Republicans are testing out a new pathetic excuse for Trump's dismal failure on the coronavirus
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is predictably trying to shift the blame for the current public health and economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus away from President Donald Trump and on to Democrats. In an appearance Tuesday on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt's show, he suggested that the Democratic push to impeach the president in January impaired the country's response to Covid-19.
“It came up while we were tied down in the impeachment trial," McConnell said, as The Hill reported. "And I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything every day was all about impeachment."
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, also appearing on with Hewitt, echoed this argument: "I have to tell you that in mid-January and late-January, unfortunately, Washington, especially the Congress, was consumed with another matter — you may recall the partisan impeachment of the president."
Others have been recently trying to push this line, and it's deeply revealing.
First, to believe the excuse that impeachment is to blame for coronavirus catastrophe, you have to accept that there actually was wild mismanagement of the crisis from the beginning. This is easy to believe because, as I've written, it's true. But it's not what the president believes. He has argued repeatedly that he's handled the crisis expertly. Asked to rate his performance, he gave himself a 10/10.
Second, you have to accept that Trump bears no blame for his own impeachment. This is obviously absurd, though many believe it. The facts of the Ukraine scandal were bad enough that a member of Trump's own party, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to convict him. Even many Republicans and conservative pundits who opposed impeachment nevertheless admitted that Trump's efforts to induce Ukraine to investigate his political rival were seriously concerning or wrong. But Democrats weren't eager to impeach the president; House leadership, most notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only came around to impeachment when the details uncovered in the Ukraine scandal were so outrageous that they could no longer be ignored.
Third, to accept McConnell's excuse, you'd have to believe that it was reasonable for Trump to become so consumed by his own impeachment process. While this might have seemed unavoidable, it was a choice. Many argued at the time that Trump's best defense would have just been to focus on doing a good job as president and to let his lawyers handle the proceedings. Instead, Trump became obsessed with impeachment and raged about it constantly in public. Trump could have been working harder to oversee the administration's response to the emerging coronavirus crisis — he could have even used this to distract from impeachment! — but he didn't.
Fourth, to buy McConnell's spin, you have to ignore the fact that even after impeachment was over, Trump continued to downplay the seriousness of the crisis for over a month. The delays in developing an effective testing regime for the coronavirus continued. There was no nationwide effort to produce ventilators and other supplies the country is so desperately in need of. There was no substantial effort to coordinate the dueling agencies and competing states to establish a coherent response.
Fifth, to accept this excuse, we have to ignore the fact that being president is, indeed, a hard job. You have to monitor many crises at once, and you'll face strict oversight and scrutiny from the opposition. Nevertheless, you're accountable for the failures and successes of your administration. That's just the way it goes.
It's possible, though, that McConnell isn't just trying to give Trump an excuse for his failures. He may be trying to explain his failure to lead the Senate to respond in time.
This might be an even more absurd argument. McConnell has seemed utterly disengaged on Congress's efforts to pass legislation to fight the coronavirus crisis. He even delayed action by taking a long weekend home for an event with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh while Democrats were demanding he move quickly. And now, Congress is on break for most of April as the crisis continues to unfurl; lawmakers show no apparent signs they appreciate the urgency of the situation. They should be Washington trying to provide more help to suffering people and conducting oversight of the federal government's response.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer dismissed McConnell's impeachment excuse, pointing out that he had called for a public health emergency declaration in January:
Senator Mitch McConnell: You may have been distracted by impeachment from acting to fight coronavirus, but not eve… https://t.co/Wa5sFAvwQt— Chuck Schumer (@Chuck Schumer)1585682413.0
It's notable, too, that some Democrats saw and called out the administration's ill-preparedness early on, even though they, too, had been focused on impeachment: