John Oliver rages against the White House's "shocking and utterly inevitable" COVID outbreak

Screenshot via YouTube/HBO

It’s a tired trope, but last week truly was one of those years-in-miniature, with each new day offering up a bombshell to paper over the previous day’s big story. In his latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver unpacks “a genuinely extraordinary week for the White House,” which culminated in President Trump and many of his closest confidants testing positive for COVID-19. As a sign of how wild things got, Oliver notes that he wouldn’t have time to discuss Trump paying anywhere from $0 to $750 in federal income taxes, Melania Trump’s war on Christmas, and his “stand back and standby” edict to the Proud Boys. The White House coronavirus outbreak and Trump’s hospitalization at Walter Reed would naturally be his lead segment.

To open the show, Oliver tackled the “shocking and utterly inevitable” positive tests after Trump mocked Joe Biden’s mask-wearing habits as excessive at the debate on Tuesday — where his own family was sitting in the audience, maskless. The timeline of events is still very much in question, and Oliver notes that the situation could spiral further since he recorded the segment (it did):

“Look, obviously, the president having the coronavirus is a very big deal, and we’re recording this on Saturday, so who knows what’s happened over the last 24 hours. What I do know is that so far, the White House has handled this situation terribly. First, the news only came out after reporters discovered that one of Trump’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, who traveled with him to the debate, had tested positive, prompting the obvious question of when the president had been exposed, and what he’d done about it.”

He unpacked the head-spinning sequence of events, which traces many of the positive cases back to the White House gala of sorts to celebrate Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. Besides the incredibly garish display of further politicizing the courts, it was a slap in the face to anyone who hasn’t said goodbye to a loved one or hugged their family since the pandemic began:

“Much like the slew of utterly horrifying Supreme Court rulings over the next few decades, it seems we may look back on Saturday's White House event and say, 'All of this began there,'" Oliver said. "And there is something utterly infuriating about watching them hugging each other when many in this country haven't seen their families for months or have died alone in a hospital. And it's not just that they're putting themselves at risk, more importantly, it's that they're risking infecting others. The thing about a highly contagious virus is your recklessness could end up killing someone you never meet."

It’s been a full-fledged disaster, with Trump and an untold number of COVID-positive staffers exposing themselves to donors and workers in New Jersey after learning of the outbreak. Even on Monday, new staffers like Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany are testing positive. Of course, this is no different than the administration’s approach to the pandemic from the start. “Republicans seem to be handling this outbreak the way they handled the whole pandemic, with a mixture of denialism, hubris, and treating it more as a PR crisis than one of public health, which has had huge knock-on effects,” Oliver says. He leads into a clip of a Trump supporter explaining why he isn't wearing a mask — believing his personal risk to be low, not giving into fearmongering — outside of Walter Reed, where his dear leader is currently hospitalized with the virus.

Although the bulk of Oliver’s episode dealt with widespread GOP efforts to delegitimize mail-in voting and destabilize the election. Not to be overshadowed, as it’s also an incredibly crucial issue moving into the final month before election day. But man, is it hard to think about anything else right now when the president’s going on pandemic joy rides and roided-out posting sprees. We're in for a long month!