President Trump may well have hosted the most dangerous garden party in White House history. But Vice President Mike Pence would rather not talk about that.
Certainly not in the midst of the vice presidential debate on Wednesday night, which drilled down on Pence’s job overseeing the U.S. response to a pandemic that’s left over 200,000 Americans dead and landed Pence’s boss, President Trump, in the hospital.
Moderator Susan Page asked Pence point-blank about the now-infamous Rose Garden celebration the White House held in late September to introduce Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. She wanted to know how Pence, as the head of the White House task force, could have possibly wandered in, cheerful and maskless. The event has been connected to some 34 COVID cases since then, and counting.
The phrasing of the question alone was devastating.
“Vice President Pence, you were in the front row in a Rose Garden event 11 days ago at what seems to have been a super-spreader event,” Page asked. “No social distancing. Few masks. And now, a cluster of coronavirus cases among those who were there.”
She continued: “How can you expect Americans to follow the administration’s safety guidelines to protect themselves from COVID, when you at the White House have not been doing so?”
Pence looked uncomfortable and then began talking about his great confidence in the American people protecting themselves from the deadly pandemic once they have all the facts about how to do so. The answer was rich with irony, given that Trump was found, in one study, to be the single biggest spreader of misinformation about the coronavirus.
Pence pointed out that many at the Rose Garden event were tested for COVID, even though outside experts have been warning they’re not foolproof, given the propensity for false negatives. Pence also described the party as an “outdoor event,” which was at best an incomplete answer, because the event also included an indoor reception that many health experts say was probably the real problem.
Pence closed by saying the Trump team wants to let people make up their own minds about public safety.
“We’re about freedom and respecting the American people,” Pence said.
“You respect the American people when you tell them the truth,” Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, Pence’s opponent, shot back.
“Which we’ve always done,” Pence falsely said.
Trump’s White House has refused to share even basic facts about Trump’s health since he caught the coronavirus, including the date of Trump’s last negative test, the state of his lungs, or whether he’s had to receive supplemental oxygen. (He has.)
Harris launched a two-fisted assault at Wednesday’s debate on Pence’s record as head of the coronavirus task force, slamming him for overseeing one of “the greatest failures of any administration in the history of our country.”