In “Excuses” Judd Legum (popular.info) documents Trump’s fiddling while a raging fever burned in America.
The federal government’s response to the COVID–19 epidemic in the United States has been a disaster. As of Tuesday, there were more than 170,000 confirmed infections, the most in the world. While the virus spread in China and elsewhere, the federal government conducted virtually no testing, allowing COVID–19 to spread within communities undetected. During these critical weeks, there was no effort to stockpile protective equipment for health care workers or ramp up production of critical medical devices like ventilators. Already, more than 3,400 people have died. And it’s projected to get much worse.
How did this happen?
Appearing on the radio with conservative media personality Hugh Hewitt, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the federal government was distracted because the House of Representatives impeached Trump. “[I]t came up while we were tied down on the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything every day was all about impeachment,” McConnell said.
If the federal government failed to respond to an imminent pandemic because it was too concerned about the political fate of Trump, it would be an outrage. But the reality is even worse.
Years before Trump was impeached, he decimated the government’s capacity to respond to a pandemic. Moreover, while Trump’s impeachment and trial were ongoing, Trump found time for his priorities — holding campaign rallies and playing golf. And after Trump was acquitted by the Senate on February 5, Trump continued to downplay the threat of the coronavirus and for many weeks.
In 2018, long before impeachment, Trump dismantled the pandemic response teams at the White House National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security. Popular Information detailed Trump’s actions on February 25, when there were just 57 confirmed cases of COVID–19 in the United States.
Thus, when COVID–19 began spreading in China in late 2019, the people in the White House best positioned to recognize the threat and prepare the country were gone.
Trump was impeached on December 18, 2019. But Trump didn’t let his impeachment get in the way of his priorities. The same day, Trump held a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan. Vice President Mike Pence also attended.
Between December 20, 2019, and January 5, 2020, Trump played golf at his club in West Palm Beach, Florida, fourteen times. His only days off the links were Christmas and January 3, when Trump held a campaign rally in Miami.
On January 8, the CDC issued its first warning about a respiratory illness spreading in China.
Then followed campaign rallies and many rounds of golf. The Senate acquitted Trump on Feb. 5.
The same day Trump was acquitted, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requested $2 billion “to buy respirator masks and other supplies for a depleted federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment.” The White House rejected Azar’s request for funding, arguing it was unnecessary. Weeks later, the administration submitted a $500 million request for the same type of equipment to Congress.
At the same time, members of Congress like Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) were sounding the alarm. The administration was not taking action to prepare the country.
More golf and denials that we had anything to fear. For examples:
On February 25, a CDC expert, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, warned that community spread of COVID–19 within the United States was inevitable, and “disruption to everyday life might be severe.” Trump was reportedly furious that her comments caused the stock market to plummet.
[Even into March] … Trump continued to resist taking action, saying that the pandemic was “good for the consumer” since it was bringing the price of oil down and not as dangerous as the seasonal flu.
We are all now paying the price for Trump’s negligence. And it has nothing to do with impeachment.
Heather Cox Richardson, in one of her Letters from an American (March 31) exposes the gaslighting - really an attempt by Trump and his apologists to rewrite history.
Today Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried a different argument for Trump’s frittering away two months that would have protected us from the worst of the pandemic. McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt that the impeachment trial of Trump had distracted the president from paying adequate attention to the coronavirus.
This was too much for George Conway, founder of the anti-Trump super PAC the Lincoln Project. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, he called it “gaslighting of the highest order.” “Look at the calendar,” he wrote. Impeachment was pretty much over on January 31, when Senators killed the idea of testimony, although the final vote wasn’t until February 5. Trump went to Mar-a-Lago at least four times in the first two months of the year, held frequent campaign rallies, and repeatedly went golfing. And he commented often on the coronavirus, telling reporters and tweeting that “we have it totally under control.”
From a political standpoint, as well, this argument doesn’t hold water. If Trump and his advisors were focusing at all on the coronavirus in those crucial weeks, they would have deployed then the argument that impeachment was hurting their ability to respond adequately to the crisis. It was a winning political argument that would have played well across the country (in addition to promoting our ability to fight the epidemic).
For his part, Trump seemed torn between having an excuse and having to admit he hadn’t done a bang-up job. During today’s press briefing, he said: “Did it divert my attention? I think I’m getting A+’s for the way I handled myself during a phony impeachment, OK? … But certainly, I guess, I thought of it and I think I probably acted – I don’t think I would have done any better had I not been impeached, OK?”
I am belaboring this point tonight because this deliberate effort to change the public perception of what really happened is a profound attack on our democracy. While this disinformation is designed to absolve Trump of blame he deserves, it is far more than that. We are seeing government officials rewriting our history in real time. And in October, if campaign officials for the Republican candidate are telling voters that Trump was a hero for his handling of the unanticipated coronavirus despite Democrats’ impeachment witch hunt, I want to have laid down this marker so that there is a record of when that story began.
As late as February 26, Trump said, “This is a flu. This is like a flu.” “I mean, view this the same as the flu.” Today he said: “’A lot of people’” said “’ride it out. Don’t do anything, just ride it out and think of it as the flu.’ But it’s not the flu. It’s vicious.”
Today the editorial board of the Boston Globe wrote: “the president has blood on his hands.”
The Globe’s editors labeled Trump as “A president unfit for a pandemic” and charged that “Much of the suffering and death coming was preventable.”
Trump and McConnell can run but they cannot hide from the ugly facts of their betrayal of our country.