White House: 'We're not going to get control of the pandemic'

On Feb. 25, the White House's message was, "We have contained this." On Oct. 25, the message was, "We're not going to get control of the pandemic."
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\White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows hands President Donald Trump a note during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Aug. 3, 2020.Doug Mills / Pool via Getty Images file

The day after the final presidential debate, Joe Biden delivered a straightforward condemnation of Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The president, the Delaware Democrat said, "quit on you, quit on your family" and "quit on America."

It was tempting to assume the White House would push back aggressively against such an argument. Instead, as NBC News reported yesterday, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows effectively conceded that Biden was right.

As coronavirus case numbers spike across the country, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in a heated interview Sunday that the Trump administration won't be able to "control the pandemic." In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," Meadows was pressed about the administration's attitude toward Covid-19 as case numbers reached a record high this weekend, hospitalizations climb and more than 225,000 people have died in the United States. He was also pushed about Vice President Mike Pence's decision to continue campaigning after four of his aides tested positive for the virus.

"We're not going to control the pandemic," the North Carolina Republican conceded. Pressed for an explanation why not, Meadows added, "Because it is a contagious virus."

In fairness, he went on to argue that the administration is "making efforts to contain" the crisis, but those comments followed Meadows' concession that, as far as he's concerned, officials are "not going to control the pandemic."

It was the clearest concession to date that the Trump administration is accepting failure.

We've come a long way from late February and early March, when White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow told Americans, "We have contained this," and, "I will still argue to you that this is contained."

Biden responded in a statement yesterday, "This wasn't a slip by Meadows. It was a candid acknowledgement of what President Trump's strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn't, and it won't."

As a political matter, the comments from the White House chief of staff were deeply problematic, given that the official Republican line points in the opposite direction.

But as a policy matter, his willingness to signal defeat to a national broadcast audience was much worse. To hear Meadows tell it, the crisis is a fait accompli. COVID-19 is "a contagious virus," which in his mind apparently means it cannot and will not be contained.

The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. There are other countries that have largely begun returning to normal because of their successful mitigation efforts -- measures Trump and his team have resisted and ridiculed for months.

As millions of voters cast ballots, and with Election Day next week, "We're not going to control the pandemic" is quite a closing message, isn't it?

Update: By way of an attempted clarification, Meadows told reporters this morning, "[W]hen we look at this, we’re going to defeat the virus. We’re not going to control it. We will try to contain it as best we can."