WASHINGTON - The presidential campaign was roiled this weekend by a fresh outbreak of the novel coronavirus at the White House that infected at least five aides or advisers to Vice President Mike Pence that President Donald Trump's top staffer acknowledged Sunday he had sought to avoid disclosing to the public.
With the election just over a week away, the new White House outbreak highlighted the administration's failure to contain the pandemic, as hospitalizations surge across much of the United States and daily new cases hit all-time highs.
The outbreak around Pence, who chairs the White House's coronavirus task force, undermines the argument Trump has been making to voters that the country is "rounding the turn," as the president put it at a rally Sunday in New Hampshire.
Further complicating Trump's campaign-trail pitch was an extraordinary admission Sunday from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that the administration had effectively given up on trying to slow the virus's spread.
"We're not going to control the pandemic," Meadows said on CNN's "State of the Union." "We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations."
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who regularly wears a mask on the campaign trail and strictly adheres to social distancing guidelines, sought to capitalize on the remark.
"This wasn't a slip by Meadows; it was a candid acknowledgment 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," Biden said in a statement. "It hasn't, and it won't."
The outbreak in Pence's orbit comes roughly three weeks after Trump was hospitalized with the virus and a number of his advisers tested positive. Officials said the new list of those infected includes the vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short; his top outside political adviser, Marty Obst; his personal aide Zach Bauer, known as a "body man," who accompanies him throughout his day; and two other staff members.
Pence has been in close contact with a number of those infected in recent days, but spokesman Devin O'Malley said the vice president and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for the virus Saturday and Sunday, and have been "in good health."
The vice president continued Sunday with his heavy travel schedule, flying to North Carolina for an evening rally in Kinston. He told aides that he was determined to keep up his appearances through the week despite his potential exposure, irrespective of guidelines, officials said.
On Monday, Pence is expected to visit the Capitol to preside over the Senate vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., decried Pence's plans to continue with his scheduled events. "God help us," Schumer said in a speech Sunday on the Senate floor.
O'Malley said Pence was cleared to travel in consultation with White House doctors. "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," O'Malley said in a statement Saturday night.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people stay home for 14 days after possible exposure and to maintain social distance at all times. The CDC allows an exemption for "critical infrastructure workers" who are not experiencing symptoms so long as they socially distance and cover their faces at all times.
Meadows defended the characterization of Pence's campaign activity as "essential" work, and said the vice president had assured him late Saturday night that he would socially distance and wear a mask except for when he is delivering remarks.
National security adviser Robert O'Brien similarly defended Pence's travel decision, claiming that the vice president was "following all the rules from the CDC."
"Essential workers going out and campaigning and voting are about as essential as things we can do as Americans," O'Brien told reporters Sunday.
This is a marked contrast to how the Biden campaign dealt with recent infections among the traveling entourage of vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris. On Oct. 15, the morning after two people in Harris's orbit tested positive, the Biden campaign issued a lengthy statement identifying the individuals and detailing their contact with Sen. Harris, D-Calif., and other staffers, their activities in the days leading to their positive tests and the dates of Harris's most recent negative tests.
Although Harris had not been in close contact with either person - as defined by the CDC at that time - she suspended her travel through that weekend.
When asked Sunday about Pence's decision to continue campaigning in person despite the fresh outbreak among his team, Harris told reporters, "He should be following the guidelines. We're doing it. I think we have modeled the right and good behavior, and they should take our lead."
The latest outbreak underscored the absence of some basic health safety protocols at the White House and at Trump and Pence's campaign events, where the two and their aides routinely flout CDC recommendations and state or local health guidelines. They do not wear masks with any regularity, nor do they practice social distancing. Aboard Air Force Two, where Pence and his team have spent considerable time in recent weeks jetting among campaign stops, officials often do not wear masks.
Meadows and Short have been among the more strident skeptics of coronavirus restrictions inside the administration, aides said, and have played down the threat of the virus and the push for health safety precautions in the White House.
The first member of Pence's circle to be diagnosed with the virus was Obst, a longtime adviser who helps manage the vice president's political affairs from outside the government. Obst tested positive Tuesday, after flying aboard Air Force Two with Pence, according to two administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss internal deliberations.
Short, who tested positive for the virus on Saturday afternoon, has told other people that he believes he contracted it from Obst.
Bauer tested positive while in isolation, which the aide began on Tuesday after having close contact with Obst, one of the officials said. Two other people in Pence's office also have tested positive.
Meadows tried to keep details about the infections within Pence's orbit under wraps and opposed the vice president's office releasing such information, according to two officials. It was not until Saturday evening that Short and Obst's infections were reported by the media.
