White House chief of staff Mark Meadows made the administration’s approach clear when he told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday that it was not possible to control the virus, because “it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” He later added that the White House is “making efforts to contain it.”
Senate Majority Whip John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, pushed back against those comments.
“We all have control, and we all have responsibility as leaders to set an example that consists of doing the right thing to stop the spread,” he said, pointing to mask wearing and social distancing. “There are certain elements of it that yes, we cannot control. It’s a virus. It’s very aggressive. It wants to infect a lot of people, but there are things about our own behavior that we can control.”
Other GOP senators distanced themselves from Meadows’ comments.
Asked whether they should stop trying to get the virus under control, South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds said, “Definitely not.”
“No, I think we do everything and throw the kitchen sink at getting the virus under control,” Indiana Sen. Mike Braun said when asked the same question.
Dueling rallies this weekend showed the stark contrast between the campaigns’ visions of how to tackle the pandemic. Pence and second lady Karen Pence each tested negative for coronavirus on Sunday, a White House official said, but despite his contact with multiple people who tested positive, the vice president is refusing to quarantine and plans to continue traveling and campaigning every day in the final stretch to Election Day, an official told CNN.
Trump wouldn’t say whether Pence should come off the trail. “You have to ask him, he’s doing very well, good crowds, very socially distanced, he’s doing very well,” Trump told reporters after he touched down in Maine on Sunday. There didn’t appear to be much distancing at Pence’s Saturday rallies in Florida, and he’s scheduled to hold another in North Carolina on Sunday.
Pence said on Friday that he’s planning to preside over the Senate vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett Monday evening.
“Their carelessness with the health and safety of their colleagues and Capitol employees mirrors their carelessness with the health and safety of Americans during this crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote to his Democratic colleagues, urging them not to congregate in the chamber ahead of Sunday’s procedural vote advancing Barrett’s nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to answer a reporter’s question Sunday on whether Pence should stay away from the Senate because several members of his team tested positive for coronavirus.
With just a little more than week to go, the campaign is still dominated by Covid-19 — an area where Trump has gotten poor marks. The virus is still the most important issue to American voters, millions of whom are waiting for Congress to strike a stimulus deal that would provide emergency relief to unemployed workers and businesses that are struggling to hang on. But the two sides remain at an impasse as hopes for a deal in the near term fade.
Obama and Biden condemn Trump’s approach
Both Biden and Obama, who hit the campaign trail in Miami as his former vice president’s most powerful surrogate, criticized Trump’s lack of a strategy for halting the spread of the virus as the weather grows colder and more Americans head indoors.
Noting the President’s recurring theme that he speaks for the forgotten men and women of America, Biden criticized Trump for viewing the country through the lens of blue and red states when it comes to Covid-19.
“He got elected and he immediately forgot the forgotten man. Remember what Donald Trump said when Covid hit 200,000 deaths? He said if you take out the blue states with Democratic governors and just look at the red states with Republican governors, we’re doing quite well. First of all that’s not true,” Biden said Saturday.
“Second, (why) the hell would the President say, ‘I’m not going to do anything for Pennsylvania or Michigan or Wisconsin, Democratic states. I’m only going to help red states.’ Where does this guy come from?” Biden said. “Look folks, I don’t see the presidency that way. I don’t see America that way. This has to change. And it will change with me.”
Obama did a line-by-line takedown of Trump’s character flaws and his bullying behavior, mocking the President for complaining about his press coverage and for walking out of an interview this past week with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes.”
“This President, he likes to act tough and talk tough,” Obama said. “He thinks scowling and being mean is tough, and being rude is tough. But when ’60 Minutes’ and Lesley Stahl are too tough for you, you ain’t all that tough. If you’ve got to walk out of a ’60 Minutes’ interview, then you’re never going to stand up to a dictator.”
Referencing some of Trump’s recent comments that Obama, Hillary Clinton and members of the Biden family should all be thrown in jail, Obama also argued that America should not have a President “who threatens people with jail just for criticizing him.”
“That’s not normal behavior, Florida,” Obama said. “You wouldn’t tolerate it from a coworker. You wouldn’t tolerate it from a high school principal. You wouldn’t tolerate it from a coach. You wouldn’t tolerate it from a family member. ‘Florida Man’ wouldn’t even do this stuff,” he said to laughter and honking from the drive-in audience at the Miami event. “Why are we accepting it from the President of the United States?”
Hopes dim for a stimulus as Democrats pin blame on Trump
In their back-to-back events on Saturday, Obama in Florida and Biden in Pennsylvania both argued that Trump should be spending more of his time trying to work with Congress to channel more emergency aid to the American people in the midst of rising poverty levels and economic uncertainty due to the pandemic.
Biden touted his plans for halting the spread of the virus through testing, tracing, a more robust distribution of personal protective equipment and national standards for schools and businesses to open safely. And he said he would prioritize “bringing together Republicans and Democrats to deliver relief to working families and schools and businesses.”
“I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus and build the economy,” Biden said. “Folks, this is all within our power. We can build back better than before.”
During his Miami rally, Obama faulted Trump for failing to get a deal to “extend relief to the millions of families who can’t pay the rent or put food on the table.”
Trump, who did not speak at any length about the possibility of a Covid-19 relief package on Saturday, chose instead to emphasize positive news like the drop in the nation’s mortality rate, due to enhanced treatments and better management of cases. And he touted the nation’s fragile economic recovery — claiming it would be jeopardized by a Biden presidency.
As the President played clips of Biden talking about fracking at his own rallies this weekend, Biden responded on Saturday. “Let me get something straight here in coal country,” Biden said in Luzerne County. “I will not ban fracking, period. I will protect Pennsylvania jobs.”
But despite the back-and-forth on the campaign trail about the economy, Americans are still waiting for real economic relief.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin needed to strike a deal within 48 hours if they wanted to pass a coronavirus stimulus relief package before Election Day. But that self-imposed deadline passed and talks did not appear any closer to a conclusion at the end of the week.
Pelosi told Tapper Sunday on “State of the Union” that she never gives up hope, but said the two sides have not reached an agreement on central issues like coronavirus testing, jobless benefits and state and local funding.
Meadows told Tapper that the White House has continued to make “offer after offer” and “Nancy continues to move the goalposts,” while Pelosi accused the administration of doing the same.
If they are able to resolve differences on the remaining issues, “it could happen this week in the House,” Pelosi said. “But that’s up to (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch (McConnell), as to whether it would happen in the Senate and go to the President’s desk, which is our hope and prayer,” she added.
This story has been updated with additional reporting on Sunday.