A Monday report from Politico provided a snapshot of the current conflict within the White House over the coronavirus and the Trump administration’s response to it. According to the report, some White House aides are placing the blame on the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who is spearheading the coronavirus task force.
“The Office of the Vice President seems way in over their heads,” one White House official allegedly said, pointing in particular to the team’s coordination and messaging. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”
Writing for TIME, Brian Bennett called Pence’s response to the coronavirus “high-risk” and suggested it could impact both his political future and the lives of Americans. One White House official quoted in the article said “everything” goes to Pence on the coronavirus response and that he was brought up to speed “from zero.”
“Even if Pence can resist the pressure to play politics with COVID-19, administration critics say, it’s not clear the Vice President has what it takes to lead the fight against a fast-moving epidemic that potentially threatens thousands of lives,” Bennett wrote.
According to Bennett, Pence’s COVID-19 strategy has thus far been a mix of personnel moves, inter-agency meetings, and public relations. His response has received some positive feedback, including from Democratic Washington State governor Jay Inselee and Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Pence's big announcement that coronavirus testing is free was a lie. The testing already was free under Obamacare, which Trump and Pence didn't mention. pic.twitter.com/UiOV3UOv9h— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) March 10, 2020
Bennett claimed that one of the biggest struggles for Pence’s team is “messaging problems.” In one case, Pence told reporters that any American could be tested and there would be “no restrictions.” Two days later, the vice president told reporters that the lack of test kits means that only a small number of patients should be referred for testing.
“We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward,” he said.
Pence has been the focus of intense criticism since Trump appointed him to head the coronavirus response. Theory of Change podcast host Matthew Sheffield noted that Pence has previously claimed he doesn’t believe in evolutionary theory, which is a crucial part of developing vaccines for viruses like COVID-19.
Outside of Pence, some White House aides are reportedly taking aim at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield. Still others blame Trump for his denigration of the media and Democrats, who he continues to try and blame for allegedly overhyping the danger of coronavirus.
“This is his leadership moment and he has been ill-prepared for it,” Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and professor of history at Rice University, said of the president’s response to the crisis.