Republicans say impeachment distracted Trump from coronavirus. But the president golfed and held rallies during his trial while downplaying the virus for weeks.

insider@insider.com (John Haltiwanger)
trump golf
President Donald Trump plays a round of golf on the Trump Turnberry resort in South Ayrshire, where he and first lady Melania Trump are spending the weekend.

Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images

  • Republicans are now blaming impeachment for President Donald Trump's bungled coronavirus response. 

  • "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," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

  • But Trump golfed, held campaign rallies, and hosted a Super Bowl party during his trial while repeatedly downplaying the threat of the virus.  

  • Public health experts widely agree that Trump's response to coronavirus has been disastrous, excoriating the president for repeatedly ignoring warning signs. 

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As President Donald Trump faces criticism from public health experts and lawmakers over his lack of preparation for the coronavirus pandemic, his Republican allies have argued the president was too distracted by impeachment to focus on the spread of the virus. 

"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," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Tuesday interview.

But Trump was not too distracted to go golfing or hold campaign rallies during the impeachment trial, as he simultaneously downplayed the threat of the virus and told Americans everything was under control. 

On February 1, the president tweeted a picture of him golfing with the caption: "Getting a little exercise this morning!"

It was the height of Trump's impeachment trial, and less than a week before he was acquitted in the GOP-controlled Senate. At the time, the novel coronavirus had already reached the US and was a little less than a month away from being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. 

The president golfed, held campaign events, and even had a Super Bowl party as the outbreak was getting worse in the US

The novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, first appearing in late December, though it was not identified as a new virus until early January.

Trump's impeachment trial formally began on January 16. The first confirmed case of coronavirus in the US came on January 21.

From the get-go, Trump downplayed the threat. 

"We have it totally under control," the president said on January 22. "It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine."

Trump golfed (or was at one of his golf properties) on January 18, January 19, February 1, and February 2

The president also held multiple 2020 campaign rallies from the time he was impeached on December 18 to the end of his trial on February 5. 

Here are the dates and locations of campaign rallies and events Trump held between his impeachment and the end of his Senate trial:

Trump, who was often critical of his predecessor for golfing and claimed he would not take vacations as president, also held a Super Bowl party at his Mar-a-Lago resort in early February while his trial was ongoing and the virus was spreading.

The president was acquitted on February 5, as the virus continued to spread across the globe. By that point, he'd restricted travel to the US from China, but was continuing to downplay the threat of the virus to the US. 

"I think the virus is going to be — it's going to be fine," Trump said on February 10. 

Weeks after his impeachment trial ended, Trump in a February 26 press briefing said that the number of coronavirus cases in the US would be "close to zero" in a "couple of days." During the same press conference, a top official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the US should expect the number of cases to rise.

The US now has the highest number of reported coronavirus cases in the world — over 180,000 — and more people in the US have died from the virus than were killed in the 9/11 terror attacks.

Still, the president continued to visit his golf resorts and hold rallies into March, and hosted a party at his Mar-a-Lago resort in mid-March attended by multiple Brazilian officials who later tested positive for coronavirus

Trump and his allies are rewriting history

McConnell is not the only Republican who's blamed impeachment for Trump's delayed, bungled reaction to the virus.

The impeachment-as-distraction theory emerged among Republican leaders over the weekend. Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted on Sunday that the "sham impeachment" had wasted valuable time fighting the virus.

Speaking to Politico on Monday, Sen. Tom Cotton echoed Blackburn's response. "It's unfortunate that during the early days of a global pandemic, the Senate was paralyzed by a partisan impeachment trial," he said. 

And on Tuesday, Rep. Doug Collins told his Twitter followers that the impeachment trial was to blame for the government's delayed response. "Think about this → the first #coronavirus case in the U.S. was confirmed on January 15. The same day, @SpeakerPelosi delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Maybe if she stopped playing political games, our country could focus on what really matters," he wrote.

Trump made similar assertions in a tweet earlier this month: "I was criticized by the Democrats when I closed the Country down to China many weeks ahead of what almost everyone recommended. Saved many lives. Dems were working the Impeachment Hoax. They didn't have a clue! Now they are fear mongering. Be calm & vigilant!"

Similarly, in a tweet that was retweeted by the president, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Sunday stated: "In January, Democrats were all-consumed with a bogus impeachment. What was @realDonaldTrump doing? Taking aggressive action to confront coronavirus including China travel restrictions & declaring a public health emergency."

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top expert on infectious disease and a top official on the White House coronavirus task force, has been publicly critical of key aspects of the Trump administration's coronavirus response. Fauci in early March said the US needs to admit it's "failing" in terms of testing for coronavirus, just days after Trump falsely claimed anybody who needed a test could get one.   

Moreover, Trump was warned about the potentially devastating consequences of a pandemic earlier in his administration, and did nothing, even as experts and top US officials urged him to brace for impact. In January, US intelligence agencies warned Trump of an impending pandemic, but they reportedly "couldn't get him to do anything about it." 

Though Trump did take some steps in late January and February to quell the spread of coronavirus — including putting travel restrictions into place — he also continued to travel extensively for golf trips and rallies.

On February 28, at a campaign event in South Carolina, he referred to the coronavirus as the Democrats' "new hoax." And at his last campaign event on March 2, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Trump similarly compared the impact of the virus to the flu, saying it was "a problem" but that "we closed our borders very early." Thousands of people attended the rally, held at the Bojangles' Coliseum. The same day, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US hit 100 and the death toll rose to six

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