Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped into Donald Trump after revelations this week from famed journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book that the president downplayed the threat of coronavirus publicly while privately expressing his concerns about its deadliness.
“In those comments, he showed his contempt — contempt for the American people and their health, contempt for science, contempt for any real effort to crush the virus,” Ms Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.
While Senate Republicans have largely defended the president, saying he was trying to prevent public “panic,” Ms Pelosi indicated that was no excuse for misinforming the American people about how seriously they ought to have been taking the threat of Covid-19.
The president "refused to take the threat seriously, leaving the entire country exposed and unprepared," Ms Pelosi said.
“He didn't want to cause a panic — why? Because of the stock market? Nobody wants to cause a panic. You want to show leadership, show a strategic plan following the science, allocating the resources in order to get the job done,” the speaker said.
Senate Republicans have mostly come to the president’s defence over the contradictions between his early public statements downplaying the coronavirus and his private conversations with Mr Woodward for his book, Rage, acknowledging the severity of the threat it posed.
"It doesn't bother me," Senator Kevin Cramer told reporters on Wednesday of the president’s comments.
"I don't feel like he was ever lying to anybody. He's a hopeful, upbeat, positive person," the North Dakota Republican said. "The gravity of it, when it was becoming clearer, was also reflected by him."
Mr Trump's messaging about Covid-19 has been wildly inconsistent as he has tried to express optimism about the disease "going away".
For instance, the Trump administration pushed to open schools this fall for in-person classes because, as the president said as recently as 5 August, “this thing's going away. It will go away like things go away.”
The US was fending off a second spike in new cases at the time of those comments.
Mr Trump admitted to Mr Woodward in a recorded conversation on 19 March that it was part of his coronavirus strategy to publicly "play it down" to avoid a "panic" among the people.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden harangued Mr Trump for his comments on the Woodward tapes, saying the president’s response to the coronavirus crisis amounted to a “dereliction of duty”.
"He knew how deadly It was. It was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat posed to the country for months," Mr Biden said at a campaign speech at General Motors in Warren, Michigan on Wednesday.
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