'We’re not going to control the pandemic,' Meadows says; Senate blocks Dems' Barrett filibuster: 2020 election updates

David Jackson, Matthew Brown and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY
·13 min read

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's chief of staff acknowledged Sunday that the Trump administration won't be able to do much about the spread of COVID-19, and is focusing on cures instead.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic," White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN's "State of the Union."

Meadows added, "we are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations."

When CNN host Jake Tapper asked, "why aren’t we going to get control of the pandemic?” Meadows responded: “Because it is a contagious virus."

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and others say Trump has never tried to control the spread of the virus, citing actions ranging from his mocking of mask wearing to his insistence on holding campaign rallies with maskless people packed close together.

Biden said Sunday in a statement that Meadows had "stunningly admitted" that "the administration has given up on even trying to control this pandemic.

"They've given up on their basic duty to protect the American people," Biden said. "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. It hasn't, and it won't.

"It's sadly no surprise then that this virus continues to rage unchecked across the country and even in the White House itself."

☕ The latest:

  • The GOP-controlled Senate voted to break a Democratic filibuster on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, which tees up a vote on her confirmation Monday

  • Marc Short, chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, has tested positive for COVID-19. At least three staffers have now tested positive, according to CNN and The New York Times. The Times says the total number is as high as five.

  • A lawyer for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner sent a letter to the Lincoln Project on Friday threatening to sue if two billboards in Times Square were not removed.

📊 What the polls are saying: Fifty-four percent of registered voters said Biden performed better than Trump during the second presidential debate, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Friday. Thirty-nine percent thought Trump came out ahead.

📆 Nine days until Election Day, 87 days until Inauguration Day, 68 days left in 2020.

🗳️ Voting: See USA TODAY's Voter Guide for information on registering to vote, when your state begins voting and what the candidates think about the issues.

We will update this article throughout the day. You can follow all of USA TODAY's politics reporters on Twitter or subscribe to our daily On Politics newsletter.

Pence praises administration's handling of COVID as aides test positive

Delivering his usual praise of the administration’s handling of the pandemic Sunday night, Vice President Mike Pence made no mention at a campaign rally that members of his inner circle have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

"We're going to keep protecting the vulnerable," Pence said at a rain-soaked rally in Kinston, North Carolina. "And under President Donald Trump, we’re going to keep opening up America again."

At least five aides to Pence have tested positive, according to reports.

His office has only identified one: chief of staff Marc Short, who tested positive Saturday.

Despite Pence’s close interaction with Short and other aides, his office said the vice president is not curtailing his schedule because he’s an "essential worker."

"Campaigning and voting are about as essential things as we can do as Americans," national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters Sunday.

Pence is scheduled to campaign in Minnesota Monday and may also preside over the Senate’s final vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

However, when praising Barrett’s nomination Sunday, Pence did not repeat a comment he made in Florida Saturday that he "wouldn’t miss that vote for the world."

– Maureen Groppe

'Totally irresponsible': Dems criticize Pence presiding over Amy Coney Barrett vote after aides contract COVID-19

Collins to vote against Barrett confirmation

Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday that she would vote against Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court making the Maine Republican the only member of the GOP expected to oppose the federal appeals judge’s appointment to the high court.

Collins, who is facing a tough reelection battle, had said for weeks that she opposed the Senate taking up Barrett’s nomination before voters have their say on Election Day, just nine days from Sunday. She reiterated her stance on Sunday and made her position official, saying she would vote against Barrett when the Senate takes up her confirmation Monday evening.

"Because this vote is occurring prior to the election, I will vote against the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett," Collins said in a statement.

She added that her "vote does not reflect any conclusion that I have reached about Judge Barrett’s qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court" but rather, was about fairness after the Republican majority refused to take up Merrick Garland’s nomination by President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court months ahead of the 2016 election.

Republicans at the time argued voters should have their say in the election before filling the lifetime vacancy. Barrett’s expected confirmation on Monday would happen eight days before Election Day.

"What I have concentrated on is being fair and consistent, and I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election," Collins said.

Collins, who was a deciding vote in the controversial confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 to the high court after sexual assault allegations, is facing the toughest re-election battle of her more than two decades in Congress. She has been consistently behind in polls against Democratic challenger Sara Gideon.

– Christal Hayes

National security adviser assures election security: 'They can't change votes'

National security adviser Robert O'Brien offered assurances to Americans concerned about election interference during a Sunday interview on CBS News' "Face the Nation."

O’Brien’s comments come after reports of election interference by Iran and Russia in the 2020 election, including targeting voting systems and spreading disinformation in the United States.

"I want to make a distinction between election interference on Election Day and trying to influence people," O’Brien said, highlighting the difference between sowing misinformation and division and actually altering the vote count.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said that Russian hackers have been able to access state and local voting systems during this election cycle, raising the possibility that adept hackers could change vote tallies or otherwise disenfranchise Americans.

O’Brien said that the administration had taken "a very strong stance" on foreign election tampering with voter counts and promised "severe consequences" for any countries that might attempt to do so. He also said it’s difficult for foreign actors to interfere because "we have paper ballot auditing trails for ninety-five percent of the votes that are cast."

"There's nothing they can do to change your vote or to stop you from voting," O'Brien said.

The White House adviser emphasized that "your vote is secret. Every American should understand that their vote is secret."

And he argued arguing that the best way to defeat foreign interference in the election is to vote.

"Get out and vote. That's how we defeat our foreign adversaries that are seeking to sow discord among Americans," O’Brien stressed.

