A dubious new defense of Trump and coronavirus: Impeachment

01.04.2020 Off By Malsagov

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s2.washingtonpost.com

 

 A dubious new defense of Trump and coronavirus: Impeachment

By Harry Stevens and Shelly Tan
 
Even President Trump’s Republican allies in Congress are acknowledging that the administration was too slow and too unprepared to deal with coronavirus coming to America.

His most important congressional ally is not saying it outright so much as implicitly acknowledging it with this new argument: Trump was too distracted by impeachment in January and early February to focus on the coming pandemic.

Here’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday: “It came up while we were tied down in the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything every day was all about impeachment.”

The scene in the White House briefing room Feb. 5 as the Senate votes to acquit Trump on both impeachment charges. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The scene in the White House briefing room Feb. 5 as the Senate votes to acquit Trump on both impeachment charges. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Republican National Committee and other Republican groups are starting to say this, too, though Trump notably hasn’t made this argument himself. It’s a dubious defense to be making of the president. Here’s why.

  • As Trump’s impeachment trial started, he was also receiving increasingly urgent warnings about coronavirus. When the trial began Jan. 16, the coronavirus was hitting China hard, and U.S. intelligence officials were so worried about it that by late January, the majority of intelligence reports from the CIA were about coronavirus. Yet Trump downplayed the threat, publicly comparing it to the flu and saying it was going to disappear. “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” an official told The Post.
  • Around that time, Trump and his administration also issued statements about the coronavirus, which means he and top Cabinet officials were aware enough to talk publicly about it. And impeachment didn’t distract his health and human services secretary from declaring a public health emergency for coronavirus Jan. 31, freeing up federal money for state and local health officials. (Public health experts say the government fell short on the other things the administration could have done, like ramping up testing and aggressively tracing people who fall ill to isolate them from the public.)
  • There’s no doubt impeachment took up a lot of time and energy for Trump. But the most politically perilous part for him was over by the time coronavirus was a threat. He had been impeached by the Democratic-controlled House on two counts in December, and his trial moved onto the Republican-controlled Senate by January, where it was never in doubt that he would be acquitted.
  • Trump made a big show of saying the trial wasn’t preventing him from doing work as president. In the middle of the trial,as The Post’s Philip Bump points out, he even tweeted out that he was holding a meeting about coronavirus.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Most of the administration’s documented errors on its coronavirus response are due to actions they took themselves: faulty testing kits, regulations that made it harder for the private sector to develop tests, not stocking up hospitals with equipment, Trump downplaying the virus and being late to the game on social distancing.

How Trump changed his mind on social distancing

President Trump offers a handshake to the CEO of Walmart, Doug McMillon, during a coronavirus briefing March 13 as his administration urges Americans not to shake hands, among other social distancing measures. (Alex Brandon/AP)

President Trump offers a handshake to the CEO of Walmart, Doug McMillon, during a coronavirus briefing March 13 as his administration urges Americans not to shake hands, among other social distancing measures. (Alex Brandon/AP)

He wanted to open the country up by Easter, worried about what a plummeting economy would do to his reelection. But by Sunday, he had agreed to extend social distancing guidelines through the end of April. What changed his mind? Our White House team interviewed 15 people in the administration and close to it and found that two things had moved Trump:

  • The body count, especially seeing body bags outside a Queens hospital where Trump grew up. That, coupled with projections that in a best-case scenario only 100,000 to 200,000 Americans will die — and in a worst-case, 2.2 million — won Trump over. Trump’s argument that the cure is worse than the disease, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, “flipped when he heard that 2.2 million could die if he did nothing.”
  • The argument that Trump could be in even more political danger if he tried to reopen the economy too soon. What happens if people, at Trump’s urging, go back to work and get sick, and overwhelm hospitals in rural, pro-Trump states that don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it? Also, a some-states-in, some-states-out approach to social distancing could lengthen the virus’s stay through the summer. “If consumers don’t want to leave their homes in July, we’re screwed,” said one person who talked to The Post. “You have to do what you need to do to have a clean resolution to this so we can come out of this on the back end knowing that coronavirus has passed.”

Newspaper deliveryman brings groceries to older residents, free of charge

Joan Coppinger greets newspaper delivery man Greg Dailey as he drops off her groceries last week in northern New Jersey. (Erin Dailey)

Joan Coppinger greets newspaper delivery man Greg Dailey as he drops off her groceries last week in northern New Jersey. (Erin Dailey)

And now, a sweet gesture to end the day with: “My name is Greg Dailey and I deliver your newspaper every morning,” the note began. “I understand during these trying times it is difficult for some to get out of their house to get everyday necessities. I would like to offer my services free of charge to anyone who needs groceries, household products, etc.”

 
 
 
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