Oct 02, 2020
Following Friday morning's revelation that President Donald Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus--and later transported to Walter Reed Hospital to receive care--Capitol Hill has been turned upside down as members of the Trump administration and lawmakers in both parties scramble to figure out who may have come into contact with infected individuals as well as next steps in the fight over holding a Supreme Court confirmation hearing with the 2020 election only one month away.
The president's announcement that he and First Lady Melania Trump have Covid-19 came hours after one of his top aides, Hope Hicks, tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday morning. Hicks traveled with Trump throughout the week, including to Tuesday night's presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
\u201cHope Hicks, who holds the senior title of counselor to the president, traveled with Trump to Cleveland for Tuesday's debate \u2014 and was spotted traveling on Air Force One without a mask https://t.co/k1UWnIalpA\u201d— POLITICO (@POLITICO) 1601661826
MSNBC shared via Twitter a list of people who recently traveled with Hicks, which includes Trump advisers Rudy Giuliani, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Miller among many others.
\u201cClose Trump aide Hope Hicks has tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday. Here is a list of who has recently traveled with Hicks.\n\nhttps://t.co/qvklvEoVVn\u201d— MSNBC (@MSNBC) 1601641983
In a play on words, comedian Zack Bornstein tweeted: "Hope is contagious"--a dry quip that spoke to the very serious implications of her central role within the president's orbit.
Given his packed schedule and disregard for mask-wearing and social distancing, commentators immediately began asking questions about the ramifications of Trump's diagnosis for the spread of Covid-19, especially among government officials.
On Friday, September 25, Trump held a rally in Virginia attended by several thousand closely packed and mostly mask-free individuals, in addition to other campaign events.
On Saturday, September 26, Trump hosted a Rose Garden ceremony during which he officially nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Based on what is known about who in the president's circle has contracted Covid-19--a list that includes Donald and Melania Trump, Hicks, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and University of Notre Dame president John Jenkins--some observers have speculated that this packed ceremony where few guests wore masks may be the "superspreader" event responsible for a potentially rising number of infections within what Politicocalled "Trumpworld."
\u201cMore photos of Amy Coney Barrett's super spreader nomination at the White House on Saturday where newly covid positive diagnosed President and Melania Trump, Hope Hicks, Mike Lee, and Father Jenkins were all in attendance. \n\nSeeing Melania sit next to ACB's children is awful.\u201d— Holly Figueroa O'Reilly (@Holly Figueroa O'Reilly) 1601659155
On Sunday, September 27, Trump prepared for Tuesday night's debate with the help of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"No one was wearing masks in the room during that time when we were prepping the president," Christie toldABC News on Friday morning. "The group was about five or six people in total."
\u201cChris Christie, who helped the President with debate prep, says "no one was wearing masks" as "5 or 6 people" helped Trump get ready for the contest. The former New Jersey governor says he will be tested this morning. https://t.co/FwMpkJld3U\u201d— CNN (@CNN) 1601641592
On Monday, September 28, Trump teased Admiral Brett Giroir, the White House's testing official, saying: "I hope you don't test positive."
After Tuesday night's debate in Cleveland, Ohio, Trump traveled to Duluth, Minnesota on Wednesday, September 30 where he disparaged Biden for, as journalist Aaron Rupar put it, "taking public health precautions to prevent his campaign events from becoming coronavirus superspreader events." Trump also delivered a racist tirade against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and refugees from Somalia and other East African countries.
On Thursday, just hours before announcing his positive test, Trump attended a fundraising event in Bedminster, New Jersey. He went to the event--during which he chose to engage with roughly 100 people--despite knowing that morning that he had been exposed to the coronavirus following Hicks' positive test.
\u201c\ud83d\udccdSo, Trump knew of Hope Hicks was positive Thursday (Oc 1st) morning\u2014but he didn\u2019t quarantine but went to NJ instead. He had 2 meetings\u2014one \u201croundtable\u201d and a reception (see calendar). He was already feeling sick in NJ says reports. So he KNOWINGLY endangered people. #COVID19\u201d— Eric Feigl-Ding (@Eric Feigl-Ding) 1601654083
"Why did the president continue his Bedminster fundraiser after the White House learned about Hope Hicks? Why did the White House put people at risk? Why did the White House not tell people of the risk?" askedMSNBC's Kyle Griffin Friday morning.
Since Trump's announcement of his diagnosis, many in Washington expressed concerns Friday about "the continuity of government" given that the president's age and weight put him in a high-risk category for falling ill from Covid-19.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tried to reassure the public, telling reporters: "I fully expect that, as this virus continues to go on, other people in the White House will certainly have a positive test result, and we've got the mitigation plan in place to make sure the government not only continues to move forward but the work of the American people continues to move forward."
Trump, who began quarantining Friday morning, has canceled fundraisers and rallies and "will be pulled off the campaign trail for at least the better part of two weeks as he recovers," The Hillexplained.
The spate of positive Covid-19 tests that included Trump and Lee has "prompted more calls for a testing program in the Capitol and its surrounding office buildings," as Roll Callnoted.
"This episode demonstrates that the Senate needs a testing and contact tracing program for senators, staff, and all who work in the Capitol complex," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday. "We simply cannot allow the administration's cavalier attitude to adversely affect this branch of government."
"It is imperative that all results be made public in order to contain a possible outbreak and so we can determine the need for senators and staff to quarantine or self-isolate," Schumer added.
Lee was diagnosed just three days after meeting with Barrett, and both the Republican senator of Utah and Trump's Supreme Court nominee attended Saturday's event in the Rose Garden.
While Barrett--who reportedly was diagnosed with and recovered from Covid-19 this summer--has tested negative for the coronavirus so far this week, the CDC says that could change and recommends that anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case self-isolate for 14 days.
Nevertheless, even though Barrett's recent proximity to both Trump and Lee means that continued meetings between senators and the judicial nominee could pose serious health risks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear Friday that nothing, as Common Dreamsreported earlier in the day, will stop him from plowing ahead with her confirmation.
The GOP is "literally willing to put lives at risk" to replace Ginsburg, said Adam Jentleson, public affairs director at Democracy Forward and a former Senate staffer.
After it was revealed Friday night that Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who also attended the Rose Garden ceremony, has tested positive for the coronavirus, Schumer provided a retort to McConnell's recklessness.
"We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for Covid-19," the Minority Leader said on social media. "And there may be more."
"It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing," Schumer added. "And there is absolutely no good reason to do so."
This article has been updated with information about the diagnosis of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and an additional statement from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
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