By Dennis King
1. Why couldn’t Judge Amy Coney Barrett understand that the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 would be an unsafe place for parading around her children without face masks?
President Trump presented Judge Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court at an outdoor Rose Garden ceremony on Sept. 26 attended by more than 200 people. Few wore facemasks and there was no social distancing—the chairs and rows were crammed close together.
Judge Barrett and her husband, Jesse, brought their seven children: one daughter 19, two daughters 16, three sons between 8 and 13, and a 9-year old daughter. None of them wore masks at the event.
According to the Washington Post (Oct. 2), Judge Barrett had tested positive for the Covid-19 virus during the summer and had experienced mild symptoms. CNN reported that her husband had also tested positive but had been asymptomatic. No evidence has emerged that any of their children had tested positive during the summer, but given the parents’ experiences alone, it is certainly odd that the family would disregard normal safety precautions.
Videos from C-SPAN and the Washington Post show President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, both mask-free, escorting the Barrett family–to the tune of “Hail to the Chief”–out of the White House and down the steps to the podium facing the Rose Garden audience. The family poses briefly with the President, and the First Lady then leads Mr. Barrett and the children around to the far end of the front row which they proceed to fill. (The presence of all seven on that row is confirmed by a New York Times photo in which the First Lady is shown seated beside the central aisle with three of the younger children to her left, followed by their father, the three older girls, the special-needs youngest child, and a babysitter.)
President Trump announced on Oct. 2 that both he and the First Lady had tested positive for Covid-19. Later that day, former Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, who had been seated directly behind the First Lady at the Rose Garden event and thus in close proximity to three of the youngest Barrett children, would confirm that she too had tested positive.
The NYT photo identifies more attendees on the same side of the aisle as the children, and on rows very close to them, who tested positive. These include Riverside, CA pastor Greg Laurie and Notre Dame University president John I. Jenkins (both two rows behind the children) and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (three rows behind).
Seated on the second row directly behind the Barrett family was Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and his wife Patricia; the Labor Department would announce on Oct. 12 that Patricia (first seat to Ms. Conway’s left) had tested positive for the virus. (Her husband tested negative but announced he would be working from home.) Since the White House blocked contact tracing of the Rose Garden event and the Administration has been less than forthcoming about the timing of relevant positive and negative tests (including whether or not the President tested positive before his first debate with Joe Biden on Sept. 29), it is unclear if Patricia Scalia’s positive test is related to the Rose Garden event.
In the seating area across the aisle (to the First Lady’s right) the soon-to-be positives included Senator Mike Lee (UT) (seated in the second row aisle seat directly across from Ms. Conway, with his wife Sharon beside him), and Senator Thom Tillis (NC) (in the middle of the second row across from Ms. Conway and four seats to the right of Senator Lee). Also on that side was another positive, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, in the fourth row aisle seat. Two McEnany aides, who would also test positive, were much farther back in the audience.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top authority on infectious disease, would describe the Rose Garden ceremony as a Covid-19 “super spreader event” and the number of infected at the White House would rise to almost three dozen with at least 11 linked to the ceremony, which was basically a Trump campaign event using Barrett and her family as the pretext.
After the ceremony the children were escorted back to the podium, close to the President; then, the President and the First Lady escorted the family back inside the White House.
Thus we can see from the videos that the Barrett children were inside the toxic White House environment before the event and again afterwards. Did any of them wear masks inside? How long were they there, both before and after? Did anyone else wear masks inside? Who did the children interact with inside? How close did they get to the President and First Lady while inside? Did any of them interact with Barron Trump, the 14-year-old son of the Trumps, who testified positive for the virus at about the same time as his parents but whose condition was not reported to the public until Oct. 14?
And what was going through the head of Judge Barrett while this was going on? Apparently she was not thinking much about the risk that would have been obvious to any parent who accepted the consensus of the world scientific community about the virus. Indeed, from the viewpoint of infectious disease and public health experts, her decisions about the events of Sept. 26—both in the Rose Garden and inside the White House—can only be described as reckless.
According to CNN on Oct. 4, a reception was held after the Rose Garden Event in the Diplomatic Reception Room “and the adjoining hallway” and included “dozens” of ceremony attendees without masks or social distancing.
The New York Times had photographers at the reception and participating in the Oval Office photo op. The NYT article accompanying the pictures stated:
Experts say the more risky time spent that day was at a reception inside the White House, where President Trump met with a smaller group of guests.
There, Mr. Trump mingled with Judge Barrett, her family and prominent Republicans in the Oval Office and in the Diplomatic Room. Research has shown that transmission of the virus tends to happen indoors, and gatherings where guests are maskless and in tight quarters can be a recipe for “super spreader” events.
