‘Hope Is Contagious’: fears of Covid-19 outbreak upend Capitol Hill

Trump “will be pulled off the campaign trail for at least the better part of two weeks as he recovers.”

by Kenny Stancil, staff writer

Friday, October 2, 2020

(L-R) Assistant to the President and Director of Oval Office Operations Nicholas Luna, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino, Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner, Senior Adviser to the President Stephen Miller, and Counselor to the President Hope Hicks walk to Marine One to depart from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. on September 30, 2020. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images) 

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.

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.

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.

Reporters at Vox put together a photo essay and The Hill prepared a timeline, both of which document Trump’s activities in the days leading up to his positive coronavirus test.

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 Politico called “Trumpworld.”

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 told ABC News on Friday morning. “The group was about five or six people in total.”

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.

“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?” asked MSNBC‘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 Hill explained.

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 Call noted.

“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 Dreams reported earlier in the day, will stop him from plowing ahead with her confirmation.

“Full steam ahead,” said McConnell, while his Republican Senate colleague Lindsey Graham of South Carolina reiterated that Trump is “very focused on getting Amy Barrett through the Senate.”

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.

This article published by Common Dreams on October 2, 2020, here…

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