When President Trump gave a speech to a group of sheriffs in Tampa late last month, his decision to travel forceda large contingent of Secret Service agents to head to a state that was then battling one of the worst coronavirus surges in the nation.
Even before Air Force One touched down on July 31, the fallout was apparent: Five Secret Service agents already on the ground had to be replaced after one tested positive for the coronavirus and the others working in proximity were presumed to be infected, according to people familiar with the situation.
The previously unreported episode is one of a series of examples of how Trump’s insistence on traveling and holding campaign-style events amid the pandemic has heightened the risks for the people who safeguard his life, intensifying the strain on the Secret Service.
In the past two months, dozens of Secret Service agents who worked to ensure the security of the president and Vice President Pence at public events have been sickened or sidelined because they were in direct contact with infected people, according to multiple people familiar with the episodes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the incidents.
Despite that, Trump has continued to hold large gatherings — most dramatically at the White House on Thursday night, when he delivered his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention before a crowd of 1,500 people seated closely together on the South Lawn, with few masks in sight. The vast majority were not tested for the coronavirus ahead of time.
Trump’s actions rebuff the scientific consensus that the best way to tamp down the spread of the virus is to avoid large gatherings and close quarters. Critics say his refusal to abide by those guidelines is imposing unnecessary risks on Secret Service staffers, who have no choice in whether to accompany the president.
“Never before has the Secret Service run up against a president so intent on putting himself first regardless of the costs, including to those around him,” said Ned Price, a national security expert and former CIA analyst. “And by maintaining a rigorous travel schedule and otherwise flouting public health guidance, he is demanding that agents add to their already considerable professional risk in ways that are qualitatively different than what they signed up for.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that the president “takes the health and safety of everyone traveling in support of himself and all White House operations very seriously, as well as those dedicated to covering him and this Administration.”