WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence hit the campaign trail Sunday, despite a new wave of COVID-19 cases that hit Pence’s staff –and that one prominent official said the administration cannot control.
Pence’s top aide, his chief of staff Marc Short, and others in his office have tested positive for the virus, but the vice president is not subject to quarantine because he is an “essential” government official, aides said.
“He’s not just campaigning, he’s working” in the vice president’s office, said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Pence did not mention his staff’s COVID-19 cases during his speech in Kinston, North Carolina, instead urging supporters to get to the polls and bring others with them. “Friends don’t let friends vote alone,” Pence said during a rain-soaked airport rally.
Trump, who recently recovered from a case of COVID, also did not mention the new White House cases as he campaigned in New Hampshire and Maine. Asked if Pence should campaign under the circumstances, Trump told reporters that “you’ll have to ask him.”
Meadows also made news by acknowledging that the Trump administration won’t be able to do much about the spread of COVID-19, and is focusing instead on cures.
“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and others say Trump has never tried to control the spread of the virus, citing actions ranging from his mocking of mask wearing to his insistence on holding campaign rallies with maskless people packed close together.
“They’ve given up on their basic duty to protect the American people,” Biden said in a written statement. The Democratic candidate said Trump’s strategy has been clear from the beginning: “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.”
More: ‘COVID, COVID, COVID’: Trump complains media too focused on pandemic as US hits record cases – election updates
More: Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, has tested positive for coronavirus
Jack Pitney, author of “Un-American: the Fake Patriotism of Donald J. Trump,” said the Trump administration is “sending a message that they don’t take the pandemic seriously.”
“Most Americans do, especially the families of the 225,000 people who have died,” added Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.
Trump did not mention the outbreak in Pence’s office while speaking for more than 90 minutes during the New Hampshire rally at the airport near Manchester.
Instead, he insisted that “we’re rounding the turn” in the battle against the coronavirus, despite the upsurges across the country. Trump also attacked Biden over his calls to gradually phase out the oil industry, various economic policies, and son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine and Russia.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump debate adviser, questioned Pence’s decision to campaign so soon after the positive tests of aides. “You gotta keep yourself away from everybody, and I’m a little bit surprised,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for people to quarantine for 14 days after exposure to someone with the virus, but Meadows told CNN there are exceptions for “essential personnel” like the vice president.
Pence – who heads the White House coronavirus task force – will wear a mask and practice social distancing while campaigning and carrying out those duties, the Trump chief of staff said.
More: Trump’s campaign made stops nationwide. Coronavirus cases surged in his wake in at least five places.
Another Pence adviser, Marty Obst, has also tested positive, as have other vice presidential aides; Meadows declined to specify the total number.
“Sharing personal information is not something that we should do … unless it’s the vice president or the president, or someone that’s very close to them,” Meadows said.
He said Pence and Trump are tested regularly, but declined to say whether that happens on a daily basis.
“We don’t get into safety protocols,” Meadows told CNN.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The vice president’s office announced that both he and spouse Karen Pence tested negative Sunday.
Trump spent his campaign day in two small states – New Hampshire and Maine – because they could make a big difference if the Electoral College race with Biden is close.
Like most states, New Hampshire, with four electoral votes, awards all of those votes to the presidential candidate who wins statewide.
That is not the case in Maine, which awards one electoral vote to the winner of each of the state’s two congressional districts. While Biden is a solid favorite in one district, Trump has a good chance in the other district – hence his trip Sunday to the Bangor area.
Trump won that district four years ago, earning one of Maine’s four electoral votes.
Speaking to a crowd of people – many without masks – at an orchard business near Bangor, Trump talked about aid to the Maine lobster industry. He also predicted a “red wave” in the upcoming election.
“I’m very impressed with Maine, and I hope we’re going to do well,” Trump told supporters.
Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, noted that Trump and Biden both need 270 electoral votes to win the election and said New Hampshire and Maine could conceivably make the difference.
“If you play with an electoral college calculator long enough, you can come up with scenarios where New Hampshire’s four electoral votes (and one from Maine’s Second CD) put Trump over the top in a close contest,” Scala said.
Nebraska also awards electoral college votes by congressional district, which is why Trump plans to campaign in Omaha on Tuesday. The president also visits Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada early in the week.
On Saturday, Trump criticized the media and Democrats for focusing too much on the COVID crisis. “That’s all I hear about now. Turn on the TV, ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” Trump said during a stop in North Carolina.
The president and his vice president travel as nearly every U.S. states reports a new rise in COVID cases, including North Carolina, New Hampshire and Maine.
In the evening, the president and First Lady Melania Trump hosted a Halloween event at the White House. The first couple did not hand out candy to dressed-up children, however; guest families picked up bags of goodies from tables.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump, Pence campaign Sunday, despite COVID-19 cases among VP’s aides