Mike Pence's coronavirus claims go from bad to worse

Mike Pence wants his pronouncements on the public-health crisis to be taken seriously. That's quite a bit more difficult than he seems to realize.
Image: Donald Trump
Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 19, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP file
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By Steve Benen

Vice President Mike Pence made a bold forecast in late April, arguing that by early June the United States would be "largely past this epidemic." The Indiana Republican added that by Memorial Day weekend -- May 23 to 25 -- Americans "will have this coronavirus epidemic behind us."

This was tragically wrong. Even at the time, Pence's assessment was difficult to take seriously, but as May turned to June, it was clear that the head of the White House's coronavirus task force was making public pronouncements that didn't stand up well to scrutiny.

Complicating matters, Pence apparently didn't learn much of a lesson from this.

On Monday, the vice president said Donald Trump was headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a campaign rally because the state has "flattened the curve" when it comes to the coronavirus. He added that the number of infections in the state has "declined precipitously." As the Associated Press noted soon after, that's plainly not true.

The curve has actually been spiking higher since late May, not flattening.... In Tulsa, where a Trump rally is scheduled for Saturday, the infection rate is also rising steadily after remaining moderate for months. The four-day average number of new cases in the city has doubled from the previous peak in April. The city's own health department director, Dr. Bruce Dart, has said he hopes the rally will be postponed, noting that large indoor gatherings are partially to blame for the recent spread.

A New York Times report added that Oklahoma has seen an "obvious and steep rise" in coronavirus cases following the state's reopening.

It's difficult to say with certainty why Pence peddled a line that was the opposite of the truth. Maybe he was confused. Maybe the head of the White House's coronavirus task force has stopped paying attention. Maybe the vice president was peddling the line the president asked him to repeat. Whatever the motivation, remarks like these make it that much more difficult to take Pence's claims at face value.

And yet, he keeps going. Yesterday, the vice president wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal, making the case that there is no coronavirus "second wave." There's some truth to that, but not in the way Pence suggested.

As an NBC News report explained yesterday, "A second wave of the coronavirus suggests that the first wave has come and gone. That hasn't happened."

Dr. David Weber, medical director of hospital epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill, added, "We never made it out of the first wave."

All of this comes less than a week after Pence visited with several dozen Trump campaign staffers -- who didn't appear to be wearing masks, and who weren't following social-distancing standards.

The vice president wants his pronouncements on the public-health crisis to be taken seriously. That's quite a bit more difficult than he seems to realize.