Where You Been? Pence Tries To Spin Good News On COVID After Task Force Silence

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the daily briefing on COVID-19 in the White House briefing room on March 31, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
June 26, 2020 3:19 p.m.

Long time no see!

At the first briefing in nearly two months from the White House Coronavirus Task Force Friday, Vice President Mike Pence rushed to assure that the coronavirus pandemic — which has surged anew in several states across the country — will not stop states from reopening safely.

Without addressing the group’s longterm absence, Pence insisted that even as the United States has set a new daily record for new COVID-19 cases “this moment is different.”

“While you see in the news over the past week or so we have rising cases and outbreaks in several Southern states, I want to assure you that our task force and our entire administration is working continuously with leaders in those states to respond,” Pence said.

His many words of assurance — insisting that we’ve “reduced” the number of lives lost and “we are in a much better place” — also came with some calls for vigilance, as several states close in on daily records that exceed those first set in states like New York when the virus first made landfall in March and began its surge in early April. 

As state and local officials struggle to identify plans of action, masks have emerged as one scientifically backed method for slowing the spread of the virus. Yet as one reporter at the briefing pointed out, the Trump administration has not made its position clear on whether or not face coverings should be worn to reduce its spread. When asked if he thought masks should be worn, the vice president predictably dodged the question, deferring to state officials to make those calls.

“The first principle is that people ought to listen to their state and local authorities,” Pence said, standing at the podium as he so often does without any kind of face covering. 

Another reporter grilled Pence again on the question of masks, asking the vice president to offer a more clear directive on the administration’s stance on the matter.

Pence again avoided answering, suggesting instead that Americans heed the guidance of local and state officials. While in one breath Pence acknowledged that some states have offered provisions on “facial coverings,” in another he declined to comment directly that face masks should be worn even in states where a mandate has not been put in place.

While Pence tiptoed the topic of masks, he praised the Trump administration for the progress that was made at the local level in New York, crediting the president for New York’s apparent emergence from a staggering outbreak of the virus earlier this spring that is now at least temporarily under control as businesses continue to reopen.

The vice president also defended the Trump campaign’s insistence on holding reelection rallies — often indoors — to crowds of largely unmasked supporters, pointing to the right to assembly enshrined in the Constitution.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, drew on data during the briefing that shows young people increasingly becoming infected. Despite that, Trump pushed forward with a “Students for Trump” event at the Dream City Church in Phoenix on Tuesday night as he delivered a speech to cheering crowds of thousands of largely unmasked young students.

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