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Trump's White House waves white flag for 'control' of pandemic

Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff, outside

Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff, outside the White House on Sunday. Credit: Bloomberg / Yuri Gripas

Tired of not winning

President Donald Trump, who six months ago reveled in TV ratings for his coronavirus briefings, is making it explicitly clear he doesn't want to talk about the virus any more. As for getting it under control, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that that's not happening.

"We are not going to control the pandemic," Meadows said on CNN's "State of the Union." Why not? "Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu," he said. "What we need to do is make sure that we have … vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don’t die."

More than 225,000 have died, including 871 whose deaths were recorded Saturday, according to a New York Times tally. There were 83,718 new daily cases Saturday, when news broke about a new outbreak among Vice President Mike Pence's staff. (That's just shy of the new daily record, which was reported Friday.)

But Meadows defended the White House's ever-ambiguous stance toward protective measures like mask-wearing, which he mocked Democrat Joe Biden for unreservedly embracing. "We live in a free society," said Meadows. Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation say much higher compliance with mask-wearing guidelines could save 70,000 lives between now and December and nearly 130,000 through next spring.

"We’re rounding the turn. Our numbers are incredible," Trump claimed at a North Carolina rally on Saturday, and he went on to blame an unspecified "they" who had "prolonged the pandemic" to damage him politically. "That’s all I hear about now. Turn on the television. 'Covid, Covid, Covid Covid Covid.' A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don’t talk about it. 'Covid Covid Covid Covid.' By the way, on November 4, you won’t hear about it anymore," Trump said. (The plane crash he referred to didn't happen.)

Lack of trust from voters in Trump's handling of the pandemic has become one of his top obstacles to his reelection bid, and Biden is making the failures a defining issue. In a statement Sunday, Biden said Meadows "stunningly admitted this morning that the administration has given up on even trying to control this pandemic, that they’ve given up on their basic duty to protect the American people."

"This wasn’t a slip by Meadows. It was a candid acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away," Biden continued. "It hasn’t, and it won’t." For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Rachelle Blidner.

COVID circle around Pence

At least five people in Pence's orbit tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days, including chief of staff Marc Short, personal aide Zach Bauer — the vice president's "body man" — and outside adviser Marty Obst, according to ABC News and CNN.

The vice president, who along with his wife, Karen, tested negative on Sunday, is considered a "close contact" of the aides under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines but will not quarantine, his spokesman said. He is sticking to his campaign travel schedule.

After a day of campaigning in Florida on Saturday, Pence was seen wearing a mask as he returned to Washington aboard Air Force Two shortly after the news of Short’s diagnosis was made public.

Meadows tried unsuccessfully to hide news of the new cases around Pence, The New York Times reported. He said on CNN it was a matter of medical privacy.

Janison: Not much more to see here

These are their stories, and the candidates are sticking to them, right down to the end of the campaign next week, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Biden is working to come off as credibly populist. Trump, as always, is making grandiose claims of success.

Biden will keep hammering at Trump's passive response to the coronavirus pandemic that's killed over 225,000 Americans. Trump will keep painting Biden's seniority in public life as a minus and will continue to try to create a stink from a still-supposed scandal.

Ordinarily the challenger attacks the incumbent’s record while the incumbent, in response, calls the opponent’s proposed solutions extreme or impractical. But Trump’s defense, as seen in last Thursday's final debate, has been mostly attempted offense — much of it based on inaccuracies — such as that climate activists want to limiting the size of windows in buildings, wind farms are unreliable and bird killers and that Biden, who comes from Scranton, Pennsylvania, doesn’t really come from Scranton.

Biden fended off Trump's allegations of radicalism by pointing out that he won the Democratic primaries after disagreeing with leftier candidates.

This day in polls

A new batch of swing-state polls shows Biden with small advantages.

In Texas, the Democrat is ahead by 3 points, according to a survey by the Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler. "Texas remains a toss-up because of the public’s attitudes toward President Trump," said political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the poll. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the Lone Star State was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

New CBS News/YouGov polling found Biden up by 4 points in North Carolina and 2 points in Florida. Georgia was a Trump-Biden tie.

Black voters supported Biden over Trump, by 90% to 8%, in a nationwide CBS News/BET poll.

Wait your turn, Santa

The Department of Health and Human Services halted a public-service coronavirus advertising campaign funded by $250 million in taxpayer money, The Wall Street Journal reported, after it offered a special vaccine deal to an unusual set of essential workers: Santa Claus performers.

The plan was the brainchild of Michael Caputo, who has since gone on medical leave from his post as HHS assistant secretary following bizarre behavior on social media.

As part of the plan, Caputo wanted the Santa performers to promote the benefits of an eventual COVID-19 vaccination and, in exchange, offered them vaccine access ahead of the general public, according to audio recordings. Those who perform as Mrs. Claus and elves also would have been included.

Now, the Santa "collaboration will not be happening," an HHS spokesman said, though the overall ad campaign remains under review. Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, called the news "extremely disappointing."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, by Newsday's Blidner. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The NYPD suspended a cop after bystanders' viral videos showed him taunting residents of a Brooklyn neighborhood by saying "Trump 2020" over the loudspeaker of his squad vehicle, reports Newsday's Matthew Chayes. Commissioner Dermot Shea tweeted: "Law enforcement MUST remain apolitical."
  • Long Island Trump supporters gathered in parks and parking lots Sunday to pledge their continued allegiance, reports Newsday's Daysi Calavia-Robertson with Figueroa Hernandez.
  • Senate Republicans overwhelmingly approved a procedural vote Sunday to advance Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett toward final confirmation despite Democratic objections, just over a week before Election Day. The conclusive full-Senate vote is expected on Monday.
  • The New Hampshire Union Leader, a conservative editorial voice for generations, endorsed Biden on Sunday. In supporting a Democrat for the first time in more than 100 years, the newspaper said, "President Trump is not always 100 percent wrong, but he is 100 percent wrong for America."
  • Trump’s top advisers have plunged into a bitter round of finger-pointing and blame-shifting ahead of a feared defeat, Politico reports.
  • A 1600 newsletter item last week about Rudy Giuliani's embarrassing scene in the new "Borat 2" movie incorrectly described the title character's role in setting up a prank interview by a young woman. Click here for the corrected version.

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