The Trump administration on Friday claimed “remarkable progress” in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, despite a surge in cases in the South and West that set two single-day records this week, as Vice President Pence said re-election campaign rallies that pack people together in violation of public health guidance will continue.

Pence, leading the first White House coronavirus task force briefing in nearly two months, offered no new strategies to combat the rapidly spreading virus and minimized record daily case counts in several states as “outbreaks in specific counties.”

Campaign rallies and other political events are constitutionally-protected free speech, Pence said, defending two events held by President Trump in the past week over objections from local officials or the advice of his own federal public health advisers.

“Well, the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States and we have an election coming up this fall,” Pence said, adding that those who attend events are offered screening and health advice.

“We still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process and we respect that,” Pence said.

Despite Pence’s positive spin, the briefing itself was an acknowledgment that the surge in cases in the South and Sunbelt is a public health setback and a political problem for Trump, whose handling of the pandemic has gotten generally dismal marks in polling….


image…Dr. Anthony Fauci, right, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a briefing of the coronavirus task force. (Susan Walsh/AP)