan.
Lawrence O. Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, told The Daily Beast: “This is an utter abdication of the government’s responsibility to keep the public safe. The president has no higher duty than public health and safety. The White House is going to be responsible for thousands of needless deaths in America. Frankly the president has blood on his hands.
“Why not at least appeal to the public to have strength and keep socially distanced, wear masks and avoid large gatherings? That’s what the president’s own task force says. It’s shameful to give up on the people of our great country.”
Dr. Jeffrey D. Klausner, a former San Francisco public health officer who is now a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA, told The Daily Beast: “This outbreak in the vice president’s office is another example of the tragic failure of the administration. As a public health scientist and practitioner for more than 25 years, I think the only way to move out of this epidemic in the United States is with leadership change.
“We are going to have to unshackle the CDC and allow the CDC to do what it does best—which is to guide states in their COVID-19 control efforts. These are going to include masking requirements, testing recommendations, isolation for those who are positive, and the quarantine of those exposed. We have proven methods that we know can control outbreaks which have not been used to date effectively across the country.”
The Trump administration, Klausner said, “just hasn’t allowed the professionals who know how to control these epidemics to do their work. Why that is I don’t know, but that’s the dereliction of their duty, and their inability to do that means we have to get rid of them.”
Democrats pointed to Meadows’ admission as proof that the Trump administration is following the advice of Dr. Scott Atlas, one of the president’s advisers on the pandemic who has publicly suggested that the United States should follow a plan that would create so-called “herd immunity” among the general population—a plan that critics, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said would lead to hundreds of thousands of additional deaths.
“The White House chief of staff just admitted out loud what has long been Trump’s strategy on the coronavirus: wave the white flag and surrender as Americans continue to suffer,” said DNC spokesperson Eduardo Silva. “It doesn’t have to be this way. Many other countries have been able to successfully combat the coronavirus because they listened to scientists and came up with a strategy. But Trump refuses to lead.”
Tapper, for his part, pressed Meadows on why we couldn’t get control of the pandemic, prompting the chief of staff to respond that it was due to it being a “contagious virus just like the flu.”
“Why not make efforts to contain it?” Tapper retorted.
“Well, we are making efforts to contain it,” Meadows insisted.
“By running all over the country and not wearing a mask? That’s what the vice president is doing,” the CNN anchor shot back.
Public health experts, meanwhile, are currently warning that the United States is heading for a dark winter and should brace for the impact of 100,000 new cases per day. Over the weekend, the country set new records in daily infections.