How the GOP Turned Washington, DC, Into a COVID Hotspot

Ignore the science and flout the rules.

First Lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence sit among guests attending a ceremony celebrating the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in the White House Rose Garden on September 26, 2020.Shealah Craighead/White House via Zuma Wire

The coronavirus is a rapidly developing news story, so some of the content in this article might be out of date. Check out our most recent coverage of the coronavirus crisis, and subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

The White House ceremony to honor Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court on September 26 was supposed to be the kickoff for the capstone achievement of President Donald Trump’s first term. Trump’s bungled response to the pandemic had been looming over his reelection bid and threatened to take much of his party down with him. But the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg had reset the terms of the election to turf Republicans like best: Lifetime judicial appointments of conservative justices to the nation’s highest court.

But one week later, any lingering optimism from the ceremony vanished in a record-scratching halt. The Thursday announcement that former White House communications director Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19 was just the starting point for a series of coronavirus diagnoses among Trump’s inner circle and GOP allies including, of course, the president himself. Vice President Mike Pence has, so far, twice tested negative for the virus.

Many of them had been in close quarters at Barrett’s ceremony. While the public festivities were held outdoors in the Rose Garden, attendees mingled in close quarters at indoor receptions throughout the day. In the days since, those GOP insiders have gone about their business on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and on the campaign trail—nearly always maskless.

The spread of the virus now threatens to cripple both the president’s campaign in the final weeks of the race and Republican efforts to rush Barrett through the judicial nomination process. On Friday night, Senate Judiciary chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) insisted that confirmation hearings would commence as planned on October 12, even though two Republican members of the committee have tested positive for the disease. The precarious moment now facing the GOP has occurred only because they have followed Trump’s example throughout the course of the pandemic: Ignoring the science and flouting the rules. 

Here’s a list of all of the Republicans who have tested positive for coronavirus since last Saturday:

Hope Hicks: On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that former White House communications director and current senior aide was the first of Trump’s inner circle to receive a positive diagnosis. She had been in close proximity to the president and his campaign staff during prep sessions in advance of Trump’s debate against Joe Biden last Tuesday and traveled with the president to and from his campaign rally in Minnesota on Wednesday night.

President Donald Trump: President Trump announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the virus on Twitter early Friday morning. Reports suggested his condition had worsened throughout the day, and, on Friday night, he was flown by helicopter to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for treatment and monitoring. The president is being treated with an experimental Regeneron antibody cocktail and remdesivir, an anti-viral medication recently approved by the FDA to treat severe cases of COVID-19.

First Lady Melania Trump: The White House said in a statement that the first lady “remains well” with only a mild cough and a headache. No other member of the Trump family has tested positive thus far.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah): Lee is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the congressional body that oversees judicial nominations and confirmations. He announced that he tested positive on Thursday after experiencing “allergy-like” symptoms. He had attended the Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday, where he was seen hugging several guests. He has been in several meetings with fellow senators on Capitol Hill since.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.): Tillis, another member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had also been at the Rose Garden ceremony at the White House last weekend. He does not have any symptoms but will self-isolate for 10 days.

Kellyanne Conway: The daughter of the former White House adviser alerted the world to her mother’s diagnosis via TikTok on Friday night. Conway had been at both Barrett’s Rose Garden ceremony and in debate prep sessions with the president.

Bill Stepien: Politico reported that Trump’s campaign manager had tested positive for the virus on Friday after experiencing “flu-like” symptoms. Stepien announced that he will remain in quarantine until he recovers; deputy campaign manager Justin Clark will oversee Trump’s campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, though Stepien will remain at the helm remotely.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.): Johnson announced he had tested positive for the virus on Saturday morning. According to a spokesperson, he had been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus on September 29 in Washington. His exposure and diagnosis came at the end of a two-week quarantine Johnson had completed after being previously exposed to the virus on September 14.

Chris Christie: The former New Jersey governor and Trump adviser announced Saturday morning that he had tested positive. With Hope Hicks and campaign manager Bill Stepien, Christie was one of the inner circle who prepared the president for his debate against former Vice President Joe Biden.

We will be updating this story.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate