As President Trump and Vice President Pence insist on hosting rallies as usual during the worst global pandemic in a century, they not only risk exposing their supporters to the virus but also the Secret Service agents assigned to protect them.
According to a report in the Washington Post, “dozens” of Secret Service agents have contracted the virus or have been quarantined in the last two months after being exposed while planning security for Republican political rallies or accompanying the president, often in states with out-of-control outbreaks like Florida.
“Never before has the Secret Service run up against a president so intent on putting himself first regardless of the costs, including to those around him,” Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and national security expert told the Post. “And by maintaining a rigorous travel schedule and otherwise flouting public health guidance, he is demanding that agents add to their already considerable professional risk in ways that are qualitatively different than what they signed up for.”
The Post noted numerous incidents where agents contracted the virus or were exposed to someone who had. Five agents helping plan security for the president’s late July rally in Tampa had to be replaced when one agent tested positive and others who were around the agent were presumed positive as well. Shortly thereafter, two more agents began to show symptoms of COVID-19 after protecting the president as he golfed at his private club in Bedminster, N.J. And in Tulsa in June, six advance staff and two Secret Service agents contracted the virus before the president’s arrival, forcing dozens of agents into quarantine and causing a strain on the agency to find people to protect the president. A vice-presidential trip to Phoenix also left eight agents with symptoms or suspected exposure, forcing them to quarantine in a hotel.
One law enforcement official told the paper that agents guarding the president and vice president were warned not to speak about co-workers who caught the virus for fear of angering Trump.
Catherine Milhoan, an agency spokesperson, told the Post in a statement: “The agency takes all appropriate precautions to protect our workforce, our protectees, and the public from exposure to COVID-19… Precautions include, but are not limited to, maintaining appropriate social distancing, the provision and use of PPE, routine testing when appropriate, whether before, during, or after official travel.”
But clearly the actions the agency has taken are not enough. And while it is well known that Secret Service agents are expected to sacrifice themselves to save the president, Trump’s failed response to the virus combined with his insistence that he continue to travel to hotspots for rallies and golf is exposing these hard-working Americans to an unanticipated, invisible, deadly enemy.