Trump adviser defends campaign virus precautions despite packed events, maskless attendees
Trump announced early Friday that he tested positive for COVID-19.
While President Donald Trump remains hospitalized after he and several of his top aides were diagnosed with the coronavirus in the past week, one of his senior advisers refused to acknowledge his campaign's lax safety measures and attempted to downplay polling Sunday that shows most Americans don't think the president took the proper personal precautions.
On ABC's "This Week," Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller dodged questions about why Thursday's fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, was not canceled after the White House learned that senior counselor Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19, and pushed back against the notion that the campaign hasn't taken the virus seriously -- despite holding indoor events and not requiring facemasks.
"Hasn't the cavalier approach to masks and social distancing at these rallies been a mistake?" ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos asked. "Will it change going forward?"
"I'll push back on that and say it hasn't been cavalier at all. We take it very seriously. It's why we give everyone coming to rallies or to events -- we give them a mask. We check their temperature," said Miller, even as hundreds of attendees were seen without face-coverings at a Minnesota event Wednesday, just as Hicks was developing symptoms.
"What I can't speak to, since I'm not part of White House operations, I'm not part of the White House medical unit, is the exact -- how much time he was spending with Hope and in the proximity for these things," he stated earlier in the interview, when questioned about the decision to press forward with Thursday's fundraiser.
Miller himself reported that he tested negative for the virus, despite being present for White House debate preparation sessions with Trump, in which five of the nine participants have subsequently received positive results.
On "This Week," even as Trump's personal campaign efforts had ground to a halt during his illness, Miller continued to portray Democratic nominee Joe Biden as being overly cautious regarding the virus.
"I'd say that with regard to Joe Biden I think too often he's used the mask as a prop," Miller said of the former vice president, whose most recent coronavirus tests have all come back negative. "A mask is very important, but even if he's -- he could be 20, 30 feet away from the nearest person, and still have the mask on. That's not going to change anything that's out there."
In response to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, showing nearly three in four Americans said they thought Trump did not take the "risk of contracting the virus seriously enough," nor "the appropriate precautions when it came to his personal health," Miller pivoted to the White House's public health response. He argued Trump's criticized China travel ban and efforts to procure ventilators constituted a "a general-in-the-field-type moment," and that "he couldn't stay hidden in his basement" -- a reference to Biden who has held virtual events from his Delaware home.
"The president had to take it head-on, but he didn't have to hold rallies where people did not social distance, did not wear masks," Stephanopoulos responded. "He didn't have to mock former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing a mask and reporters who wore masks. He didn't have to continue to go to event after event without wearing a mask."
At Tuesday's debate, Trump hyperbolically taunted the former vice president, stating that Biden wears "the biggest mask I've ever seen," even when "200 feet away" from his audiences.
Miller answered by describing the safety protocols in place to protect the president, including temperature checks, social distancing and the handing out of masks -- despite Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying that the White House and the National Institutes of Health have abandoned temperature checks as a screening tool given they are not a reliable method to screen for infection. Stephanopoulos noted that masks are often not worn at events, including at the White House Rose Garden gathering last weekend in which Trump announced the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Several attendees at the announcement who were seated and interacting in close proximity to others, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, ABC News contributor and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, have since tested positive.
Turning to the final month of the presidential race, Miller shrugged off recent national polling, including an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, showing Trump trailing Biden by double-digits and portrayed the campaign as in a strong position in several swing states.
"As we look at the battleground states, what you need to get to 270, we feel very good about our positioning," he said. "In particular, I think our strength out west, both with Arizona and Nevada, is looking very good. In Florida we continue to look good … our lead is growing, as we see, in North Carolina and Georgia, from internal numbers."
ABC News' Will Steakin, Terrance Smith and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.