Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday offered a new—and, according to critics, "ridiculous" and baseless—excuse for the failure of the White House and the federal government more broadly to take early action against the coronavirus outbreak: The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump got in the way.
"While Trump's impeachment and trial were ongoing, Trump found time for his priorities—holding campaign rallies and playing golf."
In an appearance on NBC News contributor Hugh Hewitt's talk show, McConnell said the coronavirus outbreak "came up while we were, you know, tied down in the impeachment trial."
"And I think it diverted the attention of the government, because everything, every day, was all about impeachment," McConnell claimed.
But as Inae Oh and Dan Friedman of Mother Jones wrote Tuesday, the Kentucky Republican's argument "ignores reality on multiple counts."
First, there's the fact that senior administration officials, according to the Washington Post, spent weeks in January warning Trump about the virus' potential for disaster in the United States. "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," one official told the Post. "The system was blinking red."
While Trump ignored those national security warnings, he played a lot of golf, hitting the links at least five times from mid-January through early March. Did impeachment cause that?
McConnell's attempt to blame the Trump impeachment trial—which ended in acquittal on Feb. 5—for Senate inaction also doesn't fit the facts, Oh and Friedman noted.
"The trial didn't stop the Senate's health committee from receiving a briefing about the virus from U.S. public health officials on January 24," they wrote. "If impeachment really had prevented McConnell from taking action on coronavirus, one would have expected him to deal with the issue immediately after the trial concluded on February 5. He did not. The first thing senators did after acquitting Trump was take a five-day weekend. Upon their return, the Senate did not turn to pandemic preparation measures."
McConnell is now lying & saying that impeachment kept the government from addressing #COVID19. Ridiculous, refutable & irresponsible.
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) March 31, 2020
Mitch McConnell admits to being unable to focus on two things over the span of a few months. Sounds like incompetence to me. https://t.co/BIkdtDpLVG
— Emma Vigeland (@EmmaVigeland) March 31, 2020
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Asked about McConnell's claim during a press briefing Tuesday evening, Trump said the impeachment trial "probably did" hinder his response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has been widely condemned as slow and inadequate.
But Trump went on to say that he doesn't think he "would have acted any faster" had he not been impeached by the House of Representatives.
President Trump, asked about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's suggestion that impeachment "diverted" attention from the coronavirus crisis in China:
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 31, 2020
Addressing McConnell's comments, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted Tuesday night that the Kentucky Republican "may have been distracted by impeachment from acting to fight coronavirus, but not everyone was."
"I called for President Trump to declare a public health emergency to fight coronavirus on January 26!" Schumer said.
In his "Popular Information" newsletter Wednesday morning, Judd Legum wrote that "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," Legum noted. "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."