Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blamed the Trump administration's delayed response to the coronavirus outbreak on impeachment, even though the president ignored numerous early warning signs and sought to downplay the crisis long after he was acquitted in a trial.
McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday that the federal government was distracted from the brewing crisis, because "we were tied down in the impeachment trial."
"I think it diverted the attention of the government, because everything every day was all about impeachment," he said.
McConnell's comments came after Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., made the same argument earlier on the broadcast.
"Unfortunately, Washington, especially the Congress was consumed with another matter — you may recall the partisan impeachment of the president," Cotton told Hewitt.
But journalist David Corn pointed out that the impeachment trial did not distract Trump from playing golf eight times between mid-January and early March.
McConnell overlooked Trump's repeated false claims that the virus was "very much under control" through February and early March.
"This is both a pathetic excuse and damning admission by McConnell," CNN legal analyst Susan Hennessey tweeted. "Trump administration had warning and time to act and didn't because they only focus on the president's political fortunes and not the health and safety of nation. People are dying because Trump didn't do his job."
McConnell also ignored key decisions made by the Trump administration which predated the pandemic, as well as repeated warning signs.
The Trump administration disbanded the White House National Security Council pandemic team to cut costs in 2018. Trump also repeatedly sought large cuts to the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even after the pandemic began. Though his proposals were rebuffed by Congress, the administration made numerous moves which undercut the agency's operations behind the scenes.
The Department of Health and Human Services warned about the country's lack of preparation when it simulated a similar respiratory disease pandemic that originated in China throughout much of 2019, but their warnings were largely ignored, The New York Times reported. U.S. intelligence agencies also issued stark warnings in January and February about the danger posed by the coronavirus, but Trump repeatedly downplayed the threat, according to The Washington Post.
Once the outbreak hit the U.S., the Trump administration failed to follow the National Security Council's pandemic playbook, according to Politico, while federal agencies repeatedly bungled the testing situation, leaving the country blind to the virus' rise for weeks, according to The Times.
Though Trump claimed that the U.S. was testing more people than any other country, testing still lags behind some European and Asian nations, and governors continue to report shortages.
"The White House has promised millions of tests for weeks now, and they're just not here," Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sunday.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan all criticized the administration's delay in providing testing kits to states this week.
"Every single state in American has a shortage," said Hogan, a Republican. "There's simply not enough of them."
Pritzker said Monday that the state ordered 1.2 million N95 protective masks but, weeks later, received 300,000 of the wrong type. New York and California have also received broken or inoperable ventilators from a federal stockpile.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., excoriated Trump on Sunday, warning that the administration's continued delays continue to put American lives at risk.
"The president, his denial at the beginning, was deadly," she told CNN. "His delaying of getting equipment to where — it continues — his delay in getting equipment to where it's needed is deadly."
"As the president fiddles, people are dying," she added.
Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, said McConnell's latest excuse for Trump's inaction defied the facts.
"Trump was acquitted by the Senate on February 5—but didn't declare a national emergency to address #COVID19 until March 13," he wrote on Twitter. "Even accepting this nonsense argument (Presidents can't do two things at once??), that's *37 days* after acquittal without any meaningful federal action."
"Let's indulge the absurd premise that Trump did nothing/lied/downplayed Covid-19 for so long because of impeachment," Cornell Law professor Josh Chafetz added. "That says a lot about Trump's unfitness for office--which, in turn, suggests the warrantedness of impeachment."