Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday sought to clear up confusion and send Americans a unified message on the coronavirus pandemic by praising President Donald Trump’s response and vaguely criticizing “some irresponsible rhetoric.”
In a series of morning television interviews, he made false claims and dodged key questions about the spread of COVID-19 and the federal government’s handling of the pandemic. He did not acknowledge that the president, his administration and his GOP allies have themselves been responsible for some of the incorrect information about the virus.
“Obviously, there’s been some irresponsible rhetoric, but the American people should know that President Trump has no higher priority than the health and safety and well-being of the people of this country,” Pence told NBC’s “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie.
When Guthrie asked Pence to set the record straight on some key facts about the pandemic, the vice president repeatedly touted Trump’s “unprecedented” announcement that he was banning travel from Europe — while being unable to provide clear answers on how many Americans could contract COVID-19 or the status of the government’s testing for the virus, which has repeatedly faced delays.
The travel ban announcement itself sowed confusion, with administration officials having to clarify aspects of the ban after Trump’s primetime Oval Office address on Wednesday, such as specifying the ban only applied to “foreign nationals” coming to the U.S. from Europe, not U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
But on CNN Thursday morning, Pence claimed there was no confusion and praised the “historic” action.
Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly contradicted guidance from medical experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including falsely claiming a coronavirus vaccine could be developed within months and downplaying the pandemic by suggesting it would disappear by the spring.
Trump and his allies have also promoted racism and xenophobia. In his Oval Office address, Trump referred to COVID-19 as a “foreign virus.” Other GOP lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), have called it the “Wuhan virus” or the “Chinese coronavirus,” even though it has now spread worldwide and is not tied to race or ethnicity. They have also attacked people calling them racist, claiming it’s an overreaction.
People of Chinese descent around the world have reported increased instances of racist and xenophobic attacks stemming from the pandemic, and Chinese-owned businesses have reported sharp declines in sales and patronage. There is a long history of Asian Americans being stereotyped as disease carriers in the U.S., and the earliest Chinese immigrants were referred to as the “yellow peril.”