White House Silence on Trump’s Health Fuels Wild Rumors and Worry Among DC Diplomats

Foreign diplomats are scrambling to figure out how the iconoclastic American President will cope with his COVID-19 diagnosis and hospitalization, chasing rumors from the ridiculous — that he might somehow put his daughter in charge — to darker fears that U.S. adversaries like Iran or China might take advantage of this turbulent moment.

a man standing on top of a grass covered field: Members of the U.S. Secret Service wear protective masks as Marine One, with U.S. President Donald Trump on board, departs the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2, 2020.

© Sarah Silbiger—Bloomberg/Getty Images
Members of the U.S. Secret Service wear protective masks as Marine One, with U.S. President Donald Trump on board, departs the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2, 2020.

Trump’s hours-long silence after tweeting his positive diagnosis early Friday morning fed rumor and disinformation, foreign officials and Republican advisors both say. For several hours on Friday, a White House defined by Trump as its master, if not sole communicator, seemed frozen and slow to respond to queries even from Trump’s inner circle, the two GOP advisors say.

Video of Trump walking to Marine One to fly to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and his tweeted video message to well-wishers may reassure some, but his pale demeanor and infamously rocky relationship with the truth has laid the groundwork for skepticism toward the White House claims late Friday that the President was “fatigued” and only being moved to the hospital for “tests.” That language mirrors official statements from the British government when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the hospital for “routine tests” as a “precautionary measure” before later admitting to the British public that he nearly died.

The President’s “loose association with the truth isn’t just a domestic problem, clearly it’s a huge foreign national security problem,” one of the GOP advisors says. “People just don’t trust this Administration.” The advisor said she was met with ominous silence when asking for talking points, when someone like Vice President Mike Pence should have been “giving full-throated updates” throughout the day.

The second advisor, who was waiting for his own test results and quarantining because he recently met with the President, was also frustrated that the Administration went so quiet. While he says it was helpful that Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released statements that they are both healthy, signaling continuity of government, for several hours on Friday morning, the White House was not providing Trump’s campaign surrogates with talking points to help reassure Americans or foreign allies. In the information void, he says the rumors and disinformation were running rampant: One ambassador from a very sophisticated country actually said, ‘Is there any way Trump could finagle his daughter to be President?’”

As world leaders like Jordan’s King Abdullah tweeted their good wishes for the President and First Lady Melania’s recovery, their representatives in Washington spent Friday glued to news coverage to glean the most up-to-date information. Some resourceful nations sent direct missives to the West Wing, as a roundabout way to make polite contact with a White House gone mostly mum.

Three current diplomats in Washington downplayed the lack of communication, saying they hadn’t

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Power Up: Former Trump advisers worry about the waning influence of scientists inside White House

  • “In preparing Homeland Security officials for questions about Rittenhouse from the media, the document suggests that they note that he ‘took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners.’”

At the White House

IT”S NOT JUST THE SCIENTISTS in the Trump administration who are alarmed by the expanding role of Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who joined the White House as a pandemic adviser in August.

Joe Grogan, the former Domestic Policy Council chief and member of the coronavirus task force who left the White House in May, told Power Up he is “troubled” by the recent spate of attacks “from within senior leadership ranks” on Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield, top infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci, and Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. 

  • “Exposing the president to iconoclastic or dissenting views isn’t a mistake especially with Trump, Grogan told Power Up. “He benefits from having a multitude of views and allowing him to participate in back and forth … But I am troubled by some of the attacks that have come from within senior leadership ranks on [Birx], Redfield and Fauci. A number of those attacks are unfounded.”
  • “Who they want to get up there and speak is one thing, Grogan said, referring to briefings for the public. “But who is in the Oval Office debating issues? Is Atlas in there alone? Or in there with Birx, Redfield and other scientists who have spent their lives devoted to fighting infectious diseases?” 

Atlas, who does not have a background in infectious diseases or epidemiology, has said that fears about the novel coronavirus are overblown and introduced controversial ideas and measures to the president in response to the pandemic that has killed 206,000 Americans. NBC’s Monica Alba overheard Redfield last week in a conversation with a colleague on a commercial airline say Atlas was providing the president with incorrect information. 

