WASHINGTON — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, a sign of the virus hitting the inner circle of the White House’s coronavirus task force with just 10 days left in the 2020 election.
Pence, who tested negative Saturday, will continue to headline campaign events in the coming days even though the vice president’s office acknowledged he “is considered a close contact” with Short.
Pence “will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel,” said Devin O’Malley, Pence’s press secretary. He said the decision was made in consultation with the White House Medical Unit. “Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence both tested negative for COVID-19 today, and remain in good health,” O’Malley said.
Pence is scheduled to travel to North Carolina on Sunday and Wisconsin on Monday, part of a frenzied pace of rallies and other events for the vice president and his boss as they try to make the case for another term amid a third surge in U.S. coronavirus cases on their watch.
The diagnosis, just weeks after numerous other top White House aides were infected by the virus and President Donald Trump was hospitalized for Covid-19 treatment, is sure to inject new focus in the waning days of the 2020 race on the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic. Pence has led the White House’s coronavirus task force since late February, and has regularly served as the administration’s point man to engage with state leaders, reassure the public and argue the virus was under control.
Pence’s decision not to isolate and to continue traveling to public events offers fresh ammunition to Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, who accuse Trump of failing to take the virus seriously enough. White House staffers, including Short, are often seen without masks and Trump continues to hold massive rallies that flout state guidelines.
At an event Saturday, Biden accused Trump of “doing nothing” even as more than 8.5 million people in the United States have been infected. About 225,000 people have died, and the tally of new daily cases is hitting fresh records.
Short, 50, is a longtime Republican operative who served as the White House’s director of legislative affairs in the first 18 months of the Trump administration. He then left the White House but returned in early 2019 to serve as Pence’s chief of staff. He has served as a key staffer involved in the administration’s Covid-19 response and has spoken out against many coronavirus restrictions, mirroring the views of his bosses.
Pence’s office said Short has begun quarantine and assisting in the contact tracing process. Short did not travel with Pence on Saturday. Several staffers deemed to be close contacts with him were pulled from the trip before departure as well, either leaving the plane or not arriving to travel.
Marty Obst, Pence’s top political aide, tested positive in recent days, according to a campaign aide. Katie Miller, Pence’s communications director and wife of Trump’s top adviser Stephen Miller, tested positive for Covid-19 in May. Short and Obst, who both travel regularly with Pence, did not respond to questions Saturday.
Pence appeared Saturday in Lakeland and Tallahassee, Fla. A day earlier he visited his home state of Indiana, where he voted in Indianapolis, along with Ohio and Pennsylvania.
After a daylong campaign swing, Trump indicated upon exiting Air Force One early Sunday morning that he had just learned of Short’s diagnosis.
“I did hear about it just now,” he told reporters. “I think he’s quarantining. I did hear about that. He’s going to be fine. But he’s quarantining.”
Trump announced on Oct. 2 that he tested positive and was taken to Walter Reed medical center for three days of treatment. He resumed his public schedule less than two weeks later and is now engaged in a frenetic campaign schedule, boasting at multiple rallies a day about how he beat the virus. On Saturday, he was in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.
More than two dozen people with ties to the White House have tested positive, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an outside adviser and debate coach to Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel. First Lady Melania Trump and teenage son Barron also tested positive.
Trump continues to downplay the coronavirus pandemic even as infections are again surging and a dozen states set new records in their case counts.
“We’re rounding the turn,” Trump said in North Carolina “We’re doing great. Our numbers are incredible.”
In mid-June, Pence himself downplayed the threat just as a second spike in coronavirus cases began.
“The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “The truth is, whatever the media says, our whole-of-America approach has been a success. We’ve slowed the spread, we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, we’ve saved lives, and we’ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future. That’s a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.”
Gabby Orr and Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.