Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that the impeachment inquiry distracted Donald Trump and his administration from effectively dealing with the then-emerging coronavirus pandemic. As CNN reports, the Republican leader was speaking with Hugh Hewitt on his talk show when he claimed that the COVID-19 crisis “came up while 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,” McConnell continued.
He added that Tom Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, was the first to realize that the virus could potentially devastate the country.
“Tom figured this out early, and he was absolutely right,” McConnell said.
Cotton, who also appeared with McConnell on the radio show, reiterated the Kentucky Republican’s statement.
“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,” he said.
The Trump administration has faced intense scrutiny for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, with critics arguing that the president’s attempts to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 and the widespread shortage of testing kits and equipment for health care workers has allowed the disease to spread quickly throughout the country.
The first death due to the virus was reported on January 11. On January 15, the House voted to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, kicking off the trial in the upper chamber. By January 20, the disease had spread to several other countries.
On January 22, Trump said that the disease is under control and everything would be “just fine.”
On February 5, the Senate acquitted the president, closing the trial. By February 10, after flawed test kits began rolling out to hospitals, he was telling people at a campaign rally that the virus could fade away as the weather warmed up in April.
At this point, over 160,000 have tested positive for the coronavirus, with over 3,000 dead from COVID-19 — the disease caused by the virus.
Several senators and representatives have been impacted by COVID-19, though McConnell told Hewitt that he hasn’t heard of any new reports of people in Congress being infected.
He also defended Trump’s performance during the crisis and slammed Democrats for making the pandemic political.
“I think the president is doing very, very well,” he said. “The Democrats, it seems to me, want to turn the president’s handling of all this into a political liability for him. I see he’s getting attacked in campaigns.”
McConnell himself has been criticized after taking the weekend off while a coronavirus stimulus bill was waiting back in Washington, D.C.