As coronavirus cases spike across the country, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in a heated interview Sunday that the administration won’t be able to “control the pandemic.”
Speaking with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Meadows was pressed on the administration’s attitude toward Covid-19 as cases reached a record high this weekend, hospitalizations climb, and more than 225,000 people have died. He was also pushed about Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to continue campaigning even after four of his aides tested positive for the virus.
“We’re not going to control the pandemic, we are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations,” Meadows said, adding “it is a contagious virus just like the flu.”
Trump has long compared Covid-19 to the flu, which experts have resoundingly rejected as both inaccurate and “morally reprehensible.”
Meadows later told CNN that the administration is “making efforts to contain” coronavirus but that what is important is “to make sure people don’t die from this.”
“When we look at the number of cases increasing what we have to do is make sure we fight it with therapeutics and vaccines, take proper mitigation factors in terms of social distancing and masks when we can,” Meadows said. “And when we look at this, we’re going to defeat it because we’re Americans.”
He defended Pence’s decision to stay on the trail, saying the vice president is “essential personnel” so he doesn’t need to quarantine.
The president, who also contracted the virus earlier this month along with first lady Melania Trump and more than 20 others close to him, has continued to say the U.S. is “rounding the corner” in the pandemic, even though key statistics are on the rise.
Meadows was also pressed on the lack of mask-wearing at the president’s rallies, where attendees are frequently seen tightly packed together without face coverings.
“We don’t mandate masks because we offer them out,” Meadows said. “We live in a free society.”
After host Jake Tapper pushed back, Meadows responded, “You’re not wearing one right now, Jake.”
“There’s literally nobody in this room,” Tapper responded. “There is literally not one person in this studio.”
The exchange was emblematic of the contentious nature of the interview, where both men shouted over each other at different points.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., criticized Meadows later on Sunday.
“They are admitting defeat,” the Democratic vice presidential nominee told reporters in Detroit. “This is the greatest failure of any Presidential administration in the history of America … again they’re suggesting to the American people that this is like the flu when we have known from the beginning and they have known since January, that it’s five times more deadly than the flu.”