Vice President Pence on Wednesday rejected the idea that President Trump “belittled the threat of the coronavirus,” despite the president saying in January and February that the disease was “under control” and likening it to the common flu.
Pence said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the U.S. would have been “better off” in responding to the virus if China had been more forthcoming with information about the new virus.
Blitzer responded that it would have been helpful if Trump “wouldn’t have been belittling the enormity of this crisis, the coronavirus pandemic as he was.”
“Well, Wolf, respectfully I take issue with two things that you just said,” Pence said. “I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus.”
“I think he’s expressed confidence that America will meet this moment,” Pence continued. “I think he’s expressed gratitude and confidence in health care workers in this country, and the American people can be assured that President Trump is going to continue to be confident that we will meet this moment.”
Blitzer interjected that he was basing his remarks on Trump as recently as last week comparing the death toll of the coronavirus favorably to influenza and automobile accidents and the president’s comments at the end of February that the 15 cases reported at the time in the U.S. would soon be down “close to zero.”
Pence replied that Trump is “an optimistic person,” and credited the president with setting up a coronavirus task force within the White House and restricting travel from China in late January.
“We have been hoping for the best but planning for the worst,” he said.
Trump on Tuesday adopted a more serious tone in discussing the virus as health officials unveiled models that showed up to 240,000 Americans could die of the disease even with strong social distancing and mitigation measures in place. The president warned Americans it would be a “very painful” two weeks as cases and deaths mount.
But Trump has also repeatedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic. He claimed multiple times that the virus would dissipate in April as the weather warmed. He said in late February it would disappear “like a miracle.” And he told Americans to “view this the same as the flu.”
There are more than 190,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Tuesday afternoon and more than 4,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
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