Vice President Mike Pence defended President Trump’s handling of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, claiming that “I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus” in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Despite banning Chinese nationals from entering the country and declaring a public health emergency at the end of January, Trump and his administration have sent mixed signals on the virus.
The president has implied that the outbreak was similar in potency to the common flu and telling CNBC in January that “we have it totally under control.” In February, he claimed that, “within a couple of days,” the U.S. number of cases “is going to be down to close to zero.” “That’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” Trump stated.
Then-acting White House chief-of-staff Mick Mulvaney also dismissed the possibility that the coronavirus was a serious threat while addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February. “This is not Ebola. It’s not SARS. It’s not MERS,” he said, adding that the media’s hyper-attention was because “they think this is going to be the thing that brings down the president.”
The back-and-forth messaging has drawn criticism from fellow Republicans.
“He at times just says whatever comes to mind or tweets, then someone on TV is saying the opposite,” Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, the Washington Post. “It’s critically important that the message is straightforward and fact-based for the public.”
Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson said on his March 9 show that coronavirus “is definitely not just the flu.”
“People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem,” Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson stated. “It’s just partisan politics,’ they say. ‘Calm down. In the end this was just like the flu and people die from that every year. Coronavirus will pass.’ We get it. But they’re wrong.”
While the mainstream media has also heavily scrutinized Trump’s response, numerous media outlets also explicitly downplayed the threat from the coronavirus throughout January and February.
Pence, who Trump appointed as head of the White House’s coronavirus task force in February, also suggested Wednesday that the outbreak could be contained by June if the White House’s new guidelines are followed.
“If all of us continue to do our part, and that is by some time in early June, we could well have the coronavirus largely behind us as a nation, reopen our country, put America back to work,” Pence stated.