Meadows acknowledged in his CNN interview that he had sought to suppress information about the outbreak.
"Sharing personal information is not something that we should do, not something that we do actually do - unless it's the vice president or the president or someone that's very close to them where there's people in harm's way," Meadows told anchor Jake Tapper.
New coronavirus cases in the United States reached an all-time high Friday, and hospitalizations have soared, surpassing the mark set during the summer as cases spiked across the Sun Belt in particular.
Cases this fall have been rising rapidly in a number of Republican-leaning states and counties, according a recent analysis of health data by Harvard University scientists.
Campaigning over the weekend, Trump tried to present an alternate reality. At a rally Sunday in Londonderry, N.H., Trump said the pandemic would soon end thanks to a potential vaccine, which he said was "going to be delivered fast."
"That will quickly end the pandemic - it's ending anyway," Trump said. "We're rounding the turn, but the vaccine will get it down fast, because we want normal life to resume. Normal life. We just want normal, normal life."
Trump also had hoped to divert attention from the pandemic in his final stretch of campaigning, though the new outbreak at the White House could upend that strategy.
At a rally Saturday in North Carolina - where scores of maskless attendees stood shoulder-to-shoulder - Trump played down the dangers of the virus and predicted that the media would stop covering the pandemic after Election Day.
"Turn on television: 'covid, covid, covid, covid, covid.' A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don't talk about it - 'covid, covid, covid, covid,' " Trump said. "By the way, on November 4th, you won't hear about it anymore."
The president was referring to a hypothetical plane crash. Far more than 500 people have been dying each day in the United States of the coronavirus.
In Arkansas, where the coronavirus infection rate and hospitalizations are on the rise, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said Trump's message about the country rounding the turn conflicts with the reality on the ground in Arkansas, which he described as "very concerning."
"Everyone knows that we are going through a very difficult crisis and it's going to likely get worse as we go into the winter," Hutchinson said Sunday on CBS News's "Face the Nation."
Hutchinson also took issue with Trump's reluctance to wear a mask or strongly endorse that others do so, despite saying he is OK with mask usage.
"It makes it confusing," he told anchor Margaret Brennan. "I mean, he's made it very clear that wearing a mask is important. I saw him wear a mask going into the polls yesterday, but obviously with the rallies, there is confusing messages there."
Biden has made the pandemic the centerpiece of his campaign pitch and has tried to hammer Trump for mishandling the crisis.
"I told him at the debate, we're not learning how to live with it. We're learning how to die with it! And it's wrong," Biden said Saturday at a drive-in rally in Bristol, Pa., an outer-ring suburb of Philadelphia.
The event had all the markings of a Biden campaign event in this era, and was a visual contrast to Trump's rallies. He spoke to rows of cars in the parking lot of Bucks County Community College, which allowed attendees to remain socially distanced. Biden and his wife, Jill, took the stage wearing masks but removed them at the lectern.
"I don't like the idea of all this distance, but it's necessary," Biden said, as drivers honked in response. "What we don't want to do is become superspreaders."
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The Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.
ROME - Pope Francis will elevate Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington to cardinal next month, making him the first African American to hold the title.
Gregory is one of 13 cardinals in the new class Francis announced Sunday, a promotion that comes as he is trying to rebuild trust in an archdiocese rocked by sexual abuse cases.
The move was widely anticipated; Washington archbishops are typically elevated to cardinal after their appointments. But it is nonetheless symbolically significant in the U.S. Catholic Church, where Blacks have been underrepresented among the leadership.
The new cardinal is a "caring pastor, a quiet leader and a courageous voice when Washington and the country need all three," said John Carr, who worked with Gregory for 20 years through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"At a time when racism is tearing our country apart, he has been a consistent, persistent voice for the dignity of all - for Black lives and for racial justice and reconciliation," said Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. "We need healing, and for Pope Francis to recognize his leadership is a hopeful sign."
Gregory, 72, was appointed archbishop of Washington last year to take over for Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who had been accused of mishandling clerical abuse cases. He will be eligible to vote in any papal election until he reaches the cutoff age of 80.
Francis announced the names of his new cardinals from a window overlooking St. Peter's Square, where he delivers his Sunday Angelus. The Vatican said the ceremony to elevate the new cardinals, called a consistory, would take place Nov. 28, but it was unclear whether tightening coronavirus restrictions in Italy might interfere.
Among the other new cardinals, four already are over 80, according to the Vatican. The new cardinals include Marcello Semeraro, an Italian who was recently appointed head of the church's saint-making body, and the archbishop of Kigali, Rwanda, Antoine Kambanda.
