The White House’s Covid-19 dragnet, which has caught at least 14 White House staffers, top campaign and party officials, Trump advisers and Republican senators, has highlighted the extent to which Trump has put his orbit in harm’s way with his desire to project pre-pandemic normalcy with frequent traveling and events that eschew mask-wearing and crowd-size restrictions. The latest data point came Monday, when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced she had contracted the disease, along with two other press aides.
They’re far from the only ones to suffer negative consequences from their time in Trumpworld.
Trump has cycled through Cabinet secretaries and senior White House staffers at historic rates. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was once in the running for both vice president and attorney general and tasked with overseeing the 2016 presidential transition. Then he got pushed aside during the transition and passed over for the Cabinet position he most desired. Now he’s in the hospital with coronavirus after helping Trump prepare for his first presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Meanwhile, down in Florida, Trump’s most recent ex-campaign manager was recently taken into custody by police after threatening to harm himself weeks after Trump demoted him.
Trump could be placing a whole new set of White House staffers at risk by returning to the complex Monday night while still infected — even as he proclaimed, “Now I’m better.” In a briefing before Trump’s return, Sean Conley, the president’s physician, wouldn’t say whether Trump was still contagious but acknowledged he could be. And Conley would not go into details of whether Trump would remain confined to the residence or specific parts of the White House, meaning he could still visit the Oval Office as staff work out of the West Wing.
The decision fits into a pattern familiar to the Trump orbit: The president hires and discards aides once he tires of them or feels they no longer serve him as he would like. The ultimate test is always loyalty and a willingness to fulfill the president’s wishes at whatever cost.
“What we are seeing play out is this culture of a group of people who flat out, for one reason or another, felt invincible to the virus,” said Olivia Troye, the former White House coronavirus task force adviser to the vice president who now supports Joe Biden.
“Now, they are facing the reality of it because they have their own outbreak, and they are part of the cluster,” she added. “I’m glad I’m not there anymore.”
In a statement, White House spokesperson Judd Deere insisted the administration is “taking every precaution necessary to protect not only [the president] and the first family, but every staff member working in the complex,” saying the White House was following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Physical access to the president will be significantly limited and appropriate PPE will be worn when near him,” Deere added.
In his briefing before Trump was discharged, Conley echoed Deere: “We’re going to do whatever it takes for the president to do what he can from the White House.”
Trump projected only confidence after returning to the White House.
“Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it,” Trump said in taped remarks released on Twitter.
Yet aides are afraid.