The Virus vs. the GOP

I confess I spent way too much time this morning trying to find out if Mitch McConnell was present at the Amy Coney Barrett Nomination Announcement and Virus Spreader Event. Alas, I could not confirm that he was. But he might have been. (Please, oh please …)

I need a running list of the high-level Republicans who have tested positive since the Trump announcement. The most recent victim is Sen. Ron Johnson. Oh, no, wait .. now it’s Chris Christie. So hard to keep up. Before that, after Trump and Melania, it was senators Mike Lee and Thom Tillis, Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager Bill Stepien, Hope Hicks, and RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.  Am I leaving anyone out?

The only thing I’m hearing about McConnell is that he’s doubling down on getting Barrett confirmed ASAP, possibly before too many Republican senators become utterly incapacitated. Tillis and Lee are on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I believe most if not all of the Republicans on that Committee were at the Rose Garden nomination/spreader event.

Lee was in the White House Rose Garden, without a mask, on Saturday for Trump’s official announcement that Barrett would be the nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, and was seated near other Republican members of the Judiciary Committee: Mike Crapo of Idaho, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Note that it can take as many as fourteen days between exposure and a positive test result, according to a random medical page on the Web. This is why having had a recent negative test result is not an excuse for not wearing a mask. Someone might explain that to Mark Meadows.

See also Invincibility punctured by infection: How the coronavirus spread in Trump’s White House at WaPo:

The ceremony in the White House Rose Garden last Saturday was a triumphal flashback to the Before Times — before public health guidelines restricted mass gatherings, before people were urged to wear masks and socially distance….

… Spirits were high. Finally, Trump was steering the national discussion away from the coronavirus pandemic — which had already killed more than 200,000 people in the United States and was still raging — to more favorable terrain, a possible conservative realignment of the Supreme Court.

Attendees were so confident that the contagion would not invade their seemingly safe space at the White House that, according to Jenkins, after guests tested negative that day they were instructed they no longer needed to cover their faces. The no-mask mantra applied indoors as well. Cabinet members, senators, Barrett family members and others mixed unencumbered at tightly packed, indoor receptions in the White House’s Diplomatic Room and Cabinet Room.

You know, I honestly don’t believe all of these people are stupid. They are certainly capable of understanding the basics of how a virus spreads. Apparently they simply don’t want to understand the basics of how a virus spreads. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

Right now it’s looking like the people at most risk were on Trump’s debate prep team and/or at the Barrett nomination announcement. (Two members of the debate prep team who haven’t yet tested positive, as far as we know, are Jared Kushner and campaign adviser Jason Miller. Stay tuned.) And it’s possible some coronavirus got spread around at the debate, especially considering the Trump attendees refused to wear masks.

A little more than two days before she reported testing positive for the coronavirus, first lady Melania Trump — as well as the president’s sons, daughters and several guests — violated safety protocols at the first presidential debate by taking off their masks after being seated in a live studio audience in Cleveland.

Several in the president’s entourage continued without masks after an official from the Cleveland Clinic, which co-hosted the debate, offered them masks in case they didn’t have any, according to debate moderator Chris Wallace. “They waved them away,” Wallace said on Fox News on Friday morning.

It was a violation of rules that both campaigns agreed to, Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Several people have noted that the White House virus protocols have been sloppy for some time. Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic, yesterday:

On the White House grounds this morning, senior West Wing aides walked around without masks. They spoke with the press without masks. They huddled privately with one another and didn’t wear masks.

When I visited the White House in August, no one checked to see if I was running a fever or suppressing a hacking cough as I passed through the security booth. The ritual was the same today: I showed up hours after we’d learned that President Donald Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus, yet no one asked about my health. Instead, I was simply searched for weapons and allowed in.

I’ve written twice in recent months about the dangerous conditions around the president—about lax testing of journalists flying with him on Air Force One, about troubling working arrangements inside the executive mansion itself. Trump’s illness seems an outgrowth of the administration’s flagrant disregard for public-health precautions. And yet, there’s no sign of a real course correction: The practices today seemed every bit as lax.

CNN reports that back in February masks were delivered to the White House by the National Security Council, but word came out of the Oval Office that somebody didn’t want the White House staff wearings masks all the time because “it wasn’t a good look.”  So that was that.

This brings us back to the question of why did all these people refuse to face reality? A lot of it was that they were taking their cues from Trump, of course, and Trump is a walking assemblage of psychiatric malfunctions. But what about the rest of the White House staff and apparently the entire Washington Republican Party establishment? Was it peer pressure? Or did they genuinely believe they were charmed?

This is something the social psychologists need to look into. Amy Wilentz writes that they thought the rules applied to suckers. Maybe. They also seem to associate the foreign virus with foreign, or other, people. There’s a fascinating bit by the Associated Press that talks about how Mike Pence fought with the CDC last March over closing borders. Pence wanted the CDC to use its emergency powers to seal the borders to stop the virus, and the CDC kept explaining that sealing the borders wouldn’t stop the spread of the virus because it was already spreading here. But Pence got his way.

Yes, the virus was being used as an excuse for something they wanted to do anyway. But I wonder how much all these issues just run together in their heads. Xenophobia is about maintaining some idea of racial and national purity. Somewhere in the murky depths of consciousness these people must associate anything impure with those other people; people who are not white and Republican and just like them. Impure.

Note also the weird thing Trump said after he heard Hope Hicks was positive —

Just a few hours before he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19, President Donald Trump suggested that interactions with the military and police were to blame for a member of his staff falling ill.

After news broke Thursday evening that senior aide and presidential adviser Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling with the president, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that she might have caught the virus from a member of the military or someone from law enforcement.

“She wears masks a lot, but she tested positive,” Trump told Hannity before saying that he and the first lady had gotten tested because they spent a lot of time with Hicks.

“It’s very hard when you’re with soldiers, when you’re with airmen, when you’re with the Marines, and the police officers,” he added. “When they come over to you, it’s very hard to say, ‘Stay back, stay back.’ You know, it’s a tough kind of situation. It’s a terrible thing.”

“It is very, very hard when you are with people from the military or from law enforcement and they come over to you,” Trump said. “They want to hug you, and they want to kiss you because we really have done a good job for them.”

“You get close, and things happen. I was surprised to hear with Hope, but she’s a very warm person with them,” he said. “She knows there’s a risk, but she is young.”

Like I said, weird. It’s like he automatically assumed the virus reached his staff from the help.

And of course there are questions about whether Trump can function as POTUS now, but when did he ever function as POTUS? I don’t see what difference his being stuck at Walter Reed makes. If anything, the government may work a bit better if he’s out of commission.

Martin Rowson, The Guardian