Gregory has long been among the most prominent Catholic leaders in the United States, having lead the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the early 2000s, when it was making its first attempt to draw up anti-abuse guidelines. Gregory was archbishop of Atlanta before coming to Washington.
"With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ's Church," Gregory said in a statement, according to the Catholic Standard, the Washington archdiocese's newspaper.
The Catholic Church has a strong presence in Washington's Black community, including its sizable middle class. Black Catholics make up about 13 percent of the Washington Archdiocese, compared to about 3 percent for the nation as a whole. Many Black city leaders are Catholic or went to Catholic schools, including Mayor Muriel Bowser and her predecessors Adrian Fenty and Anthony Williams, D.C. Council members Vincent Gray and Robert White Jr., and Attorney General Karl Racine.
From his purview in the nation's capital, Gregory has faced challenges beyond the church in a year of rising racial tensions nationwide - including some that have played out in his new city.
One of the most visible was this summer, when President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited a Washington shrine to Pope John Paul II. The visit came days after law enforcement used rubber bullets and tear gas to clear peaceful protesters outside the White House so Trump could have a controversial photo op in front of St. John's Church while holding a Bible.
Gregory said of the shrine and its leadership that it was "baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree."
In a statement then, Gregory noted that Pope John Paul II would not have condoned Trump's actions at St. John's.
"Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth," Gregory said. "He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace."
Gregory also was among Catholic leaders in Maryland this summer who signed a "letter on racial justice" that highlighted Black Catholics who have over the centuries led efforts for justice - even when the institutional Church was lagging and resistant.
"With regret and humility, we must recognize that as Catholic leaders and as an institution we have, at times, not followed the Gospel to which we profess and have been too slow in correcting our shortcomings. For this reason, it is incumbent upon us to place ourselves at the forefront of efforts to remove the inequalities and discrimination that are still present in Maryland and our nation today," the letter read. "Prayer and dialogue, alone, are not enough. We must act to bring about true change" on issues including health care, housing and criminal justice reform.
The question for Gregory is how - or if - he steps out more in D.C., and now nationally as cardinal, at a time of intense division. The divisions among Catholics in the United States mirror the population as a whole. Whether on issues of race, abortion, Trump or a border wall, Catholics are divided based on partisanship - not on the teachings of their Church.
Gregory's critique of Trump's actions this summer, for instance, drew criticism from a conservative Catholic publication.
Anthea Butler, a religious history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, pushed back against such criticism and described Gregory as consistently moderate and mainstream. His higher profile, she said, will allow him to speak out strongly and command the respect of the title.
"This gives him a lot more power to say certain things, especially with regards to race," said Butler, who writes about race and the Catholic Church. "He will be a voice for social justice and a voice in the middle of the pandemic, talking about poverty."
Gregory's historic promotion was widely celebrated Sunday at church services in the Washington region. When the Rev. Everett Pearson shared the news at Mass, his predominantly Black congregation in Maryland stood to applaud and shouted with joy, before pausing to say a prayer for Gregory.
Pearson called the elevation long overdue and said that Black Catholics have for too long been "placed in the back of the church, their culture drowned out by a Euro-Catholic standard."
"We finally have someone who looks like me, who grew up like me and can embrace his African American heritage," said Pearson, who leads Mount Calvary Catholic Church in Forestville. "We've now got an opportunity to at least come to the table."
Gregory happened to lead a mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Largo, Md., on Saturday. Bishop Roy Campbell, who leads the church, said Gregory is accessible and open, and Campbell hopes he "continues to speak the truth."
Before coming to Washington, Gregory was known for being diplomatic and mild-mannered. He has since become a bit more outspoken in moments that bring together religion, politics and race. After the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Gregory mentioned similar moments, and said incidents of police brutality were "tragically" repeating.
The killing of Floyd and others, Gregory said, "clearly" confirms "that racism still endures in our country."
Gregory, whose parents were Baptist and who converted as a child to Catholicism, has been a pioneer. He was one of the youngest-ever bishops when he was named as one at age 36, and is still the country's only Black archbishop. He's been known as a moderate on political issues, including race.
However, experts on the history of Black Catholicism say he embraced the spiritual revolution taking off after the 1960s. In the 1980s Gregory helped create a hymnal that would become the standard for Black parishes. But he did not side with the aims of a more radical group of Black priests who declared the church "a white racist institution," said Matthew Cressler, a religious studies professor at the College of Charleston, who wrote a book about Black Catholicism in the United States.
"It's a given he lives with contentment and doesn't draw attention" to race, Monsignor Kevin Irwin, a professor and former theology school dean at Catholic University, who became close friends with Gregory in 1975 while they were doctoral students in Rome, told The Washington Post for a profile last year.
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Boorstein and Marimow reported from Washington.