After Harris diagnosis, what if President Biden gets seriously ill with COVID-19?

TheGrio asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in Tuesday's press briefing about the realm of possibility as the virus continues to spread in Washington.

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The majority of Americans, 60% to be exact, have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As officials at the White House and on Capitol Hill have learned, Washington is not immune to the vulnerabilities of the virus. 

(L-R) U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk back to the Oval Office after an event about gun violence in the Rose Garden of the White House April 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As reported on Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris was diagnosed with COVID-19 after undergoing routine testing following her trip to California last week. 

Following the news of Vice President Harris’s diagnosis, theGrio asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during Tuesday’s press briefing what would happen if President Joe Biden were to test positive and become seriously ill while Harris is also positive?

Psaki said that “because of all the precautions and steps we have taken he would be able to continue his duties.”

When asked about the plan for succession of power in the event that Biden, 78, was to contract and become seriously ill with COVID-19 and if Vice President Harris were also seriously ill, “the Speaker of the House” would be next in line. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently recovered from her bout with the virus earlier this month. 

This hypothetical scenario is not beyond the realm of possibility, as President Biden will attend the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this Saturday. The dinner, known as the year’s biggest event in Washington, will hold about 2,600 people. After the dinner, the commander in chief will then travel Sunday to the funeral of former Vice President Walter Mondale, putting him more at risk for contracting COVID-19 than he would be in the confines of the 18-acre White House complex.  

The president’s lead advisor on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has declined his ticket to attend the correspondents’ dinner in fear of contracting the virus. The last big event of this magnitude in Washington was the Gridiron Dinner, which resulted in at least 72 people contracting COVID-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi, professor of medicine at George Washington University’s Rodham Institute and a member of the Black Coalition Against Covid (BCAC), told theGrio, “The numbers in our politicians reflect the trend of COVID infections in the public at large. We are beginning to see hospitalizations trending back up.

“Although the numbers are not as dramatic as at the start of the pandemic, this underscores the importance of staying vigilant, getting vaccinated and continuing to wear masks. Although we’re all tired of these restrictions, it beats the alternative of seeing another strain develop which may not be as responsive to the new oral treatment. 

She added, “There is also the possibility that the widespread use of these medications might result in resistance to the medication, much like we see with antibiotics, rendering them less or not effective at all.”

In recent weeks on the Hill, there have been serious concerns about the threat of positive cases, particularly in the U.S. Senate when it is time to take counts for votes like the confirmation tallies for Biden appointments to posts such as the Federal Reserve Board. Currently, several senators have tested positive for COVID-19.

At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Psaki acknowledged the administration still believes the Federal Reserve Board confirmation will pass with the Senate floor vote. 

Reflecting on the past few weeks of Senate floor votes, COVID-19 cases were particularly a huge concern that was kept very quiet about making sure senators did not contract the virus to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. The vote was 53-47, with every member present. 

In the House and Senate, those who have publicly acknowledged testing positive for COVID include Speaker Pelosi, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Jen Psaki, White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, most recently, Vice President Harris, and many others Biden-Harris administration officials. 

TheGrio also learned on Wednesday that there continues to be a high volume of positive cases amongst White House staff. 

According to GovTrack, so far, 171 U.S. representatives and senators have been diagnosed with COVID-19, one of whom subsequently died of COVID-19. In total, the tracker found that 215 representatives and senators either were “diagnosed with COVID-19, self-quarantined after exposure to someone with COVID-19, or reported exposure but took other action or no action – some multiple times.”

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