Why the coronavirus outbreak in Pence's office is so striking

Aside from the obvious fact that the vice president's infected aides deserve sympathy and care, the broader significance extends beyond five positive tests
Image: Vice President Mike Pence and his chief of staff Marc Short, right, arrive for a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol Visitor Center.
Vice President Mike Pence and his chief of staff Marc Short, right, arrive for a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol Visitor Center.Tom Williams / AP

Like so much of the country, the White House has struggled with coronavirus infections, up to and including the president and members of his immediate family. But the problem persists in ways that are both politically and substantively significant.

Five of Vice President Mike Pence's aides, including his chief of staff and his senior political adviser, have tested positive for Covid-19. Pence's office said in a statement Saturday night that chief of staff Marc Short "began quarantine" and that he was cooperating with a contact-tracing effort.

Aside from the obvious fact that the vice president's infected aides deserve sympathy and care, the broader significance extends beyond five positive tests.

It was striking to learn over the weekend, for example, that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tried to keep this news hidden from the public -- suppression the North Carolina Republican acknowledged yesterday.

To be sure, it's an embarrassment when the head of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce has so many members of his own team contract the coronavirus, but the fact that the West Wing wanted to cover this up says a great deal about Team Trump's current state.

But just as notable is the fact that Pence is continuing to make public appearances, even after members of his own inner circle tested positive. From the NBC News report:

"While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel," [vice presidential spokesman Devin O'Malley said in the statement.]

A Washington Post report added, "Some aides said they preferred tele-rallies because if Pence is infected while on the road, it is likely to become a major news story for several days."

Well, yes, actually it would be a major news story for several days if the head of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce contracted the coronavirus after several members of his team were infected.

But it's also worth dwelling on the specific wording of the weekend statement from the vice president's office: Pence will maintain his schedule because he's "essential personnel."

The reality of the circumstances need not be controversial: Mike Pence is not an ICU nurse. Given his possible exposure, the vice president could go into quarantine immediately, maintain his official duties from the Naval Observatory, and conduct necessary meetings virtually. But he doesn't want to -- apparently because he's eager to make campaign appearances.

And while that may seem understandable given the latest polling, there's nothing "essential" about campaigning.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a close White House ally, conceded yesterday that he's "a little bit surprised" to learn Pence will keep campaigning in light of the new cases among members of his own team.