In the photos described below, no one is wearing a mask. The identification of individuals as “P” designates that they would test positive for the virus later. There is no evidence at this point that any of them knew they were positive at the time of the Rose Garden event, although they should have known that their behavior carried risks for themselves and others.
One photo shows the Barrett couple’s nine-year-old daughter standing about two feet away from Trump, who is apparently introducing her to several women, including Patricia Scalia (P), who is shown in Rose Garden photos as sitting next to Ms. Conway (P) and thus in very close proximity to three younger Barrett children seated between the First Lady (P) and their father Jesse.
A second photo shows Judge Barrett and her 11-year-old boy talking to Chris Christie (P), who was very close to them.
A third photo shows her eleven year old sitting beside Senator Tillis (P) with about a foot separating their faces. Although Tillis had worn a mask at the outdoor event, he did not do so when photographed at the reception. He would later acknowledge in an interview with WRAL-TV that this had been a mistake: “I let my guard down because we’d all been tested two hours before the event. It’s just another experience that tells me, even when you think you’re in a safe setting, you should always wear a mask.”
A fourth photo shows Judge Barrett, with her eleven year old beside her, talking with Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services. Azar, supposedly a major figures in fighting against the pandemic, is not wearing a mask and his distance from the boy is much less than the CDC guideline of six feet. Attorney General Bill Barr is also part of the maskless conversation. Barr had earlier spent several minutes talking up close with Ms. Conway (P) in the Rose Garden.
A fifth photo shows Judge Barrett talking with Senator Tillis without any of her children in the picture. Standing near them and apparently following their conversation, is Maureen Scalia, widow of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Ms. Scalia, who appears to be close to or in her eighties, is not wearing a mask. It is universally known that seniors are at special risk—even Trump doesn’t dispute that. So why didn’t Barrett, who makes so much of her background as a law clerk for Justice Scalia, do something? Why did Maureen Scalia’s son, Secretary Scalia, with whom she sat in the Rose Garden, allow her to stroll into this indoor event without a mask? Why didn’t her daughter-in-law, Patricia, also in the room (in the blue dress), take action? Why didn’t Tillis or anyone else in the room do anything? Nothing could better show the collective psychosis in the circles around Donald Trump. No wonder that Barrett wasn’t doing more to protect her children.
A sixth photo shows Senator Lee (P) and Sharon Lee talking with Judge Barrett but without any of the Barrett children in the picture. The photo suggests that Sen. Lee was getting too close and making Barrett uncomfortable.
CNN and others posted pictures taken at the Oval Office photo op session, also mask free, where the President and First Lady posed with six of Barrett’s seven children as well as the parents. In the most formal picture posted, the nine-year-old daughter is positioned in front of her mother and directly beside Trump. At the end of the row on Trump’s right are White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who are both in constant close contact with the President. Pictures were taken from different angles as the President chatted with the children.
The White House blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from doing contact tracing after the Sept. 26 events, putting the White House Medical Unit in charge although it has neither the expertise nor the resources to perform this task. The unit, which has been evasive about the President’s medical condition ever since he took office (and most recently about his Covid-19 status), made no attempt to do contact tracing about the White House events of that day. We have only limited information, largely that gathered by the media, about the number of people infected, especially the invitees from outside the DC area who flew home immediately afterwards.
2. Does Judge Barrett support Trump’s ignorant, irrational and totally unscientific approach to the pandemic?
Trump’s viewpoint, discredited by experts on the pandemic throughout the world, is that the virus is not all that dangerous (except to elderly persons with special conditions), that face masks and social distancing are not necessary, that mass testing and contact tracing are a waste of time, that children don’t get the virus, and that letting the virus run its course without countermeasures will create “herd immunity” over time.
Some of the most extreme of Trump’s views come from Dr. Scott Atlas, a physician with no background in infectious disease or public health. Atlas appears on Fox News as an opponent of the Affordable Care Act. In August, Trump appointed Atlas as his new Covid-19 advisor; the result was an increase in White House censorship of the CDC and new efforts to keep Dr. Fauci out of the loop.
Trump’s crank views on the virus, as translated into official government policy and carried out in Red states by governors loyal to the President, have resulted in over 220,000 deaths in the U.S., the worse record in the world. And experts with decades of experience in immunology, infectious disease and public health have pointed out again and again:
Children do get the virus (almost 700,000 in the U.S., although the number of deaths has been small so far).
