There was something missing when Vice President Mike Pence and two embattled Republican senators facing runoff elections that will decide control of the chamber met with CDC officials on Friday: the typical effusive praise for Donald Trump.
Mr Pence skipped his usual greetings from his boss, and said "we" have worked hard on a vaccine when discussing the administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine development effort.
And both Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler thanked Mr Pence for his work.
In a stark departure from such previous events, no one uttered the words "Donald Trump.”
“We’re going to put a priority on our seniors in our long term care facilities,” Mr Pence said of the administration’s vaccine-distribution plan, which will be inherited by the incoming Biden administration. “We’re also going to put a priority on our health care workers.”
He also wanted Robert Redfiled, the center’s director, “how grateful we are for CDC’s ongoing counsel to all Americans on mitigation efforts” and for its advice to “our administration.”
Mr Pence has opened dozens upon dozens of official White House and campaign events by praising Mr Trump for several minutes before telling the crowd or group to whom he was speaking that he brings good tidings from his boss. Sometimes, he has delivered a message he said was from Mr Trump.
There was none of that on Friday in Atlanta.
The closest the outgoing VP came was a reference or two to “our president.”
Mr Perdue praised “this administration” before saying this to the man seated to his left who arrived on Air Force Two: “I want to call out the vice president” before adding “and the president, as well.”
“Thank you for your leadership on this endeavor,” he told Mr Pence, a potential 20204 GOP candidate for president. “This is remarkable what you guys did.”
“Thank you, Mr Vice President,” Mr Perdue said.
The omission of all things “Trump” was notable since it comes one month and one day before both senators face runoff elections. If both lose, Democrats will snatch away control of the Senate and the ability to set the upper chamber’s agenda and run its committees.
The stakes could not be higher.
And that’s why some conservatives are frustrated by Mr Trump’s repeated questioning of Georgia’s election systems.
“Well, he hasn't done anything. So he hasn't looked. When he looks, he'll see the kind of evidence that right now you're seeing in the Georgia Senate,” the president said of Attorney General William Barr, who has drawn his scorn over comments Tuesday about the Justice Department finding no evidence of the voter fraud in the Peach State and others Mr Trump continues to allege.
“You know, they're going through hearings right now in Georgia, and they're finding tremendous volume [of fraudulent ballots],” he told reporters Thursday in the Oval Office. “Whether you go to Wisconsin, where we just filed a case, or Michigan, or if you look at what's happening in Georgia, as an example, or Pennsylvania. If you look at Nevada, which is moving along very rapidly, or Arizona – you saw those numbers come out yesterday – we found massive fraud.”
Some conservatives are worried Mr Trump will drive down Republican voter turnout on 5 January by convincing his base Democrats will find a way to steal both Senate races.
“If Republicans lose those seats, President Trump will be the main reason, and the main casualty will be his legacy,” the right-leaning editorial board of the Wall Street Journal wrote in a piece published on Thursday.
The president is “already sounding like he wants to run again in 2024, and his stolen-election claims sound like an opening bid for campaign donations,” the WSJ editorial board wrote.
“At least for now he can say, with justification, that he helped the GOP gain seats in the House and avoid a rout in the Senate,” the board added. “But that narrative changes for the worse if the GOP loses in Georgia after Mr Trump divided his own party to serve his personal political interest.”