Pence refuses to cancel Senate visit as 5 around vice president test COVID-19 positive

Pence refuses to cancel Senate visit as 5 around vice president test COVID-19 positive

Vice President Mike Pence addresses his remarks at a coronavirus update briefing Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Vice President Mike Pence is head of the White House's coronavirus task force. He's also the center of a new apparent superspreader cluster: The New York Times reports that five members of Pence's inner circle have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last few days. This includes Pence's chief of staff Marc Short, outside Pence adviser Marty Obst, and three unidentified Pence staffers.

Despite five of his closest contacts testing positive for COVID-19, the Times reports that Pence has no plans to quarantine. In fact, he's going to continue his schedule as planned, including in-person rallies. On Monday, he also plans to visit the Senate to preside over the confirmation vote of Trump's newest far-right Supreme Court pick. CNN correspondent Manu Raju reports that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell would not answer questions on whether Pence should cancel his Senate trip, but Sen. John Cornyn opined that he would "leave it up to his good judgment."

While one might hope that the putative "head" of the nation's COVID-19 pandemic response would show some small amount of competence in curtailing the virus' spread among his own damn staff, Pence has consistently parroted whatever dismissive talking points Donald Trump and top White House advisers have used to downplay the virus. The White House continues to be contemptuous of mask usage, which in large part explains why the White House has now been hit with two separate COVID-19 clusters in recent weeks.

Throughout the rest of the United States, pandemic numbers are again skyrocketing as cold weather sets in, increasing the amount of time Americans spend indoors. The White House response in the closing days of the election, however, has been a coordinated giving up.

Newest White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told host Jake Tapper "We're not going to control the pandemic." He's right: It's clear at this point that the Trump White House is not only not going to control the pandemic, but is incompetent at even controlling the spread of the pandemic within their own offices.

The absolute contempt the Republican Party has shown for expert-recommended moves to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, as it soars towards another new peak even as much of the rest of the world successfully limits pandemic spread, remains bizarre and grotesque. Pence is insisting on continuing his rally schedule despite the new cluster around him; Republicans continue to belittle the use of masks for no evident reason other than partisan show in crowded, in-person rallies; Pence's "task force" is at this point a non-entity, having abandoned efforts to put forward any pandemic strategy in favor of pushes to "reopen" state economies despite escalating deaths.

The United States will officially surpass a quarter million pandemic deaths at some point in early November. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to act to spread the pandemic, rather than curtail it. Yesterday two aides to Sen. Kelly Loeffler were confirmed to have tested positive; Loeffler, too, issued a statement confirming she would be both showing up for Monday's Senate vote and will be "traveling the state" afterwards, with no plans to quarantine.

The official Republican response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Giving up. Giving up in all respects, apparently; given the entire collected expertise and resources of the United States government, Team Trump and its hangers-on can't even muster the competence to keep themselves from being channels for pandemic spread. It's almost, but not quite, amazing.

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