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Pence denies Trump's downplaying hampered COVID-19 response

Pence denies Trump's downplaying hampered COVID-19 response
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Vice President Pence on Thursday denied that the country's response to the coronavirus was in any way hampered by President TrumpDonald TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care MORE repeatedly downplaying the threat from the deadly disease.

"Absolutely not," Pence said on Fox News when asked if Trump's public dismissiveness of the virus limited the ability of the U.S. to contain the pandemic.

"His tone was one of projecting calm and confidence," Pence said. "But I heard him at that podium, I heard him at every setting. We gave the American people the facts."

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The remarks come as the White House grapples with the fallout of audio recordings of the president privately acknowledging the threat of COVID-19 as he publicly downplayed it. The recordings were part of numerous interviews Trump gave to veteran journalist Bob Woodward for an upcoming book.

Pence on Thursday framed Trump as a decisive leader during the pandemic and echoed the president's own rationale that he did not want to incite panic by portraying the virus as a serious and imminent threat to American lives.

The vice president repeatedly praised Trump for his "historic" decision to bar some incoming travel from China in late January, though he at one point mischaracterized it as suspending all travel.

"I literally believe that the president’s decision to suspend China, the largest mobilization since World War II, and asking the American people to shut down our economy for 45 days to slow the spread to save lives is exactly the kind of presidential leadership that the American people hope for and pray for in times like this," Pence said.

Pence was tapped in late February to lead the White House coronavirus task force, and he acknowledged to Fox that he was in the Oval Office a month earlier when national security adviser Robert O'BrienRobert O'BrienHuawei says sales rose in 2020, but growth slowed amid US sanctions White House aides head for exits after chaos at Capitol Top Melania Trump aide Stephanie Grisham resigns MORE told Trump that the emerging coronavirus outbreak would be the most difficult national security challenge of his presidency.

The first excerpts of Woodward's book, "Rage," were released Tuesday, along with audio recordings of Trump's interviews with the author.

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In one such recording, Trump said in early February that the virus was "deadly" and could spread through the air. But Trump spent weeks comparing it to the common flu and insisting that it would go away.

The president's remarks to the Watergate journalist underscored how Trump privately talked about the severity of COVID-19, even as he brushed it off in public remarks in January and February.

“I wanted to, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward in a recording from mid-March.

The president on Wednesday acknowledged that "perhaps" he misled the American public about the severity of the virus in order to reduce panic.

The U.S. has had the highest reported number of infections and deaths from COVID-19 of any country in the world, and the economy is still climbing out of a recession caused by the outbreak. Majorities of Americans have said in public polling that they disapprove of Trump's handling of the pandemic and do not trust information he provides about the virus.

Pence on Thursday did not directly respond when asked whether it was a good idea for Trump to participate in extensive interviews with Woodward for the book.

"I ran into Bob Woodward, I think, once in the White House," Pence said. "I wasn’t aware of the number of times the president spoke to him."

"I don’t know if there’s ever been a more accessible president of the United States than President Donald Trump," he added.