President Trump sent a letter to Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer on Thursday accusing him of leaving New York “unprepared” for the coronavirus pandemic now crippling the state because of the “impeachment hoax.”
In a blistering personal attack on Schumer (“I never knew how bad a Senator you are for the state of New York”), the president lashed out over criticism of what many see as a delayed federal response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country.
In an earlier letter Thursday, Schumer criticized the administration’s handling of the crisis, saying that “the existing federal leadership void has left America with an ugly spectacle in which States and cities are literally fending for themselves, often in conflict and competition with each other, when trying to procure precious medical supplies and equipment.”
Schumer also noted on Twitter that he’d “called for action” as early as Jan. 26 and dismissed as “ridiculous” an argument made by some of Trump’s allies that impeachment proceedings left the country vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Trump offered a swift and apparently unrestrained response: “Thank you for your Democrat public relations letter and incorrect sound bites, which are wrong in every way,” he wrote.
“We have given New York many things, including hospitals, medical centers, medical supplies, record numbers of ventilators, and more. You should have had New York much better prepared than you did, and as Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx said yesterday, New York was very late in its fight against the virus,” the letter read.
“As you are aware, the Federal Government is merely a back-up for state governments. Unfortunately, your state needed far more of a back-up than most others.”
Just before the letter was made public, Trump veered off course during the daily White House coronavirus task force briefing to complain about the damage supposedly caused by “witch hunts.”
“This is not the time for politics, endless partisan investigations, here we go again, have already done extraordinary damage to our country in recent years,” Trump said. “You see what happens. It's witch hunt, after witch hunt after witch hunt. And in the end the people doing the witch hunt have been losing. And they've been losing by a lot.”
His comments came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday morning that she was “a big supporter of after‑action review” when asked about an investigation over the early days of the coronavirus. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), a Trump nemesis, has proposed a panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission.
“I know that at least two of our chairmen have made a suggestion to that effect,” Pelosi said. “That's something we should discuss. It has to be bipartisan.”
Trump, who as recently as just over a week ago compared the new coronavirus to the seasonal flu, has repeatedly been accused of downplaying the severity of the illness and stalling the federal response.
Even as health officials warned in late March that the country had still not hit its peak, Trump called for loosening protective restrictions in time for Easter and sending people back to work.
After spending weeks insisting the pandemic was contained and would soon go away altogether, he only appeared to acknowledge the gravity of the pandemic earlier this week, when the White House announced that at least 100,000 people would likely die as a result of the coronavirus.
As of Thursday evening, the virus has claimed more than 5,800 lives across the country, and more than 240,000 infections have been reported. Worldwide, the coronavirus death toll topped 50,000, with more than 1 million infections.
The more criticism Trump has faced over his handling of the pandemic, the more he has seemed to focus on talking up his efforts during the daily briefings, often championing how his administration has dealt with the health care crisis even as some give low marks to the federal government’s response.
And despite his plea for everybody to put politics aside to fight the pandemic, his letter to Schumer appears to hark back to advice Trump recalled giving to the vice president in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, when he admitted last week that he had urged Mike Pence not to reach out to state authorities who are “not appreciative” enough of his administration.
During the Thursday briefing, he once again placed the blame on the states, saying they “should have been building their stockpile” and “we’re not an ordering clerk.”
“And we’ve done an unbelievable job,” Trump added.
—Sam Brodey contributed reporting