Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly been absent from coronavirus planning calls with the country’s 50 governors for over a month, showing signs of shrinking efforts in the White House task force.
The task force, which was initiated at the beginning of the year, was created to address the threat of the pandemic, which has now infected over 9 million people in the U.S. and killed over 220,000.
One of Pence’s earliest moves for the task force was establishing a standing call with all 50 governors aimed at closely coordinating the fight against COVID-19, but the vice president, who’s been hitting the campaign trail for President Trump’s reelection efforts, hasn’t tuned in lately, according to a report by Politico.
Pence is expected to miss the planning call again on Friday, which is the first call involving governors since Oct. 13.
“There’s not any acknowledgment or appreciation of the severity of the surge,” said an official in one governor’s office long frustrated with the federal response. “The stark reality that we’re facing is the White House, from top to bottom, has stopped governing and is only campaigning.”
The task force, which once held daily press briefings that interrupted most news programs to be aired in the evening, has now dwindled to meeting virtually just once a week, reports CNBC.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the task force and a national expert on infectious diseases, said President Trump hasn’t met with the task force in several months.
“We certainly interact with the vice president at the task force meetings, and the vice president makes our feelings and what we talk about there known to the president,” Fauci told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd earlier this month.
Other members, such as Dr. Deborah Birx, began holding private calls with the heads of a handful of organizations that represent state and territorial health officials.
A rift in the task force seemed to grow after the appointment of Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a Stanford University-based conservative think tank. Atlas has spread controversial statements about masking and has often focused on the economic impact of the pandemic over the public health challenges it poses.
Trump has also occasionally rebuked members of the task force, including Fauci, during campaign rallies or in TV appearances, even calling the doctor a “disaster” during a call with his campaign staff.
“There is no task force. It’s not serving any role at all,” one Republican close to the task force said. “You’ve got a bunch of very thoughtful, intelligent people who want to contribute twiddling their thumbs.”
The loosening federal response comes as the nation hit its highest record daily number of cases on Thursday, with nearly 90,000 cases being reported less than a week away from Election Day.