GOP to Trump: Focus on policy
McConnell: Impeachment distracted government from coronavirus threat
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday blamed the Democrats' push to impeach President Trump in January for distracting the Trump administration from the threat posed by the coronavirus.
"It came up while we were tied down in the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything every day was all about impeachment," McConnell said in an interview on "The Hugh Hewitt Show."
Trump has come under sharp criticism for the nation's slow response to the spreading pandemic, especially for the shortage of coronavirus testing kits when the virus first spread to the United States.
More than 160,000 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 3,000 people have died from the virus in the country.
McConnell told Hewitt that he has not heard any new reports about senators being diagnosed with coronavirus.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) missed a vote on the $2 trillion economic relief package after being diagnosed with COVID-19, and four other Republican senators placed themselves in quarantine last week out of caution for potential exposure.
China reported its first known death due to the coronavirus on Jan. 11, after researchers in the country discovered a new, unknown disease had infected dozens of people.
By Jan. 20, countries outside of China, including Japan and South Korea, reported the virus had spread, and on Jan. 23, Chinese authorities sealed off the city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.
The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on Jan. 30, and on Jan. 31, the Trump administration blocked foreign nationals who had traveled to China in the previous two weeks from entering the United States. However, the immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents were allowed back to the U.S.
Trump has been criticized for not taking the virus seriously enough at first.
The president told CNBC's Joe Kernen on Jan. 22 at the World Economic Forum in Davos: "It's one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It's going to be just fine."
Trump also said he trusted information coming from the Chinese government, telling the CNBC host, "I have a great relationship with President Xi."
At the time, few lawmakers were focused on the emerging threat.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who also appeared on "The Hugh Hewitt Show" Tuesday, said he started studying the potential impact of the virus in late January.
"The first time I recall talking about the China virus in the media was on your show, probably late in January, and I had started studying the problem in mid-January," he said.
"I have to tell you that in mid-January and late-January, unfortunately, Washington, especially the Congress, was consumed with another matter - you may recall the partisan impeachment of the president," Cotton added.
The Senate voted to acquit Trump of two articles of impeachment on Feb. 5 after a three-week trial and months of investigation by the House.