GOP senators sound alarm as coronavirus surges in home states
Senate Republicans are raising the alarm over the country’s rapidly growing number of coronavirus cases.
The warnings come as President Trump has repeatedly linked the recent spike to an increase in testing, while also overselling his administration’s response and appearing optimistic about the odds of a quick vaccine or the disappearance of the virus altogether.
But GOP senators — back in their home states, many of which are seeing increased case counts — are painting a more sobering picture with their on-the-ground view.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has crisscrossed Kentucky during the recess, telling constituents that the coronavirus will not “magically disappear” and stressing that wearing a mask should not be a political issue.
“Regretfully, this is not over. There were some that hoped this would go away sooner than it has. And I think the straight talk here that everyone needs to understand is this is not going away,” McConnell said during one of the stops.
“This is going to be with us for a while,” he added. “The coronavirus is not involved in American politics. It has its own way forward, and we need to act responsibly.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — who, like McConnell, is up for reelection — characterized the public health fallout from Memorial Day as a “disaster,” pointing to an increase in cases coupled with a decrease in hospital space and available protective equipment.
“You can see the effects of what happens when you kind of let your foot off the gas,” he said.
Graham, a close congressional ally of Trump, also called for individuals to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently and practice social distancing, comparing the coronavirus fight to a “war.”
“All I can say is that if you believe wearing a mask is a sign of weakness, then you’re wrong,” he said. “Nobody is asking you to go to Afghanistan and get shot — just asking you to use common sense.”
The pleas from Republicans come as roughly 40 states are seeing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, according to New York Times data, with public health officials warning that many Americans and government officials are offering rose-colored predictions about the likelihood of quickly returning to pre-pandemic activities like sports and socializing in large groups.
The United States hit an all-time high in the number of cases in a single day on Thursday with more than 75,600 cases, according to New York Times data. Six of the last seven days through Friday have also had daily cases at 60,000 or more, according to the Times.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose state recently became the global epicenter, told Fox News, “Look it’s bad. It’s not great.”
“People need to wear their mask, they need to be more conscious of it. I believe they now are. But remember, the hospitalizations we’re seeing today are the infections that happened two or three weeks ago. Hopefully, if we can begin to correct that behavior now we’ll see improving numbers as we move forward into the next month,” he said.
Trump has sustained months of criticism for his administration’s response to the coronavirus, including a costly delay early on before ramping up production of medical equipment and a lag in testing. He suggested earlier this month that the virus could “disappear.”
“And I think we’re going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear. I hope. … I think we’re going to have a vaccine very soon too,” Trump told Fox Business.
A Quinnipiac University Poll survey released Wednesday found that 67 percent of registered voters surveyed do not trust information Trump provides on the coronavirus compared with 30 percent who do. An ABC News-Ipsos poll released the previous week found similar results, with 67 disapproving and 33 percent approving of the president’s response.
Trump’s handling of the virus could impact not only his reelection chances but also that of Senate Republicans, who are fighting to hold their majority as Democrats post record-breaking fundraising numbers. But GOP senators have been careful not to criticize Trump, whose base they need for support on Election Day, even as they offer vastly different messages than the president when it comes to the coronavirus.
McConnell noted that the earliest he had heard of the United States getting a vaccine was toward the end of the year and that the timeline was “extremely optimistic.”
“The truth is we’re not going to have a vaccine for a while, and the truth is we’re experiencing a resurgence in some states,” he said.
Trump has faced public scrutiny from Democrats and even members of his own party beyond Capitol Hill.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the administration’s coronavirus response was inadequate and that it became “hopeless” to wait for Trump to lead on the crisis.
“If we delayed any longer, we’d be condemning more of our citizens to suffering and death. So every governor went their own way,” Hogan wrote.
Former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney called the country’s testing shortfalls “simply inexcusable.”
The Trump administration has touted the country’s testing capabilities, with Trump saying in a CBS News interview this week that “no other country tests like us. In fact, I could say it’s working too much. It’s working too well.”
GOP senators, however, are warning that the country still needs to dramatically increase its testing capacity, particularly as schools consider resuming in-person classes and more parts of the country loosen social distancing restrictions.
“We need to focus on increasing testing capability between now and the first of September,” Graham said.
McConnell noted that the focus on Capitol Hill would be “testing, treatment and vaccine.” Republicans are expected to include more money for testing, as well preparing vaccine distribution in their forthcoming coronavirus relief bill.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), in addition to wanting widespread tests with a turnaround time of 15 minutes, said he has also urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Defense Department to have a plan in place by September for the distribution of an eventual vaccine.
“I think if … we aren’t prepared to distribute the complete kit it takes for an individual to have a vaccine that the country will be outraged and I will too,” he said. “We’ve had plenty of notice on this.”