Vice President Mike Pence said he didn’t believe President Donald Trump downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, contradicting Trump’s own words in an audio recording where the president said he “wanted to always play it down.”
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told the famed journalist on March 19, according to a copy of Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” and audio recordings provided to CNN. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Trump was aware of just how dangerous the virus was, telling Woodward on Feb. 7 that it was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus” ― at the same time as he and the White House publicly minimized the threat.
Pence also said in a now-deleted tweet on Thursday that Trump “shut down the entire American economy to put the health of America first.” But almost immediately after the federal government released strong social distancing guidelines in late March that led to the shutdown of large swaths of the U.S. economy, Trump was already itching to reopen businesses, even at the expense of more people dying.
“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” Trump said at a White House briefing in March, the same month he told Woodward he was intentionally downplaying the threat of the virus. “America will, again and soon, be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. Lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
And in May, as cases continued to rise across the U.S., the president said he wouldn’t call for shutting down the U.S. economy should a second wave hit.
“Whether it’s an ember or a flame, we’re going to put it out. But we’re not closing our country,” Trump said.
In June, Pence himself encouraged governors to downplay the community spread of COVID-19 and instead to attribute spikes in case numbers to an increase in testing, The New York Times reported.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also contradicted Trump’s own recorded words during a press conference on Wednesday.
“The president has never lied to the American public on COVID,” McEnany said, insisting that Trump “never downplayed the virus.”
More than 190,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus so far.