With pandemic commentary, AG Barr strays far outside his lane

For Barr to tell a national audience about his expectations for public-health guidelines and untested medical treatments is, to put it mildly, problematic.
Members Of The Coronavirus Task Force Hold Press Briefing
Attorney General William Barr listens during a coronavirus task force news conference at the White House on April 1, 2020.Oliver Contreras / SIPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke to NBC News this morning, making the case that the total number of coronavirus fatalities may be as low as 60,000, thanks to ongoing mitigation efforts such as physical distancing. "Having said that," the NIH specialist added, "we better be careful that we don't say, 'OK, we're doing so well we could pull back.'"

Hopefully, Attorney General Bill Barr was listening.

Attorney General William P. Barr said Wednesday that some of the government-imposed lockdown measures meant to control the spread of covid-19 were "draconian" and suggested that they should be eased next month.

As the Washington Post report on this added, the Republican lawyer told Fox News's Laura Ingraham that the government has the power to restrict interactions during a pandemic, but he wants federal officials to be "very careful to make sure that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified."

Barr added, "When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed." Pointing to the upcoming expiration of the White House's social distancing guidance, he went to say, "I think we have to consider alternative ways of protecting people."

On average, an American died from COVID-19 yesterday every 45 seconds, but the attorney general apparently wants people to be allowed to "adapt." I don't know what that means.

Barr also raised concerns on state-level restrictions on religious gatherings, made necessary to prevent the virus from spreading within congregations. "A free society depends on a vibrant religious life by the people," he said. "So any time that's encroached upon by the government, I'm very, very concerned."

Though he wasn't explicit on this point, I hope he's equally concerned about houses of worship holding services and putting their congregants in danger.

What's more, Barr took aim at journalists, with a specific focus on news organizations reminding the public that when Donald Trump touts hydroxychloroquine, he's pushing a medication that hasn't been proven to be an effective treatment for the coronavirus.

"As soon as [the president] said something positive about it, the media's been on a jihad to discredit the drug," Barr said.

I spent a little time this morning reviewing the attorney general's background, and as best as I can tell, he has literally no background in epidemiology or public-health, though he seemed eager to present himself as an authoritative voice during his latest conservative-media appearance. Indeed, Barr even felt compelled to weigh in on the amateur president's medicinal advice.

It's more than a little bizarre to see so many prominent figures from Team Trump operating far outside their lanes. If the attorney general wanted to use his office to crack down on price gouging and fraud during the pandemic -- steps that the Justice Department is, to its credit, already taking -- that would make perfect sense.

But for Barr to speak to a national television audience about his expectations for public-health guidelines and untested medical treatments is, to put it mildly, problematic.