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Trump And Pence 'Maintaining Their Distance' For Now

President Trump takes questions during a news conference on the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday afternoon.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump takes questions during a news conference on the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday afternoon.

Updated at 7:44 p.m. ET

President Trump and Vice President Pence will be "maintaining their distance in the immediate future" on the advice of the White House Medical Unit, a senior administration official told NPR. They were last seen together at the White House on Thursday.

At a Monday White House briefing, which the president attended but the vice president did not, Trump suggested that he might be keeping his distance from Pence for the time being.

"We can talk on the phone," Trump said.

Last week, the press secretary for Pence and a military valet for the president tested positive for the coronavirus.

Pence and others who were in contact with the coronavirus patients have since tested negative, but the virus can take days to incubate. The cases have heightened concerns about the nation's ability to safely reopen.

Still, despite the close proximity of the White House cases, Trump said on Monday that he felt "no vulnerability whatsoever" and still expected the U.S. to move swiftly toward reopening.

"I want our country open. I want it open safely, but I want it open. Don't forget, people are dying the other route. You can go with the enclosed route — everything's closed up. You're in your house; you're not allowed to move. People are dying with that too," Trump said.

Health experts have pointed to social distancing as one of the most key measures, alongside robust testing, to containing the virus and preventing new outbreaks.

The White House convened the briefing to talk about the nation's coronavirus testing capabilities. Trump said the country was well prepared to test people as needed.

Brad Smith, the deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said that the federal government has worked with each state to establish a testing goal for May of at least 2% of the population in each state, for a total of 12.9 million tests over the month.

The briefing was cut short during reporters' questions after Trump told CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, who is Chinese American, that she "should ask China" why it was right for Trump to boast of the United States' testing capabilities.

The exchange came after he berated a different newswoman for questioning why testing for White House employees was so abundant when ordinary Americans still struggled to easily find coronavirus testing.

"If we did no tests in the White House, you'd be up complaining: 'Why aren't you getting tests for the White House?' See, we can't win," Trump said. "I understand you very well, better than you understand yourself," he told the reporter.

Trump has at several times during his presidency faced criticisms for aggressive confrontations with women and racial minorities. He has repeatedly referred to women with whom he disagrees in terms to disparage their physical appearance and mental capacity, including calling them "dogs," "horseface," "crazy," and even suggested that a woman's period was to blame for a disagreement.

After last week's infections, the White House has now directed staff in the West Wing to wear masks while they are in the building, except when they are at their own desks, a senior administration official said.

The most recent confirmed cases led to three members of the White House's coronavirus task force — National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield — moving to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Trump's return to the podium came after he had previously signaled that he had soured on the once-daily briefings.

However, as the nation moves to relax coronavirus restrictions and social distancing rules, the White House's COVID-19 cases have highlighted experts' concerns about possible new case spikes during the country's return to normal.

Trump during Monday's briefing sought to assuage those concerns, push his desire to relieve the battered national economy and promote an image of personal health.

"In the fourth quarter, we're going to do very good. And next year I think we're going to have one of the best years we've ever had because there is a tremendous pent-up demand," Trump said.

Following the new coronavirus diagnoses last week, Trump announced that coronavirus testing at the White House would now be a daily undertaking for him and those closest to him, rather than weekly.

Franco Ordoñez contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.