In late February, president Donald Trump tapped vice president Mike Pence to lead the White House’s coronavirus task force after sidelining health secretary Alex Azar, whom Trump blamed for early missteps in the coronavirus response. Part of those duties appear to be attending public relations events on behalf of the administration, like last week when he took a trip to the Mayo Clinic to visit COVID-19 patients. Pence drew criticism for that visit when he ignored hospital guidelines about wearing a mask.
On Thursday, Pence ventured out on another PR run, this time delivering boxes of personal protective equipment (PPE) to a nursing home in Virginia. Late night host Jimmy Kimmel shared the video on Thursday night, and in it Pence is heard talking, unaware that he’s being recorded. After struggling to lift a box over the door threshold, the vice president walks back to a van of boxes, and someone informs him that they’re all done and the boxes remaining inside are empty. Pence replies, “Well, can I carry the empty ones? Just for the camera?”
In a longer clip of the video, Pence and the man seem to be joking, and they close up the van without Pence pantomiming with the empty boxes. Still, the incident is similar to a 2017 incident, when Pence attended an Indiana Colts game and abruptly left when some players refused to stand for the national anthem. It came out later that Pence’s walkout had been planned in advance and the vice president’s trip to stage it cost an estimated $325 million.
Meanwhile, the U.S. still faces critical shortages of PPE equipment for doctors, nurses, and other essential workers. In another coronavirus photo opp, Trump contradicted a nurse who said there were still shortages in protective gear, saying “sporadic for you” but that the country is “now loaded up” and “we have tremendous supply to almost all places.” And this week, nine Democratic senators signed a letter to Trump asking him use his wartime authorities with the Defense Production Act to step up manufacturing of protective gear and testing supplies. Mike Pence’s PPE delivery is as useful as the Blue Angels flyovers happening across the country—a display of support for health care workers and people most vulnerable to the virus that doesn’t actually do anything to help them. In the Blue Angels’ case, the government is merely squandering resources, with the Department of Defense spending an estimated $1.32 million to have the jets fly over more than 20 cities, according to Task & Purpose.
In the case of Pence’s PR stunt, he may be endangering more people by refusing to wear a mask at a nursing home. In just two weeks, more than 13,000 people have died at long-term care facilities, and the Trump administration still hasn’t started tracking how many nursing homes have had outbreaks despite announcing it would do so in mid-April. Meanwhile, an aide to Pence just tested positive for coronavirus two days after one of the personal valets to Trump also tested positive.