Trump picks the wrong time to say the virus is 'going away'

As infection rates reach new heights, Mike Pence wants Republicans to focus on "encouraging signs." Donald Trump's posture is even worse.
Image: President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 3, 2020.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 3, 2020.Doug Mills / NYT via Redux
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By Steve Benen

Vice President Mike Pence, ostensibly the head of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, has repeatedly struggled when it comes to describing the seriousness of the threat. It was in late April, for example, that the Indiana Republican made a bold forecast, arguing that by early June the United States would be "largely past this epidemic."

His assessments have not improved since. Last week, for example, Pence said Oklahoma has "flattened the curve" when it comes to the virus, adding that the number of infections in the state has "declined precipitously." None of this was even close to being true. Around the same time, the vice president told a group of governors to explain to the public that rising infection rates can be attributed to increased testing. That wasn't true, either.

Pence nevertheless keeps talking, traveling to Capitol Hill yesterday and telling Republican senators to focus on "encouraging signs."

I'm looking at the signs. They're not encouraging.

The U.S. saw a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day, with 45,557 diagnoses reported Wednesday, according to a tally by NBC News. Wednesday's cases top the previous highest daily count from April 26 -- during the first peak of the pandemic in the U.S. -- by more than 9,000 cases, according to NBC News' tracking data.

The NBC News report added that health experts this week said recent outbreaks "can be traced to Memorial Day, when many officials began loosening lockdowns and reopening businesses."

Coincidentally, Mike Pence said in April, "I think honestly, if you look at the trends today, that I think by Memorial Day weekend we will have this coronavirus epidemic behind us."

But it's not just the head of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce who's wrong; so too is the official who gave him the job.

Donald Trump was in Arizona this week, where he told supporters the crisis is "going away," even as national infections reach new highs, and most of the country is looking at trend lines going in the wrong direction. The comments came three weeks after the president boasted that the United States is "largely through" the crisis, reality notwithstanding.

At the same Arizona event, Trump added, "They say, 'The cases have jumped,' instead of saying what a job we're doing with testing." In other words, according to the president, the rising number of infections is evidence of how great his administration is doing -- which might be more persuasive if it weren't completely wrong.

What's more, the Republican isn't just saying foolish things; he's preparing to take foolish actions. NBC News reported yesterday that the Trump administration "is planning to end its funding and support for coronavirus testing sites at the end of the month."

This comes on the heels of Trump insisting that he wasn't kidding when he said he'd directed White House officials to "slow the testing down" for public-relations purposes.

Is it any wonder the United States' allies are weighing a travel ban to keep Americans out of their countries?