  • Everything he says is false,” Redfield said during a phone call, Alba reported.
  • In a statement provided to NBC News, Atlas defended himself: “Everything I have said is directly from the data and the science. It echoes what is said by many of the top medical scientists in the world, including those at Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford.”
  • Of the backbiting against the administration’s top doctors, Grogan, who served as a senior policy adviser at the Food and Drug Administration for President George W. Bush and remains a Trump ally, explained: “There are ankle biters who are trying to jockey for position and out for themselves. But it’s damaging to have people going out anonymously to attack the country’s best experts.”

The White House disputed the idea that its top doctors have seen their roles diminished: “All of the medical experts in the Administration are working together around the clock to carry out the President’s number one priority: protecting the health and safety of the American people and defeating this virus from China,” White

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House Democrats worry pre-election schedule lacks coronavirus relief

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far resisted calls for another House vote, arguing that Democrats shouldn’t do anything to undermine the priorities they passed in the $3.4 trillion package. The California Democrat has said Democrats are willing to comprise by moving up expiration dates to cut the cost to $2.2 trillion, but they’re not willing to budge on the scope of relief.

“We all know that we need to come to agreement,” Pelosi said Monday on MSNBC. “Coming to agreement is not, though, to say, ‘What’s the least we can do?  Let’s ignore the states. Let’s ignore the need for the testing. Let’s ignore the hunger. Let’s ignore the evictions.’”

As some Democrats pushed for additional House action during a biweekly caucus call last Thursday, Pelosi warned her members against falling for Republicans’ calls for a narrower package and told them not to be a “cheap date,” according to a source on the call who requested anonymity to describe the private discussion.

The 50-member bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, comprised of centrists in both parties, on Tuesday is releasing a $1.5 trillion bipartisan relief proposal the group has endorsed, which requires support from 75 percent of its members. The proposal stakes out compromise positions on two key sticking points, with $500 billion for state and local governments and an initial extension of federal enhanced unemployment benefits at $450 per week, but does not meet the bar Pelosi has set for a deal.

‘Some form of action’

Rank-and-file members have been careful not to question Pelosi’s negotiating strategy as they’ve started to go public with their calls for another coronavirus relief vote.

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62% of Americans Worry Trump is Rushing a COVID-19 Vaccine

For weeks now, U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly made predictions, sometimes verging on promises, that a COVID-19 vaccine is imminent. “We remain on track to deliver a vaccine before the end of the year and maybe even before November 1st,” he said at a Sept. 4 news conference. “We think we can probably have it some time during the month of October.” As the Washington Post reported last week, administration officials say the President has become “fixated” on speeding up a vaccine development process that is already underway at an unprecedented rate and scope, to the point where nothing else captures his attention.

This single-mindedness is driving up skepticism among Americans about the viability of a coronavirus vaccine that comes through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation published Sept. 10, a majority of U.S. adults, 62%, said they’re worried that that pressure from the White House could lead the FDA to approve a vaccine before it’s determined to be safe and effective.

Despite Trump’s promises, it will likely be months before a coronavirus vaccine is available to the public, but these polling data may not bode well for American’s willingness to get vaccinated even then. A third of Americans have already said that they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Gallup poll released in August.

This is especially concerning because vaccine uptake may be a deciding factor as to whether the country will be able to put an end to the pandemic. More people getting vaccinated would be especially necessary if the approved vaccination can only provide only limited immunity, and the FDA has signaled that it would approve a vaccine if it prevents disease or makes the illness less severe in as few as 50% of people.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the Trump administration has faced criticism for repeatedly refuting scientific evidence about the coronavirus outbreak, including about the effectiveness of face masks and the importance of COVID-19 tests, and for what detractors see as undermining the FDA’s credibility.

This seems to have tainted the public’s perception of the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While 67% of Americans said they trust the CDC for reliable coronavirus information, that’s a decline of 16 percentage points from April, when that number was 83% Meanwhile, about half of U.S. adults polled by Kaiser said the FDA and CDC are not paying enough attention to science when considering coronavirus treatments and recommendations, while 39% and 42% said the FDA and CDC, respectively, are paying too much attention to politics. Again, there’s a significant gap between Democrats and Republicans, with the former much more worried about the politicization of the federal health agencies.

Critics say that Trump has politicized many of the efforts to contain the virus—and now, the vaccine development process. Experts on vaccine hesitancy have criticized the Trump administration for emphasizing how quickly vaccines are being developed,

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