Republicans are breaking from Trump’s coronavirus talking pointsJuly 14, 2020
From masks to school reopenings to the testing abilities of the United States, some of President Donald Trump’s central political talking points are being undermined by a growing circle of usually reliable allies as the coronavirus roars back to alarming levels.
The breaks with Trump come as the president’s poll numbers on handling the virus and his job approval in general continue to sink, while the administration tries to put the virus in the rearview despite record-breaking case numbers and straining health care systems.
And while the White House has publicly aimed its fire at infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci and other public health experts, a deeper rift has emerged in the administration and the Republican Party at large about Trump’s attempts to minimize the devastation and risks of the coronavirus as November’s election draws closer.
Some of the most direct splits with the administration have come on the issue of testing, which, while markedly improved since the earliest days of the U.S. outbreak, is still not where experts say it needs to be, with delays in test results sometimes stretching a week or more in some areas.
Trump’s former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney panned the administration’s testing abilities in an op-ed on Monday, calling the struggles his family encountered when trying to get tested and the wait time for results afterward “simply inexcusable.”
Mulvaney’s editorial urged Congress to focus on combating the virus itself rather than homing in on just fiscal stimulus measures in its next rescue package, as he acknowledged that dissent on coronavirus isn’t “popular to talk about in some Republican circles.”
Tuesday morning the pile-on continued as “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade acknowledged a “huge testing issue,” as well as a growing scarcity of personal protective equipment as virus cases surge once more.
“What he can do, what the president can do, and what his administration can do is make sure those aren’t an issue. I mean it’s been four or five months. It should not be an issue,” Kilmeade said.
In a visit to a South Carolina hospital later in the day, Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest allies on the Hill, said a lack of timely testing was one of the key issues raised during his visit.
“We just don’t have enough testing in real time for the population as a whole,” he said, suggesting the White House could invoke the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce testing supplies or incentivize pool testing.
“I would advise the task force to do whatever they can to ramp up the components of testing,” Graham urged, noting that for kids to return safely to school as soon as next month, “you’re going to need more testing — not less.”
The White House has continued to defend the administration’s testing capabilities, with Trump again calling America the “best in the world” at testing and reiterating his belief that testing is a “double-edged sword.”
But even Adm. Brett Giroir, the Health and Human Services assistant secretary tapped by the White House to be its testing czar, said over the weekend that commercial labs, which conduct much of the nation’s testing apart from point-of-care tests, were experiencing delays in test results.
“We need to decrease the time to turn around those results, and we have a number of efforts,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The split between Trump and his allies on testing follows an earlier break on the issue of wearing masks. After weeks of pleas from Republicans for Americans to wear masks as virus cases in the South and West first began to spike, and unsubtle suggestions that the president could set a positive example by donning a mask, Trump himself finally relented and wore one in public for the first time over the weekend.
In Florida, where the state shattered a daily case record over the weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis adopted a more somber tone on Monday as he addressed residents’ fears over the virus, including over whether students should return to school in the fall as his state is planning.
“I know many Floridians are filled with apprehension as they wonder, you know, what does this mean. What do these trends mean for our health, for our families, and for our jobs? How long is this going to go on for? What’s going to happen with things like kids being in school?” he said at a press conference.
“I hear you, and I along with our federal partners, our local leaders, and our great medical community, we’re working nonstop to be able to respond to this crisis,” he continued, urging Floridians not to be “swept up in fear.”
DeSantis also acknowledged testing problems, explaining that the state needed “faster results.”
Texas, another Sun Belt hotspot, made waves when it moved to roll back reopening measures across the state, closing bars and restricting other businesses seen as contributing to rising cases. And after rejecting calls to issue a mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott initially granted local leaders greater authority to issue their own before ordering face coverings be worn in most of the state.
When Houston’s Democratic mayor canceled the Texas GOP’s in-person convention last week, the move drew criticism from the party and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. But Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a freshman lawmaker seen by some as a rising star in the party, applauded the decision and called it a “prudent move for public health.”
Even so, the GOP is pressing forward with plans to hold its nominating convention in a little over a month in Jacksonville, Fla. The New York Times reported Tuesday that officials have decided to move three days’ worth of events — including Trump’s marquee nomination speech — out of an arena into outdoor venues, a change made after consulting with the president and other political advisers Monday night.
The decision comes as Republican lawmakers have exhibited skepticism about attending the event, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and other Republicans have announced they will skip it altogether.
And in spite of what has turned into an aggressive push from the White House for schools across the country to reopen in the fall, complete with threats to choke off federal funding for districts that don’t comply with orders, some of the largest districts in the country have spurned the administration on in-person instruction.
Even some Republican school chiefs and traditionally GOP-leaning groups like the Chamber of Commerce have expressed pause about the White House’s pressure campaign, while some rank-and-file lawmakers have been hesitant to echo Trump’s demand for in-classroom schooling for all.
“We don’t want a reemergence, we don’t want young people getting sick or bringing it home to their parents, or the teachers, some of whom are upwards in their age risk who could also be at further risk of contracting the disease,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said Tuesday in an interview on Fox News.
“Yes, I want kids to go back to school, but if and only if, and I say that with capital letters, it is safe,” Smith argued.
In the meantime, Trump has taken aim at health officials including Fauci, who has become a household name throughout the pandemic for his bluntness when it comes to the severity of the outbreak.
Last week Trump denounced the CDC’s guidelines for reopening schools, calling it “very expensive & tough” as well as “impractical” and causing Vice President Mike Pence to announce that the agency would issue additional, clarifying recommendations soon.
On Monday morning, the president retweeted messages from former game show personality Chuck Woolery complaining that “everyone is lying” about the virus, naming the CDC, Democrats, the media, and “our Doctors” in particular.
The indirect criticism came a day after the White House reportedly told multiple news outlets that several of its officials were “concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things,” and provided a lengthy list of statements the widely respected immunologist made in the early days of the outbreak that could appear damaging in retrospect.
In response, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted the president and the country’s top infectious disease expert “have always had a good working relationship.”
But less than a day later, top Trump social media adviser Dan Scavino shared a cartoon on Facebook depicting Fauci as a faucet drowning Uncle Sam and the economy with demands to close schools, impose lockdowns and cancel the NFL season.
The attacks have met defensiveness and pushback from the medical community.
On Tuesday, four former CDC heads penned an op-ed in The Washington Post accusing the president of politicizing science and “undermining” health professionals. And in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Giroir rebuked Trump’s pessimistic implications about his health advisers.
“Look, we may occasionally make mistakes based on the information we have, but none of us lie. We are completely transparent with the American people,” Giroir said.
He also defended the rest of the White House coronavirus task force, saying that Fauci and other task force members including White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield all “work together every single day” and enjoy a “great, collegial relationship.”
Graham also defended Fauci on Tuesday, declaring that “we don’t have a Fauci problem.”
“We need to be focusing on doing things that get us to where we need to go. So I have all the respect in the world for Dr. Fauci. I think any effort to undermine him is not going to be productive, quite frankly,” the senator said.