(CNN)Trump aides are voicing concerns with Mark Meadows one week before the election after the White House chief of staff, in a stunning exchange Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper, said, “We are not going to control the pandemic.”
A Trump campaign adviser said there is widespread frustration with Meadows, Trump’s fourth chief of staff, over his comments, as well as his leadership more broadly.
“Everyone was clear that Meadows sh** the bed again,” the adviser said.
While President Donald Trump has dismissed rumors he’s planning to get rid of Meadows in a potential second term, he remains displeased with how his chief of staff handled the crisis surrounding his own bout with coronavirus, according to sources.
The White House did not respond to CNN’s request for comment, but pressed on his own comments and subsequent criticism from the Biden campaign during a gaggle on Monday morning, Meadows only repeated himself.
“The only person waving a white flag, along with a white mask, is Joe Biden. I mean when we look at this, we’re going to defeat the virus. We’re not going to control it. We will try to contain it as best we can,” he said.
Meadows had worked to contain information about a new outbreak in the vice president’s office, believing the information could be damaging if it emerged a week before the election. That strategy has mostly failed as the cases became public anyway through leaks. The inability to keep a lid on the information reflects Meadows’ diminished standing inside the building, according to multiple officials.
Meadows has seemed to have Trump’s political interests in mind when attempting to keep the new coronavirus cases under wraps. People familiar with current West Wing operations say nearly every decision over the past several months has been made with the reelection campaign in mind, a sign of Meadows’ intense focus on Trump’s political affairs, as opposed to managing White House staff or executing a governing agenda.
Instead, Meadows appears to continue to play the role he held before joining the Trump administration: Trump friend and confidant, more so than chief of staff.
“He has exhibited no leadership in taking control of issues with the President,” a second Trump adviser said of Meadows more recently.
Examining his role
Trump himself has also pushed his chief of staff and other senior officials to execute policy wins in the final weeks of the campaign that might help him get support among key voting groups, including senior citizens and women. Those efforts have been halting, angering the President, who has quizzed people on the phone about whether his team is doing enough to get him reelected.
Among officials at the White House, Meadows has been one of the most skeptical about efforts to contain the coronavirus. He has not intervened as Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist without experience in infectious disease, supplants the administration’s health experts and recommends against mask wearing.
Early in the crisis, Meadows came to view the White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, as largely irrelevant.
And in addition to downplaying the pandemic, Meadows has encouraged Trump to carry on his large-scale rallies, which ignore recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite a nationwide surge in cases.
Just about a week before Election Day, Meadows’ CNN appearance was widely viewed as an unforced error, and one that the Biden campaign quickly seized upon, the Democratic nominee and top surrogates lambasting Meadows’ comments.
“Every time we build some momentum, Meadows f***s it up with an interview,” the adviser added.
A separate adviser said it’s probably best that Meadows not do TV between now and the election, though the chief of staff suggested he would be making appearances on CBS’ and ABC’s morning shows on Tuesday.
The most recent incident comes after Meadows telling reporters at Walter Reed that the President’s symptoms were worrying as Trump recovered from coronavirus. Even a few weeks later, the President remains upset that information was disclosed.
At the time, Trump said the information made his condition seem worse than it was, and he complained that it was leading to coverage of his illness that suggested he might be incapacitated. Meadows believed he was providing reporters with the most accurate information.
That messaging fiasco set off a whisper campaign among some advisers arguing Meadows should be fired after the election, two people close to the White House said.
More broadly, Meadows has been blamed internally for mismanaging Trump’s hospitalization, which was colored by questionable decisions like emerging from the hospital for a drive to wave at supporters and a striking absence of information about the President’s condition.
The moves seemed designed to appease Trump, who did not want information about his more serious conditions disclosed and instead wanted to project strength.
The weekend at Walter Reed also seemed to illustrate for many staffers that Meadows is more interested in maintaining proximity to the President than in managing the large staff of which he is ostensibly the chief. His decision to accompany Trump to the military hospital and spend three nights there fit within a pattern of decisions that were later questioned, including his attendance at Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Others in the building believe Meadows failed to communicate properly with staffers about the extent of the West Wing outbreak, leaving officials to glean for themselves who might be infected and whether they should quarantine. The period during the outbreak was an anxious one for many officials, who did not receive firm guidance on whether to work from home until several days after Trump had tested positive.
Officials also said they did not have a clear view of who else in the building had tested positive. While Meadows has said he was doing so in the interest of privacy, the lack of guidance for days — while Meadows himself was with Trump at Walter Reed — angered many people.
“It’s been a s***show,” the second Trump adviser told CNN at the time. “They really botched the whole public response to this.”