– Matthew Brown

McConnell: Dems won’t be able to undo Barrett confirmation

The top leaders in the Senate gave dueling speeches Sunday debating the merits and controversy surrounding Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., highlighted Barrett’s career in the courts. He looked back at his conference and told Republicans "the Senate is doing the right thing. We're moving this nomination forward and colleagues, by tomorrow night we'll have a new member of the United States Supreme Court."

McConnell noted that while Democrats might be able to roll back Republican policy achievements, Barrett’s expected confirmation to the high court could not be undone.

“We've made an important contribution to the future of this country. A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election,” he said. “They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized Republicans for the rush to confirm Barrett only days before the election. He chronicled years of Republicans blocking judicial appointees and said McConnell’s explanation for pushing Barrett through just days before the election after halting Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama about 8 months before the 2016 election was “schoolyard stuff” to justify a "power grab.”

“In order to justify an outrageous power grab that even some members of his party don't agree with, the leader’s argument boils down to ‘but you started it!’” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Any parent with young children would recognize that argument. It's when you know you've done something wrong, but you don't want the blame.”

– Christal Hayes

Pelosi: I will run for another term as speaker if Dems keep House

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that she will run for another term as speaker should Democrats keep control of the lower chamber.

When asked whether she would seek reelection in 2021, Pelosi told CNN "State of the Union" host Jake Tapper, "Yes, I am. But let me also say, we have to win the Senate."

The statement is in line with an agreement Pelosi made when she was elected to the office, which limits her speakership to four years.

The agreement came after the speaker was challenged by several members of the Democratic caucus from more conservative districts who saw Pelosi's position as an impediment to the party's electoral chances.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., a first-term progressive who has been one of the most vocal Democratic critics of House leadership, told CNN's Tapper she would support Pelosi for another term, provided no progressive challenger surfaced.

– Matthew Brown

Senate votes to break Democratic filibuster on Barrett’s nomination

The Republican-controlled Senate voted to break a Democratic filibuster on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, a vote that will allow the chamber to take up her confirmation Monday – eight days before the election.

The procedural vote, which passed 51 – 48, tees up a vote to be held after 30 hours of debate, which would set it for Monday evening at the earliest.

Since Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September, both sides have fought over how to go about replacing her on the court. Republicans have sought to confirm a new justice by Election Day in an effort to add one more conservative to the court before a contentious election where polls indicate the GOP could lose control of the chamber.

Democrats, hoping Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump and they regain control of the Senate, have said the outcome of the election should determine who gets to choose the new Supreme Court justice.

While Democrats have roundly rejected Barrett’s nomination, they have acknowledged they cannot block it from moving forward because Republicans, who control the chamber, have more than the 51 votes needed to confirm her. Despite this, Senate Democrats for days have used procedural maneuvers to force votes on contentious issues, and attempted to adjourn the chamber until after the election to halt her appointment.

– Christal Hayes

AOC: 'It will be a privilege' to lobby Biden on fracking

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that former Vice President Joe Biden’s stance on fracking does not bother her, despite the two having contrasting views on the practice.

"I have a very strong position on fracking, the science is very clear," said Ocasio-Cortez. "However, that is my view. Vice President Biden has made very clear he does not agree with a fracking ban."

Ocasio-Cortez said, "It will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House but we need to focus on winning the White House first."

"I’m happy to make my case but I understand that he is in disagreement on that issue," she said.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is an extraction method that uses a mix of water and pressurized chemicals to break up bedrock and draw out natural gas and petroleum.

The practice has become a campaign issue as rising opposition to it collides with communities in swing states who are dependent on the fossil fuel industry.

In February, Ocasio-Cortez co-sponsored a bill to ban fracking nationwide.

– Matthew Brown

Chris Christie 'surprised' Pence campaigning after aide tests positive

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expressed surprise at Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to continue campaigning after several senior aides tested positive for the coronavirus.

"I think everybody’s gotta put the health of the people they’re going to be in touch with first," Christie told ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz on "This Week."

"You gotta keep yourself away from everybody, and I’m a little bit surprised," Christie said of the behavior of Pence and his aides.

Christie, who has worked with the Trump campaign and attended an outdoor White House gathering widely believed to be a "superspreader" event, was hospitalized for COVID-19 in early October.

On Wednesday, Christie published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal urging Americans to wear masks and social distance, saying it was a "serious failure" for him to have been maskless at the White House, when he assisted with preparation ahead of the first debate, and that he was "lucky to be alive."

"These minor inconveniences can save your life, your neighbors and the economy. Seldom has so little been asked for so much benefit," Christie wrote.

– Matthew Brown

Pence will still campaign, despite aide's COVID-19 case

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence will continue to campaign and work at the White House despite his close contact with an aide who has tested positive for COVID-19, said President Donald Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for people to quarantine for 14 days after exposure to someone with the virus, but Meadows told CNN's "State of the Union" there are exceptions for "essential personnel" like the vice president.

"He's not just campaigning, he's working" in the vice president's office, Meadows said, adding that Pence will wear a mask and practice social distancing while carrying out those duties.

Pence has a campaign event scheduled for early Sunday in Kinston, North Carolina.

This comes a day after Pence's office announced that Marc Short, the vice president's chief of staff, tested positive for COVID-19.

Pence himself had a negative test this weekend, the office said.

Meadows acknowledged that several Pence aides had tested positive, but he declined to discuss the cases because "sharing personal information is not something we should do unless it’s the President or the Vice President."

Meadows also provided few details about Pence and Donald Trump; he said they are tested regularly, but declined to say whether it's daily.

"We don't get into safety protocols," Meadows told CNN.

– David Jackson

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meadows: US 'not going to control the pandemic' – election updates