Despite Trump's antics, Pence denounces 'irresponsible' virus rhetoric

If Mike Pence is ready to talk about "irresponsible rhetoric," I know where the discussion should start.
Image: Vice President Mike Pence addresses reporters during his daily Coronavirus Task Force news briefing at the White House
Vice President Mike Pence addresses reporters during his daily Coronavirus Task Force news briefing at the White House, March 10, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Get the Msnbc newsletter.
SUBSCRIBE
By Steve Benen

NBC News' Savannah Guthrie reminded Vice President Mike Pence this morning that there are some Americans who are not taking the coronavirus outbreak seriously, because they assume the fears are the result of politics and hype. The Today host specifically quoted part of a Donald Trump tweet from this week, in which he accused news organizations of conspiring with Democrats to "inflame" the situation "far beyond what the facts would warrant."

Given a chance to respond, the Indiana Republican seemed to acknowledge the problem.

"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 in response but it was not clear who he was referring to.

Those who watched the segment may have noticed that, in context, it may have seemed as if Pence was referring to Trump's tweet, since Guthrie had just quoted it moments earlier. I rather doubt, however, that the vice president would approve of such an interpretation.

In fact, it was just last week that Pence defended far-right coronavirus rhetoric as "understandable," while complaining about this New York Times column from Gail Collins.

But even if we assume that the vice president wasn't referring to Trump when he denounced "irresponsible rhetoric," Pence's line is still a tough line to swallow given how spectacularly irresponsible the president has been throughout the crisis.

In early February, Trump boasted, in reference to the COVID-19 threat, that U.S. officials had "shut it down." Three weeks later, he claimed the number of Americans with the virus would soon drop to "close to zero." Just 48 hours ago, the president assured Americans, "It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.... It's really working out."

And then, of course, there are the falsehoods. CNN's Daniel Dale noted in a report yesterday, "President Donald Trump has been comprehensively misinforming the public about the coronavirus. Trump has littered his public remarks on the life-and-death subject with false, misleading and dubious claims. And he has been joined, on occasion, by senior members of his administration. We've counted 28 different ways the President and his team have been inaccurate."

If Mike Pence is ready to talk about "irresponsible rhetoric," I know where the discussion should start.