McConnell: Impeachment 'diverted' attention from coronavirus concerns

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday suggested that the January Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump distracted from crucial early efforts to respond to the emerging coronavirus pandemic.

During an appearance on conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt's radio show, McConnell was asked about a POLITICO article published Monday that pointed to Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., as one of the first people on Capitol Hill to sound warnings on coronavirus. The article quoted Cotton as blaming impeachment for diverting the government's focus away from the threats.

When asked about Cotton's early warnings, McConnell said: "It came up while we were tied down on the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government, because everything every day was all about impeachment."

McConnell also praised his Senate colleagues from pivoting “from the most partisan thing you could possibly be involved in, the impeachment of a president, to a unanimous vote on a $2 trillion dollar package all within a couple of months.”

McConnell also said he would look at any future coronavirus response bill produced by the House majority "like Reagan suggested we look at the Russians — trust, but verify."

"I’m not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items that they would not otherwise be able to pass," McConnell said.

The Senate leader also accused Democrats of wanting to "turn the President’s handling of all this into a political liability for him."

“Goodness, I wish we could all just turn this off, you know, until we get to a period where we’ve bent the curve and are beginning to get back to normal,” McConnell said.

According to an NBC News tracker, the first major federal move to stem the spread of the virus came on January 31, when the White House announced a travel ban on all foreigners who had been to China in the previous 14 days. The impeachment trial ended just five days later when the Senate voted to acquit Trump on Feb. 5.

But Trump continued to downplay the threat of coronavirus, claiming the pandemic was "very well under control in our country." Even as recently as March 9, Trump tweeted, "Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on."

It wasn't until the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11 before the Trump administration's public statements around COVID-19 began to shift.