Second White House aide tests positive for coronavirus
Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary tested positive for the coronavirus Friday, becoming the second confirmed infection this week in a White House where top officials, from President Trump on down, have been reluctant to follow their own public health guidelines.
Trump identified Katie Miller as the staffer who had tested positive, although he continued to downplay the risk to himself or others at the White House. She is married to Trump’s senior aide for immigration, Stephen Miller.
One of Trump’s personal valets, a member of the military, had tested positive on Wednesday. The president normally has two office valets and three in the residence to act as personal assistants, doing everything from serving meals to ironing his clothes.
The White House said both Pence and Trump are tested daily, and that tests are given to anyone they meet at the White House. Both have come under fire for not wearing masks at public events, flouting public health advice.
Although Miller said she showed no signs of illness, her positive test early Friday delayed the vice president’s flight to Iowa after officials determined she had recent contact with six other staffers planning to fly to Des Moines with Pence.
All six deplaned before Pence took off from Joint Base Andrews, and they later tested negative for the coronavirus, according to a senior administration official. Miller was not scheduled to be aboard the flight.
Trump called Miller “a wonderful young woman” and said he’s had little recent contact with her.
“This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily great,” he said. “The tests are perfect but something can happen.... She was tested very recently and then tested negative and then today I guess for some reason she tested positive.”
Trump’s comments were striking given the challenge many Americans, even some showing symptoms, still face in getting coronavirus tests three months into a disease outbreak that already has taken about 77,000 U.S. lives.
Staffers in the West Wing are tested regularly. Those next door in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building are tested less frequently although their work often brings them into the White House and in contact with aides who work closely with the president.
Roughly 10 members of Pence’s staff are tested daily, the senior administration official said.
Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, said extra precautions were added this week but declined to say what is being done beyond testing and social distancing. More than a dozen Republican House members met with Trump Friday at the White House, and all were tested first.
“It’s probably the safest place you can come to,” Meadows said.
He said people who come in contact with Trump and Pence have tested negative and that interactions are “done in a way that makes sure that we keep the president safe.”
The two positive tests in the West Wing have intensified the scrutiny on Trump’s refusal to heed many of the social distancing measures that members of the White House coronavirus task force recommend.
For weeks at nightly news briefings, Trump stood close to Pence and others around the lectern. He has refused to wear a face mask, saying last month,"I don’t see it for myself.” He wore goggles but no mask Tuesday when he toured a mask factory in Phoenix.
Pence also has resisted wearing a mask in public, although he expressed regret for not wearing one last week when he visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he interacted with patients at risk for serious complications from coronavirus.
Photos showed him as the only person not wearing a mask at the medical center, which has a policy requiring visitors to wear masks. He wore one two days later while touring a General Motors plant in Indiana, his home state.
On Friday, Trump went to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the allied victory in Europe. He addressed a group of veterans well into the 90s at a wreath-laying ceremony.
When reporters later asked Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany why Trump didn’t wear a mask at the event, she said the veterans “made the choice to come here because they’ve chosen to put their nation first.”
She also said that Trump is confident he is negative for coronavirus because he is tested so regularly.
“This president will make the decision as to whether to wear a mask or not,” she said.
The 14 reporters in the White House briefing room all wore masks, as did the photographers and the White House stenographer. The press secretary and three press aides in the room did not.
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