In an interview with “TODAY” show host Savannah Guthrie, Vice President Mike Pence admitted that some of the words and comments coming about surrounding the coronavirus outbreak have been “irresponsible,” but stopped short of chiding his own boss for saying downright inaccurate and misleading things about the disease.
When Pence was asked if he had a message for citizens who weren’t taking the spread of COVID-19 seriously — invoking the words of President Donald Trump, who suggested some of the concerns were “fake news” pushed by the media and Democrats to make him look bad — Pence responded with a small acknowledgment of the president’s words.
“There’s been some irresponsible rhetoric, but the American people should know President Trump has no higher priority than the health and safety and well being of the people of this country,” Pence said.
"What do your experts tell you the number of infected Americans is likely to be? I'm looking for a number if you have it." –@savannahguthrie asks about the coronavirus
"There will be thousands of more cases of coronavirus." –@Mike_Pence
"Thousands or millions?" -Guthrie pic.twitter.com/G3TV2Hwnw6
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 12, 2020
Trump’s comments over the past several weeks have been more than just a teensy bit irresponsible — in some ways, they’ve exacerbated the problem by making people believe that coronavirus is being hyped up, or even a “hoax,” as he put it.
Two weeks ago, Trump said the virus was being combatted effectively by his administration, and that the number of cases in the country would “going very substantially down, not up” within a matter of days. There were just 60 cases in the country at the time of that statement, whereas today there are around 1,300.
Trump also claimed to know, earlier in February, that the virus would die out with warmer temperatures in the spring. “A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April,” Trump said, even though his health officials contradicted that notion.
He’s also said that a vaccine could be developed soon. However, yet again, health experts say such a process can take up to a year (or longer) to complete. Trump also pushed a xenophobic narrative in calling coronavirus a “foreign” disease in his speech on Wednesday.
The American people are largely split with Pence’s main point, that Trump is putting their health as a high priority. In a recent Economist/YouGov poll (published earlier this week), 43 percent disapproved of Trump’s response to the spread of the disease, while 41 percent approved.
Trump put Pence in charge of the coronavirus task force, but so far it seems the main job the vice president has is handling Trump’s PR when it comes to how poorly he’s handled the situation up to this point.
Chris Walker is a freelance journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin, who focuses on news, politics, and analysis of world events. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, since 2005 Chris has reported on workers’ rights protests in Wisconsin, opined on four separate presidential elections and written on a number of other political subjects for a variety of national online publications.