National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien tested positive for the coronavirus, but the White House insisted there was “no risk” of Donald Trump being exposed.
However, O’Brien recently returned from a trip to Europe where he was photographed, without masks or social distancing, with several foreign officials, including his British counterpart, Mark Sedwill; the British Ambassador to France, Edward Llewellyn; and the French national security adviser, Emmanuel Bonne.
Several White House staff have fallen ill with the disease in recent months, but O’Brien is so far a senior administration official for testing positive.
“He has mild symptoms, self-isolates and works from a safe place off-site. There is no risk of exposure to the president or vice-president. The work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted, ”the White House said in a statement.
CNN cited officials who said O’Brien abruptly left the White House last Thursday and was working from home. According to the report, no email was sent to inform National Security Council staff that he had tested positive, and some only found out through news reports on Monday.
It’s unclear when O’Brien last had a meeting with the President. Their last public appearance together was during a visit to South American Command in Miami on July 10.
O’Brien was hired as a national security adviser in September, despite having relatively light foreign policy experience, and has taken a low-key approach to the post, certainly compared to his immediate predecessor, John Bolton.
The news sparked a tense atmosphere in Washington, as Republicans prepared to unveil their latest stimulus and relief proposals and Donald Trump digested a new poll showing his disapproval of his handling of the pandemic and leads in key states for his challenger, Joe Biden.
O’Brien is Donald Trump’s fourth national security adviser, a role that naturally requires close contact with the president. According to CNN, O’Brien was on White House grounds last Thursday, raising questions about potential exposure. It has also been reported that White House staff only learned about O’Brien’s test through press reports.
Citing anonymous sources, Bloomberg News reported that O’Brien caught the virus after a family event and “self-isolate at home while running the NSC [national security council], doing most of his work by phone ”.
But CNN reported that O’Brien recently visited Europe with staff and reporters and said that “several photos posted on the trip showed O’Brien not practicing social distancing or wearing a mask.” .
The news will intensify scrutiny of Trump’s refusal to routinely wear a face mask in public, despite mounting evidence that the masks are helping mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The president strongly urged Americans to wear masks for the first time last week, but he has since been seen in public not wearing a mask.
Pressure was also mounting on Republicans in Congress on Monday, to finalize a new aid package and save millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in the pandemic from serious hardship when the additional $ 600 unemployment benefits per week will expire on Friday.
Four days away from the so-called “revenue cliff,” Republican leaders have indicated they will unveil a $ 1 billion aid package agreed with the White House. But tough partisan negotiations await us, with a measure likely to pass only at the 11th hour.
House Democrats, who passed a $ 3 billion package in May, accused Republicans of procrastinating and oppose replacing the $ 600 weekly benefits, which they want to expand, with a more complicated formula based on 70% of wages. This calculation could actually reduce the support to around $ 200 per week.
Democrats are also unhappy with the liability protections that may be included in the Republican package that prevents employers from being sued by workers who contract coronavirus.
The negotiations come at a feverish time. Last week, 1.4 million Americans filed new jobless claims, joining a pool of more than 30 million unemployed.
As the political crisis on Capitol Hill comes to a head, there is no indication that the public health crisis is easing. According to the Covid Tracking project, 4.2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the United States with a death toll close to 140,000. Johns Hopkins University brings the death toll closer to 150,000.
The death rate in the states topped 1,000 people a day over the past week, although on Sunday a figure of 558 was recorded.
The rate of infection continues to increase alarmingly, especially in the south. Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are all on steep upward trajectories and many states have been forced to forgo reopening their economies after the virus wreaked havoc on healthcare systems.
Florida now has more than 400,000 confirmed cases and topped the count in New York, a former center of the contagion. California, struggling with its own resurgence, has recorded the most cases.
Despite the prevalence of the disease in Florida, vice president Mike Pence was due to travel to Miami on Monday to spotlight phase three trials for a vaccine.
The political fallout from the pandemic remains intense, both at the state level and for the White House, where Donald Trump is facing the consequences of having presided over one of the worst impacts of the pandemic in the world. With less than 100 days of the presidential election, Joe Biden now holds a considerable lead in the polls.
A new NBC News / Marist poll released on Monday underscored the danger of the current moment for Trump. This gave Biden a seven-point lead in vital North Carolina state, increasingly seen as an indicator of the presidential election. Among registered voters in the state, Biden was supported by 51% versus 44% for Trump.
Trade in Congress horses on aid could have far-reaching implications for millions of people. Democrats have warned that any cuts in financial assistance to the unemployed could herald a wave of evictions as households struggle to pay rent.
On Sunday, Trump adviser Larry Kudlow pledged on CNN’s State of the Union that a moratorium on housing evictions, which has expired, would be extended.