'Essential Worker' Mike Pence Maybe Giving Everybody Coronavirus, So That's Happening
Vice President Mike Pence is head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He's done such a bang-up job that the virus is spreading unchecked throughout the nation, and the administration's official response is a shrug emoji. The president and first lady contracted COVID-19 a few weeks ago, along with seemingly everyone they met in passing. Now, Pence's own inner circle is falling ill.
The New York Times reports that at least five people close to Pence have recently tested positive for the coronavirus. This includes Chief of Staff Marc Short, close aide Zach Bauer and outside adviser Marty Obst. Bauer is Pence's “body man," a civilian personal assistant who accompanies the vice president pretty much everywhere and helps him with a wide range of duties. Last we checked, the coronavirus is highly contagious so it seems odd that Bauer could have it without passing it on to the vice president. However, the vice president's office confirms that Pence and his wife, Mother, both tested negative Sunday and you can take that to the bank.
Pence should quarantine himself after exposure to multiple people with COVID-19. That would seem a responsible action from the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, but he's not gonna. The vice president's spokesman, Devin O'Malley, provided a laughable explanation on Saturday.
"While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the vice president will maintain his schedule in accordance with the C.D.C. guidelines for essential personnel."
That's right! Mike Pence is essential. We're not sure even Karen Pence would make such a bold claim. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, when she had the 'rona, tried the pull the “I'm an essential worker" line, but she at least kept her ass at home until she'd recovered enough to dump heavy books in Lesley Stahl's lap.
Pence's sole constitutional duties are staying alive and casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate. Mitch McConnell doesn't even need him to ram through his shiny new Supreme Court justice. (Pence does plan to preside over the Senate for tonight's vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett, though, which led Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to pen a "Dear Colleague" letter condemning Pence and telling people to steer the fuck clear.) Pence is campaigning for Donald Trump's reelection, which is both nonessential and an active threat to the nation.
The vice president probably isn't what the Centers for Disease Control considers a critical infrastructure worker, but if Pence wants to flatter himself he should at least wear a mask at all times and social distance for the next two weeks. Instead, he's going to campaign rallies in Minnesota today and North Carolina on Tuesday. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, told Time magazine she considers Pence's travel plans “grossly negligent."
"It's just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response," she said. "I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally" and the people on Pence's own staff who will accompany him.
Pence campaigned in Tallahassee and Lakewood, Florida, on Saturday, when he knew that his body man, Bauer, had tested positive. The rallies were crowded and few in attendance wore masks. Pence projected god knows what at them through a microphone. People who worked in theatre and other live events are more essential than the vice president, but they aren't endangering lives just so they can keep their jobs.
Former Pence staffer Olivia Troye, who has endorsed Joe Biden, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that she worked closely with Marc Short and “he was the number one person to act like COVID wasn't real."
.@OliviaTroye reacts to the outbreak among Pence's advisors. "I worked closely with Marc Short, he was the number… https://t.co/YrNOFrjoU1— The Republican Accountability Project (@The Republican Accountability Project)1603671749.0
TROYE: [W]hen you set the tone for the vice president's team in that manner as a chief of staff, you're going to put everyone around you at risk, including the vice president, who I'm not convinced is completely out of the woods right now.
What's scary is that Short and others in the White House weren't just talking smack publicly for the MAGA suckers. They really believed the coronavirus was no big deal and treated it as such. Now, more than 220,000 Americans are dead.
Pence has failed the nation as coronavirus task force leader, and he'll fail to win another term for Trump and himself. At least that last failure will save lives.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."