Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday defended President Donald Trump after NBC’s Chuck Todd accused the president of “trying to undermine” his own coronavirus guidelines by encouraging protests of some states’ stay-at-home orders.
In a series of tweets Friday, Trump tweeted all-caps calls to “LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia ― three swing states led by Democratic governors ― in an echo of protesters’ demands. A day earlier, Trump had outlined a three-phase set of guidelines for easing the social distancing restrictions in some areas over a span of several weeks.
“All three states have issued guidelines that follow the national advice that you have been giving them,” Todd told Pence. “They are following the president’s guidelines to the best of their ability. Can you explain what the president is trying to ‘liberate’ Minnesota from?”
Pence responded that “no one wants to reopen America more than” Trump.
“We have to make sure that the cure isn’t worse than the disease,” he said, repeating a talking point often used by Trump. “The truth is that there are real costs, including the health and well-being of the American people, to continue to go through the shutdown that we are in today.”
Todd continued to press the vice president, asking why Trump is “trying to undermine” the White House’s own recommendations.
“I don’t accept your premise,” Pence said. “And I don’t think most Americans do either. The president’s made it clear, he wants to reopen America. And we laid out guidelines for every state in the country to safely and responsibly reopen their economy at the time and manner of their choosing.”
But the protesters who Trump appears to be encouraging are demanding that stay-at-home orders be lifted immediately. Despite warnings from public health officials that easing measures too early could be disastrous, thousands of protesters ― a mix of right-wing followers, anti-vaccine advocates and gun rights activists ― took to the streets in more than a dozen states last week.
In photos, protesters can be seen standing side by side without masks or gloves, in defiance of social distancing guidelines meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
When asked during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” what he thinks about the protests, Pence danced around the question.
“From the moment President Trump asked me to lead the coronavirus task force two months ago, he made it clear that we had one objective, and that was to save lives,” Pence said. “We are slowing the spread. We’re hastening the day we can put the coronavirus in the past and reopen the American economy.”
Host Chris Wallace asked Pence to explain what Trump meant with his calls to “LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia, despite federal guidelines recommending those states continue social distancing given their rates of infection. Pence offered another vague response.
“In the president’s tweets and public statements, I can assure you he’s going to continue to encourage governors to find ways to safely and responsibly let Americans go back to work,” he said. “And the guidelines for opening up America give a road map for doing just that.”
The U.S. has the most known infections of any country in the world, with over 742,000 confirmed cases and at least 39,000 deaths as of Sunday. Michigan, one of the states Trump wants to “LIBERATE,” has the sixth highest number of confirmed cases in the country with over 30,000.
At least 40 states, led by Republicans and Democrats alike, are under stay-at-home orders. Trump’s new guidelines recommend that state and local officials register a two-week downward trend in confirmed cases, as well as secure adequate testing capabilities and medical equipment availability, before easing restrictions.
Trump said during a press briefing Saturday that he’s aware of “a lot of protests” about coronavirus measures, and said he believes some governors have gotten “carried away.”
But several governors said Sunday that their states do not meet the criteria for lifting restrictions outlined in Trump’s new guidelines.
“I understand the frustration among the people that want to get things open right away,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) told CNN on Sunday. “I’m frustrated also. … We’re doing everything we possibly can to reopen in a safe manner.”
Hogan, chair of the National Governors Association, said it’s “not helpful” and “doesn’t make any sense” for Trump to encourage demonstrations that go against his own policy.
“You can’t start to reopen under his plan until you have declining numbers for 14 days, which those states and my state do not have,” Hogan said. “We’re sending completely conflicting messages out, to the governors and to the people, as if we should ignore federal policy and federal recommendations.”