Virus Inside the Wire

Donald Trump shocked the world when he announced overnight via Twitter that he and the first lady tested positive for the coronavirus, a startling development in an already news-saturated week for the president.

Who better to discuss these momentous developments than Dr. Jonathan Reiner—a cardiologist, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, former physician to Vice President Dick Cheney, and a consultant to the White House Medical Unit during the Bush, Obama, and Trump years?

Reiner joined Sarah and Steve for an insightful discussion that covered virtually all aspects of this significant development—from the details of the spread of the virus to the protocols of the White House Medical Unit, from the hopefully distant possibility of the need for continuity-of-government measures to the cardiological implications of COVID-19.

How did we get to this nightmare scenario? “It’s a failure of common sense,” Reiner tells our podcast hosts. “It’s a failure of masking.” Frankly speaking, the White House could have avoided this situation by limiting staffers’ and visitors’ proximity to the president, conducting meetings via secure video link, and instituting a universal mask-wearing mandate for all White House staffers at all times. None of this happened. Trump has downplayed the risk of the coronavirus for months now, interacting with White House staffers on a daily basis without a mask. “For those of us who know how viruses are spread—and it’s not that complicated—it was horrifying to see all these people in close proximity to the president,” Dr. Reiner said. “I thought it was really malpractice for the White House to allow so many people so close to the president.”

The president’s physician, Sean Conley, issued a statement on Friday saying he expects the president “to carry out his duties without interruption while recovering.” But how will the White House Medical Unit ensure a continuity of government if Trump becomes temporarily unfit for office due to COVID-19 complications? The 25th Amendment provides a pathway for a majority of the Cabinet secretaries to determine if the president is no longer fit for office or for the president to relinquish his duties voluntarily. “The Cabinet doesn’t have the medical capacity by themselves to make the determination so they would defer to the White House Medical Unit,” Reiner explained, which is staffed by career Army officers. “It would take a very mature, confident officer to say to the president, ‘Sir I don’t think you’re fit for duty right now, I think you should consider the 25th Amendment.’ Imagine that conversation with this particular patient.” Tune in for Reiner’s expert opinion on herd immunity, the nonsensical partisan split on mask-wearing, and how the country can move forward during such a perilous moment in American history.

Show Notes:

Heart: An American Medical Odyssey by Jonathan Reiner, “Trump says he and first lady have tested positive for coronavirus” by Josh Dawsey and Colby Itkowitz.

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