Pence Defends Trump as Critics Say President Downplayed Virus in Early 2020

September 10, 2020 Updated: September 10, 2020

President Donald Trump was projecting calm when he spoke publicly in February about how the outbreak of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus could quickly come to an end even as he called it “deadly stuff” in private, Vice President Mike Pence said.

“His tone was one of projecting calm and confidence. But I heard him at that podium, I heard him in every setting. We gave the American people the facts,” Pence said Thursday during a virtual appearance on Fox News.

Pence praised Trump for suspending travel from China on Jan. 31, noting the “unprecedented step” was opposed at the time by Democrats, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and the World Health Organization.

“What I saw, firsthand from the day in January in the Oval Office when President Trump took the unprecedented step of suspending all travel from China, declaring a public health emergency, is that this president put the health of America first from day one,” he said.

“But he also wanted to reassure the American people all along the way. There’s that old saying from World War II in Great Britain, ‘keep calm and carry on.’ That was the presidential leadership that I saw.”

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President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the White House in Washington on Sept. 9, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The host played audio showing Trump on Feb. 7 telling journalist Bob Woodward behind closed doors that the virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, was deadly.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” Trump said. “This is deadly stuff.”

“Joe Biden, Democrats, and even the World Health Organization criticized the president’s decision to suspend all travel from China. That took place a week before the audio clip that you just played,” Pence responded.

Biden at the time called the ban “xenophobic,” but in April his campaign said he supported the ban.

The CCP virus emerged in late 2019 but health experts around the world were unsure about how serious it was, in part because the CCP hid information related to the outbreak and refused to allow outside teams into the country to study the epicenter in Wuhan.

U.S. officials across the country, including Trump, held public events into March, most notably in New York, one of the hardest-hit areas in the world. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in March encouraged people to go out to eat.

Critics say Trump was presenting one set of information to the public while expressing more concern behind closed doors.

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Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden waves after delivering remarks in Warren, Mich., Sept. 9, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months,” Biden, the former vice president, told a crowd in Warren, Michigan, on Wednesday.

“He knew how dangerous it was. Now, while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” Biden added.

Biden has pointed a number of times to a non-peer reviewed Columbia University study that estimated tens of thousands of fewer Americans would have died if strict measures later imposed to try to curb the spread of the virus were put into place earlier.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters earlier Wednesday that Trump was keeping in mind that fears over the virus could lead to a market crash as well as a run on food stores.

“Our food supply chains were at risk, we could not have mass runs on grocery stores. The markets, also, the economy was in play here, we didn’t want there to be a huge crash and panic,” she said.

Trump said while announcing additions to his potential Supreme Court nominee list that he doesn’t want people to be frightened or create a panic.

“We don’t want to have to show panic. We’re not going to show panic. And that’s exactly what I did. And I was very open—whether it’s to Woodward or anybody else. It’s just another political hit job. But whether it was Woodward or anybody else, you cannot show a sense of panic or you’re going to have bigger problems than you ever had before,” he said.

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