White House seeks to change subject from 200K COVID-19 deaths

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 200,000 on Tuesday, but the grim milestone passed without too much of a comment from a White House more focused on the battle over the Supreme Court.

Trump used a recorded speech to the annual United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to condemn China for unleashing “the plague onto the world” but did not mention the fact that the U.S. was nearing 200,000 deaths.

The U.S. passed that marker a couple hours later, according to John Hopkins University.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany opened her briefing about 90 minutes later with an attack on Democrats about the battle to nominate a successor to liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She did not mention the 200,000 death toll until she was pressed about it by reporters.

“We grieve when one life is lost,” McEnany said, while citing models early in the pandemic that showed the death toll could have been in the millions without any intervention.

Asked if Trump planned to acknowledge the 200,000 milestone either on Twitter or at his Tuesday night rally, McEnany did not answer but argued the president had expressed his condolences “throughout this pandemic.”

“He has said before that it keeps him up at night thinking of even one life lost,” she said. “This president has taken this incredibly seriously. And what he’s done is he’s worked harder. Each and every day he works hard, puts his head down, and I think that’s very evident in the administration’s historic response.”

Trump later told reporters that the death toll was “a shame,” but quickly argued it would have been much worse had the country not imposed restrictions and faulted China for the lives lost.

Vice President Pence was the rare White House official to acknowledge without being prompted that 200,000 people in the U.S. had died from the disease. He told the crowd at a New Hampshire campaign rally that the country had reached a “heartbreaking milestone” and extended his thoughts and prayers to those who have lost loved ones to the virus.

Trump did not mention the death toll from the coronavirus at his Monday evening rally in Swanton, Ohio, where many in the crowd were not wearing masks. Members of the crowd earlier in the night booed Lt. Gov. Jon Husted after the Republican urged people to put on their masks, which were branded with Trump campaign messages. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who earlier this year locked down much of the state to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, also received a mix of cheers and boos at the rally.

Trump acknowledged the 100,000 death mark in May by tweeting it was a “very sad milestone” and ordering flags outside the White House be lowered to half-staff. Flags at the White House are already lowered to half-staff in honor of Ginsburg.

Polls show a majority disapproves of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, and the White House and Trump’s campaign prefer for the topic to be on other subjects — including a heated Supreme Court battle they believe will energize the right.

The president has remained dismissive of the threat of COVID-19 and was criticized for comments at the rally that seemed to minimize the lives lost.

Trump at one point in Swanton said the coronavirus “affects virtually nobody,” saying it was “elderly people, elderly people with heart problems, and other problems. If they have other problems, that’s what it really affects. That’s it.”

Government public health experts have reported thousands of deaths from COVID-19 for people under the age of 40.

Trump predicted the U.S. was “rounding the turn” of the pandemic, even as multiple states see positivity rates rise.

He also again blamed China for the spread of the disease while touting his decision to close off travel as having “saved millions of lives.”

“It would have been terrible, it would have been just it’s terrible anyway. They shouldn’t have allowed it to happen, China,” Trump said.

Democratic leaders seeking to make the election about the coronavirus have made a point this week to highlight that the country had passed 200,000 deaths, with many explicitly blaming Trump.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attended a service on the National Mall on Tuesday morning for COVID-19 victims where volunteers planted thousands of small flags in the ground to memorialize the dead.

“Every American’s heart breaks for the more than 200,000 men, women and children who have lost their lives to the coronavirus in our country,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The horrific human toll of this deadly virus is all the more wrenching for its senselessness; it did not have to be this way.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted multiple times Tuesday about the U.S. hitting the 200,000 death mark. He devoted the first half of a speech on Monday in Wisconsin to the figure.

“What worries me now is we’ve been living with this pandemic for so long, we’re at risk of becoming numb to the toll it’s taken on us and our country. We cannot let that happen,” Biden said in Manitowoc. “We cannot lose the ability to feel the sorrow and the loss and the anger from so many lives lost.”

“And so many of them didn’t have to lose their lives to this virus if only the president had acted sooner,” he added.

The White House has tried to shift the conversation away from the sheer volume of infections and deaths that have befallen the United States from the pandemic.

Instead, they’ve seized on more metrics like the case fatality rate, which counts the percentage of people who die after contracting COVID-19. The U.S. has a lower case fatality rate than countries like Mexico, France and Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins.

But other metrics that compare countries based on population show the United States faring far worse. Johns Hopkins data shows that the U.S. has seen roughly 61 deaths per 100,000 people, the sixth highest of any country.

Making matters worse, several states have seen their positivity rates tick upward in recent weeks, and public health officials have repeatedly warned that the fall and winter months could put a strain on the health care system as flu season arrives.

Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said at a CNN event on Tuesday that the country has the ability to get the spread of the virus under control, even without a vaccine. But the measures required to do so, including the widespread use of masks and avoiding large gatherings, are the same things Trump has ignored throughout the pandemic.

“The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering and in some respects stunning,” Fauci said.

“We have the capability by doing things that we have been speaking about for so long … that could prevent the transmission, and by preventing transmission, ultimately preventing the morbidity and mortality that we see.”

Updated at 6:39 p.m.

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus COVID-19 Joe Biden Mike DeWine Nancy Pelosi Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court

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