Several top Republicans defended President Donald Trump after revelations that he told Bob Woodward that he intentionally downplayed coronavirus in order to avoid creating a panic and gave the public a rosy assessment despite what he knew privately.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a vulnerable Republican who is up for reelection, said he wants to see “the full context” of Trump’s comments before fully weighing in. But he added: “When you’re in a crisis situation, you have to inform people for their public health but you also don’t want to create hysteria.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican also up for reelection, pointed to Feb. 29 comments that Dr. Anthony Fauci made on the “Today” show where he said that there was “no need” for people to change their lifestyles “at this moment,” though Fauci also warned about the threat of “community spread” from the coronavirus and cautioned that the risk level “could change.”
“I think it became clear that the human transmission was greater than originally thought,” Graham told CNN.
“So when the President shutdown the economy in March I think that was a bold decision because he took the hottest economy in decades and shut it down. I think that was the decision of consequence, shutting the economy down.” (The White House left the decisions to states to decide whether to shut down their economies.)
Graham added: “I don’t think he needs to go on TV and screaming we’re all going to die.”
Asked again if he was OK with Trump admitting that he played down the threat, Graham said: “His actions of shutting the economy down were the right actions. I think the tone during that time sort of spoke for itself. People knew it was serious”
Other Republicans had similar refrains.
“I’d argued since day one that we put this in proper perspective: I have not been in favor of these overall shutdowns, have been devastating to the economy, devastating to people’s health in other ways,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told me, when asked about Trump’s comments to Woodward.
Johnson added: “It’s been a difficult thing to manage, and I’ve tried not to be critical of any government officials having to make really tough decisions with imperfect information, that includes governors and the President. So I understand what he’s saying. I don’t think it’s an illegitimate point to make.”