RFK Jr. pointedly attacks Trump over COVID response in Libertarian Party speech

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. targeted former President Trump over his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as he spoke to Libertarians during their party convention Friday.

Kennedy argued that the former president and his administration had violated people’s First Amendment rights when they instituted health guidelines to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think he had the right instinct when he came into office. He was initially very reluctant to impose lockdowns, but then he got rolled by his bureaucrats. He caved in, and many of our most fundamental rights disappeared practically overnight,” Kennedy said at the Libertarian National Convention in Washington.

“President Trump allowed his health regulators to mandate science-free social distancing, which undermined our First Amendment rights to freedom of assembly. We could no longer peacefully gather,” he said later.

Trump-RFK Jr. feud comes to a head at Libertarian convention

Kennedy’s comments marked one of the most pointed set of remarks against Trump yet. Though Kennedy is widely seen as a long-shot contender between Trump and President Biden, recent polling has suggested he could be a spoiler for Trump in November.

Kennedy used much of his speech accusing Trump and Biden of infringing on Americans’ rights and constitutional freedoms, saying he would do more to protect people’s rights to free speech and right to assemble.

Both Kennedy and Trump are slated to speak at the convention, with the former president delivering remarks Saturday.

The Trump administration rolled out strict protocols aimed at curbing social gatherings, nonessential travel and in-person work during the beginning of the pandemic as COVID-19 cases and deaths escalated. The president and health officials were frequently at odds over how to best manage the pandemic, including over which institutions could be allowed to be open or accessible.

Though the president supported churches reopening, states instituted their own guidelines, creating a patchwork of different rules on how to tackle COVID-19. That led to different procedures over when to open other institutions, like businesses and schools.

Anthony Fauci, the former White House chief medical adviser during the pandemic, became a frequent target of Republicans, including Trump, who believed health officials were going too far in their health guidelines.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) criticized the former president during his own presidential campaign over his handling of the pandemic and for not removing Fauci from his post.

“President Trump said that he was going to run America like a business. And he came in and he gave the keys to all of our businesses to a 50-year bureaucrat who had never been elected to anything and had no accountability,” Kennedy said, claiming Trump closed millions of businesses with “no due process, no just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

“With lockdowns, mass mandates the travel restrictions, President Trump presided over the greatest restriction on individual liberties this country has ever known,” he added.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.