House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke out against President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in response to their suggestion that the impeachment trial distracted the United States government from addressing the threat of the coronavirus in a timely manner. According to Pelosi, the slow to take action by the president's team is not a responsibility they should waver from and they “should not try to hide behind an excuse.”
“I think that’s an admission that perhaps the President and the majority leader cannot handle the job,” Pelosi told Anderson Cooper in an interview with CNN on 1st April. “We have a life and death situation in our country and they should not try to hide behind an excuse for why they did not take action, but it does admit that they did not take action,” she continued. “Right now we have to work together to get the job done.”
The statements came in response to comments made by Trump and McConnell shortly before. In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt on 31st March, McConnell said that the crisis “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.”
Later that same day, Trump expressed a similar opinion in a press briefing. “I think I handled it very well, but I guess it probably did [distract me],” said Trump before adding, “Did it divert my attention? I think I’m getting A+’s for the way I handled myself during a phony impeachment, okay? 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, okay?” Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives who charged him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on 18th December 2019. He was acquitted on all charges by the Senate on 5th February.
US intelligence agencies reportedly issued dire warnings to the Trump administration via classified documents in January and February about the inevitable global threat posed by the coronavirus that now has more than 200,000 confirmed cases and at least 4,500 deaths in the US alone. President Trump and lawmakers allegedly played down the severity of the issue which resulted in a “too little too late” response to containment, reports the Washington Post.
While intelligence reports didn’t predict an exact timeframe for the dissemination of the virus or offer a specific course of action for its containment, it did track its spread in China and later onto other countries. It also warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimising the outbreak’s severity.
According to the Washington Post’s report, Trump first received warnings about the coronavirus in early January; however, an official task force was not assembled until 29th January. Meanwhile the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to issue increasingly serious warnings to the public about the spread of the virus and how to best protect themselves. Trump continued to make public statements downplaying the severity of the virus until a somber press conference on 16th March.
Despite claims that the impeachment hearings — for which Trump was not actually present — affected the carrying out of coronavirus protections, the president's late uptake of action came with multiple warning signs which seemed to have been ignored.