Mike Pence to 'Inexplicably' Attend Senate Vote on Amy Coney Barrett Despite Close Staff Testing Positive for COVID

Vice President Mike Pence says he will be in the U.S. Senate Monday to vote in favor of Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, despite his closest aides all testing positive for COVID-19 over the past week.

Pence told NBC News Sunday during a campaign stop in North Carolina, "I wouldn't miss that vote for the world," as he is set to return to Washington to cast his vote confirming Barrett as a justice.

But doctors, Democrats and the former FDA commissioner all said Pence is putting the elderly senators at risk by continuing to campaign and physically attending Monday's vote. Five of Pence's closest aides, including his chief of staff, tested positive for coronavirus within the past several days and have been quarantining since mid-week. Another personal aide to Pence reportedly tested positive Sunday on the campaign trail.

Pence, who is the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, issued a statement Saturday saying his actions are within Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pandemic guidelines because he is "essential personnel." New cases and increasing hospitalization numbers have skyrocketed in several states where Pence has campaigned over the past week.

"While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with [his infected aides], in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel," Pence spokesman Devin O'Malley said.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows initially declined to say whether Pence and his chief of staff, Marc Short, had tested positive, during interviews Sunday morning. "Sharing personal information is not something that we should do," Meadows told CNN after being pressed on why Trump administration officials continue to defy CDC quarantine guidelines.

"The Vice President is maintaining his campaign schedule and, inexplicably, intends to preside over the Senate chamber tomorrow evening," Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

"It's just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response," said Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, as reported by the Associated Press Sunday. "I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally" and the staffers who will accompany him.

"He needs to be staying home 14 days," Popescu said. "Campaign events are not essential."

Meanwhile, O'Malley told ABC News that Pence tested negative again Sunday morning and both the vice president and his wife Karen tested negative on Saturday. Pence made campaign stops in Florida's Lakeland and Tallahassee Saturday after he stopped in his home state of Indiana to cast his own vote Friday.

CDC guidelines say "critical infrastructure workers," including police officers and emergency service employees, can stay on the job even after being exposed to the virus—as long as they are asymptomatic.

The federal health agency issued a forecast Friday that U.S. COVID deaths may surpass 230,000 by the end of October and potentially 390,000 deaths by February 1.

Asked by CBS News Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan Sunday if Pence is "putting others at risk by campaigning," ex-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb agreed his behavior is conflicting.

"Well look, he could be closely monitored, so the short answer is yes. But you can closely monitor the vice president and I could understand why they wouldn't want to quarantine the vice president. But they need to him to be very explicit about what they're doing and the risks they are taking. He should be wearing a high-quality mask, an N95 mask at all times, he should be distancing wherever possible. They should be serially testing him."

Republicans said they have already have enough simple majority votes to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court Monday regardless of Pence's potential tie-breaking vote, should it be needed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been critical of the Trump administration's handling of coronavirus, has not stated whether Pence's attendance at the vote is necessary at all.

Newsweek reached out to McConnell and Pence's offices Sunday afternoon for additional remarks.

mike pence coronavirus campaign senate
US Vice President Mike Pence greets supporters after his "Make America Great Again!" campaign event at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford, Michigan, on October 22, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / Contributor/Getty Images