Pence, in call with governors, defends Trump comments on coronavirus testing

Vice President Pence while on a conference call with governors on Monday defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE's recent comments downplaying the importance of coronavirus testing, according to a source on the call.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) told Pence that Trump's comments at his campaign rally over the weekend in Oklahoma, where the president called testing a "double-edged sword" and quipped that he told aides to "slow the testing down," were "not helpful," the source said.

"We are doing everything we can in Nevada to increase our testing, increase the availability of the testing, and our cases have gone up. It’s not solely as the result of more testing," Sisolak said, according to a transcript of the call provided by the vice president's office.

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"It is also a result of people not wearing masks and not following the social protocols, so if we could all get on the same page and get a commitment that there is not a federal mandate to slow down testing, I think would be extremely helpful," Sisolak added.

Pence brushed off the significance of Trump's comments, according to the source, calling them passing remarks by the president. Other governors did not bring them up later in the call.

The vice president told Sisolak that a percentage of new cases in certain states is partially "reflective of an extraordinary national success in testing and that we’re identifying people and ... that’s a reflection of great, great collaboration of the federal and state level, as well as with our private sector."

Trump sparked backlash at his Tulsa rally over the weekend when he riffed on coronavirus testing, explaining that the U.S. has conducted significantly more tests than other countries.

"You know, testing is a double-edged sword," he told the crowd.

"Germany's done a lot, South Korea's done a lot. They call me, they say the job you're doing — here's the bad part, when you ... do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases," he added. "So, I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.' "

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Democrats seized on the remarks, accusing Trump of trying to avoid looking bad politically by purposefully slowing down widespread testing that experts say is critical to identifying and containing outbreaks.

Trump appeared to make the comments in jest, and the White House initially defended the remarks as a joke. But the president in an interview Monday would not directly say whether he had ordered officials to slow down testing.

The U.S. has conducted more than 27 million tests total, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. It significantly ramped up testing in late April and May after facing intense scrutiny over its difficulty in doing so in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

The U.S. has more than 2.2 million coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins data, and more than 120,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus.

Pence has sought to cast a recent uptick in cases in a handful of states as a result of increased testing capacity, but experts say the spikes are likely associated with the lifting of restrictions that were intended to slow the spread of the virus.

Officials on Monday's call also pointed to a rising number of young people testing positive to explain why some states are seeing increasing case totals, according to the source on the call.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) at one point said because bars are open again and summer sports are starting, younger people are getting tested more.

Even as cases and hospitalizations in Arizona, Texas, Florida and other Sun Belt states appear to be rapidly rising, Pence has remained a steadfast cheerleader for reopening the economy. He penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week saying fears of a second wave of virus cases were "overblown" and arguing the administration's handling of the pandemic has been a success.

"Pence was literally congratulating governors who are opening up more things," the source on the call said. 

Updated at 1:45 p.m.