Although “herd” immunity can be achieved through vaccination, there are no cases in which in which it has been achieved by allowing natural infection with a novel virus to simply run its course; attempts to use this passive strategy would lead to catastrophic loss of life (millions of Americans) with no guarantee of any success. In addition, there is very scary evidence that people who have recovered from the virus can get re-infected.
Facemasks, social distancing, bans on large public gatherings, mass testing and contact tracing have been proven worldwide to be our best weapons against the virus until a vaccine is developed—and premature abandonment of these measures has only caused new outbreaks.
It may be difficult to believe that Judge Barrett would bring her children unprotected into a Trump event organized on a no-protection-needed basis unless she believed Trump’s claims, including his assurances that children are immune to the virus. If she does believe him, we must conclude that she has little respect for science, and that this will affect her future decisions relating to government policy on pandemics—and also on decisions about global warming and the need for environmental regulations to halt the use of cancer-causing chemicals. An anti-science bias so extreme that it is displayed even in regard to the safety of one’s own children should disqualify any nominee from appointment to the Supreme Court.
3. Did Judge Barrett bring her children to the outdoor and indoor White House events of Sept. 26 with the knowledge or strong suspicion that it was not safe to do so?
It would appear that Trump was doing what he usually does—offer someone a job that comes with a catch: they must show their loyalty to him by doing something that deeply compromises them. Just consider the many White House employees and cabinet members who, since the pandemic began, have knowingly put themselves, and their loved ones at home, in peril by not wearing masks in crowded White House offices and conference rooms because to wear a mask would (a) offend Trump, (b) call into question Trump’s infallibility, (c) result in ridicule of the mask wearer by Trump and his toadies, and (d) reduce the mask wearer’s chance of any promotion because of suspicions about his or her loyalty.
Did Judge Barrett decide that putting her children at risk (no masks, no social distancing, seats on the front row to give Trump a stage prop) was necessary to show gratitude to him and to assure him that she would remain loyal when and if legal challenges to the outcome of the November election are heard by the Supreme Court?
Showing one’s children to the public is something that any candidate for high appointment or election to public office might justifiably do, but under pandemic circumstances Barrett should have found a safe way to do it. That she didn’t, suggests she knew that any hesitation in accepting the family-as-performing-seals celebration in the manner Trump needed for his own virus-defying macho campaign purposes might have become a deal breaker on her nomination, and that she put her children in jeopardy in order to reassure Trump as to her pliability and loyalty. Does anyone think that if she’d said, “no, sir, I will not bring my children to this event unless it mandates facemasks and social distancing for all participants, including yourself,” Trump would not have withdrawn her nomination and found another candidate?
Barrett’s acquiescence in putting her children, especially her four underage children, in a crowded and mostly mask-free gathering of over 200 adults (an event that any real expert on infectious disease would describe as bonkers) and into an even more dangerous indoor event can’t be explained away. If not simply a matter of scientific ignorance (itself a cause for rejection of a nomination), it reveals a lack of moral judgment that would prevent her from ruling on the side of science whenever it clashes with corporate or Republican Party interests—yet another reason for the U.S. Senate to vote her down.
He puts some kids in cages; others, he uses for photo ops to show how child-friendly he is.
On the first day of Barrett’s confirmation hearing on Oct. 12, her husband and six out of seven of their children were present. In the wake of the Rose Garden debacle they were predictably wearing masks. The positive-testing Senator Lee was present in person. He praised the judge for having a large family but then chose a less than respectful attitude toward the family by addressing the committee without his mask and also by his provocatively inconsistent wearing of it otherwise (even committee chair Lindsey Graham was seen to whip out a mask defensively when Lee came near). Meanwhile, Senator Joni Ernst (IA) waxed eloquent about Judge Barrett’s “precious family” but did not see fit to tell Senator Lee to drop his stupid posturing.
Judge Barrett herself could have insisted that Lee keep his mask on while speaking in the presence of her children, and also could have stated that she and her children would leave the room unless he either did what she requested or agreed to participate electronically from outside the room. Lee would have had to comply, especially since Sen. Ted Cruz was participating electronically that day while in self-isolation because of his own contacts with Lee. But Judge Barrett didn’t do what would have been so easy; she chose to let Lee, who had pranced around the Rose Garden after the Sept. 26 ceremony trying to hug and kiss people, use the hearing to show his ongoing Trumpian disdain for masks and for the safety of both children and adults.
I find it both bizarre and sinister that Barrett, presented by Trump and the Republicans as an all-American poster mom, has been so willing—in the midst of the worst pandemic in U.S. history—to let her children be used as pawns of a cynical campaign to put her on the Supreme Court so she can vote to take away health care from millions of other people’s children.