Was Donald Trump Distracted from the Coronavirus Threat by Impeachment?

Impeachment can’t take sole blame for the government’s early missteps in addressing the pandemic, but it undeniably played a part in them.

Mitch McConnell told Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday that in the early days of the global coronavirus pandemic, the government was distracted by impeachment:

Hewitt: In your experience in the Senate, was Senator Cotton the first one to say hey, Leader, hey Mitch, this is a deadly situation that I do not trust to the Chinese? Was he first?

McConnell: He was first, and I think Tom was right on the mark. And it came up while we were tied down on the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government, because everything every day was all about impeachment. But Tom figured this out early, and he was absolutely right.

Headlines to the contrary notwithstanding, in context McConnell was clearly aiming to give credit to Tom Cotton rather than to make excuses. But was he right?

The Center Ring

At the simplest level, if you just ask, “Were President Trump and his senior aides distracted by impeachment?” the answer is, “Of course they were.” But how much that matters requires us to reconstruct the context of two months ago, which now seems like the distant past.

The House impeached Trump on December 18. The Senate trial began January 16, was effectively wrapped up with the vote to hear no live witnesses on Friday, January 31, and concluded with the vote of acquittal on February 5, the day after Trump’s State of the Union address. Impeachment was an all-consuming drama for this White House, the Congress, and the Washington press corps. It swamped coverage of the Democratic presidential race just as the Iowa caucuses kicked the voting off. Nearly everyone scoffing at McConnell today was spending vastly more of their energy on impeachment at the time than they were on the virus news out of China. The possibility that impeachment would distract the government from more important things was part of the debate at the time over whether to go through with it. For those of us who questioned the wisdom of forcing a House vote and Senate trial when the outcome was predetermined, the waste of time and attention was part of the case against impeachment; for those who saw the process as a way to inflict political damage on an administration they regard as deeply dangerous, keeping the president occupied was a bonus.

There was a good deal of debate at the time about who was and was not distracted from what by impeachment. On January 6, Elizabeth Warren claimed that Trump’s authorization of a military strike on Qassem Soleimani was driven by his being “upset” at impeachment and was intended to distract the public from it. On January 18, CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that:

Donald Trump has appeared “distracted” by the impeachment trial that begins on Tuesday, according to a source close to the White House who speaks to the President regularly. “Why are they doing this to me,” the source quoted Trump as saying repeatedly, telling people around him this weekend at Mar-a-Lago that he “can’t understand why he is impeached.”

Trump’s administration, however, was not paralyzed, even with the president preoccupied. On January 23, David Graham of The Atlantic argued that “even as the president’s impeachment trial moves forward, the White House is acting aggressively on a range of policy proposals that are politically, legally, or morally suspect, wagering—probably correctly—that the press and the people will mostly overlook them amid the drama in the Senate.”

To the extent that impeachment was consuming the finite attention of senior policymakers in the White House and on Capitol Hill, we can only be thankful that Senate Republicans wrapped up the trial by voting down additional witnesses on January 31. Had the Democrats gotten their wish, Washington would have been consumed for additional critical weeks into February looking backward at Ukraine instead of forward at the threat of the virus.

Attention to the Virus
The American response to the coronavirus was, in retrospect, too slow and too complacent. There is plenty of blame to go around. As Jim Geraghty has detailed, any accounting begins with China, which misled the international community about the nature and scope of the original epidemic in Wuhan. The World Health Organization was at best gullible in relying on Chinese assurances to insist, into mid-January, that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.” And, yes, our own leaders dropped the ball, too.

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Eight Cubans recover from Covid-19

Havana, Mar 31 (Prensa Latina) The Ministry of Public Health of Cuba informed that eight people have recovered from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Francisco Duran, Director of Epidemiology of the Ministry said that the recovered people are discharged with the utmost responsibility.

He also said that the positive cases in Cuba number 186, and another 16 people turned out positive since Monday, of them 14 Cubans.

Duran said there are three critical patients, four severe ones and two have died, both Cubans, for a total of six in the pre-epidemic phase.

The specialist stressed that in order to determine contagion with the virus 315 cases were studied up until Monday, thus amounting to 2,322 samples analyzed.

He also pointed out that since last March 24th, all who arrive in the country are quarantined for 14 days in sites enabled to this end, and if they exhibit respiratory symptoms are then relocated to designated hospitals and isolation centers.

Duran stressed that out of the 186 positive cases, 165 remain stable and are progressing satisfactorily.

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China creates material capable of destroying SARS-CoV-2

Beijing, March 31 (Prensa Latina) China’s scientific center created a catalytic material that absorbs and eradicates SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus on the basis of a project developed in 2003 during the SARS epidemic, reported this Tuesday local press.

According to the Global Times, the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics obtained the product and checked it has 96, 5 and 99, 9 percent of effectiveness to destroy the pathogen, causing the lethal Covid-19 disease.

Researchers realized that for the virus’ characteristics, it is prone to absorption, and trials achieved to eradicate it.

Specialists expect to use it as an ingredient of products for epidemiologic control, water purification, facial masks’ and air conditioners’ filters.

The Institute set out to have created a similar material after the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) from 2002 to 2003 and the scientific branch of the Popular Liberation Army evidenced its utility.

Experts now resumed the project because of similarities between SARS-CoV-2 and the causing pathogen of SARS.

In addition, it seeks the cooperation of some company to manufacture articles with such component in support of the fight inside and outside China against Covid-19 pandemic.

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Israel launches new missile aggression against Syria

Damascus, Mar 31 (Prensa Latina) Israeli fighters stroke several military positions in the central Syrian province of Homs.

Zionist fighter jets launched missiles from Lebanese airspace at Homs´ several military positions. Syrian Arab Army’s anti-aircraft defenses immediately activated and shot down some missiles before they hit their targets, the Ikhbariya TV news channel reported.

Syrian servicemen told Prensa Latina that Israeli airborne attack targeted Sheyrat military air base, and was carried out through two waves of missiles, and said that anti-aircraft defenses effectively responded.

Sheyrat military air base was bombed by the United States on April 2017, after fake accusations against Syrian army of conducting a chemical attack over the city of Khan Shaikhun, in the northern province of Idlib.

Israel is often launching airborne attacks over Syrian territory, under the pretext of attacking targets from Iran and Hezbollah. Damascus denounces that these attacks are intended to weaken Syrian army´s military capacities, raise the morale of terrorists as well as to prolong the war in Syria.

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