A top White House official has been ridiculed for a Freudian slip during a live TV interview as the Trump campaign comes under increased pressure for its lack of coronavirus response.
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley was grilled by CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota about why the Trump campaign was holding packed rallies in states where the coronavirus was surging and hospitals were already nearing capacity.
For many, the response was telling.
“Hospitals in Wisconsin are near capacity. Does that give you any pause, or the vice president any pause, about going there and holding a big rally?” she asked.
“No, it doesn’t. The vice president has the best doctors in the world around him,” Mr Gidley replied.
While Ms Camerota was suggesting such an event could lead to more community transmission, Mr Gidley took it as concern over the health of vice president Mike Pence.
Mr Pence, whose aides and staff tested positive for Covid-19 last week, held a rally in Wisconsin Wednesday (local time), the day after Mr Trump held his own rally in the state.
It comes as a university Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, has been rushing to convert available space into units for Covid-19 patients, as the state’s medical facilities struggle to keep pace with a surge in new infections.
“Today we have more patients than we’ve had ever before,” Dr Jeff Pothof, an emergency medicine physician at UW Health, told Reuters on Tuesday.
“It’s putting a strain on our capacity. Our biggest concern is ICU staffing.”
‘Utterly tone deaf’: Furious response to interview
Democrat Pete Buttigieg, who dropped out of the presidential race to endorse Joe Biden, was among the chorus of criticism on social media over Mr Gidley’s response.
“These people, the ones in charge of keeping you and your loved ones physically safe, have no concept of their own responsibility,” he wrote on Twitter, sharing the clip.
“At this point, all we can hope for is that this administration not making matters worse, but they can’t even do that,” lamented Californian congressman Adam Schiff.
“The question wasn’t about the Vice President’s health. They’re not even pretending to try to care about the health of others,” said UCLA political scientist Miranda Yaver.
Few at Trump rally in AZ wearing masks. None observing social distancing. Trump told them they’ll soon have a “safe vaccine that eradicates the virus” and “ends the pandemic.” That’s not what public health experts say. pic.twitter.com/ZVcORNDtHo
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) October 28, 2020
Hundreds on social media argued the response to the question served to highlight the Trump administration’s lack of care about the climbing Covid death toll in the country as cases and hospitalisations trend upwards.
Public health scientist and former Harvard Medical School doctor, Eric Feigl-Ding, labelled the response “jaw dropping” while others described it as “toxic narcissism” and “utterly tone deaf”.
The CNN anchor also questioned Mr Gidley over a memo put out by the Trump administration this week which cited “ending the Covid-19 pandemic” as one of the Trump administration’s first-term accomplishments.
In reply, an evasive Mr Gidley claimed he didn’t “write the document” and didn’t want to “quibble over semantics.”
Virus surging ‘in most states across the country’
Wisconsin, a hotly contested battleground in next week’s presidential election, is one of 36 states where coronavirus hospitalisations are rising by at least 10 per cent compared to the previous week, according to a Reuters analysis.
“We are at another critical point in the pandemic response,” Admiral Brett Giroir, an assistant US health secretary, told NBC’s Today show.
“Cases are going up in most states across the country.”
The largest increase in US hospitalisations was in Texas – a state which has become an unusually close contest this election as coronavirus remains a dominant issue for voters.
More than 45,000 US coronavirus patients were in hospitals on Wednesday, the highest number since August 15 and up 40 per cent in October. The same day, the US reported nearly 79,000 new cases and more than 1000 Covid deaths, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
The Trump administration sees the large rallies as vital in providing free coverage as the Biden campaign is able to far outspend it on advertising. However Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said the Trump rallies could backfire.
“More exposure doesn't necessarily lead to more votes, and I wonder if some on the fence might be turned off by the total disregard for Covid protocols,” he said.
Our daily update is published. States reported 1 million tests, 79k cases, 45k currently hospitalized. The COVID-19 death toll was 1,025 today. pic.twitter.com/uhQYQrcWH7
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) October 28, 2020
A pro-Biden group, Priorities USA Action, said its recent polling in six battleground states found that when people were told the president was holding large rallies without mask-wearing requirements, most disapproved.
After a briefing from public health officials on Wednesday, Biden slammed what he called the Trump administration's disregard for safety and failure to develop a plan to contain Covid-19. “The longer he's in charge the more reckless he gets,” he told reporters.
Polls show Americans trust Mr Biden more than Mr Trump to contain the virus.
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