A fine line between sympathy and blame as liberals respond to Trump infection

Victoria Bekiempis
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA</span>
Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Following Donald Trump’s announcement early on Friday that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive for Covid-19, liberal politicians and pundits’ reactions threaded the needle between expressing sympathy and blaming him for bringing it on himself.

The Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said on MSNBC that this was a “very sad” situation, also saying Trump’s actions during the Covid-19 pandemic were “a brazen invitation for something like this to happen”.

Related: Scramble under way in Washington to trace spread of Covid among US leadership

Pelosi and some others also saw the president’s diagnosis as an opportunity to combat Covid-19 more aggressively. These efforts have long been undermined by Trump’s repeated refusals to treat the pandemic seriously despite the mounting US death toll, which now totals more than 208,000.

Trump’s actions to downplay the threat of Covid-19 include statements minimizing the efficacy of masks – which stand in stark contrast to public health officials’ frequent guidance that face coverings can prevent the virus from spreading. During Tuesday night’s chaotic debate, Trump mocked Biden for consistently wearing a mask in public.

Bob Woodward’s new book on Trump, Rage, revealed that the president knew about Covid-19’s threat early on. “It goes through the air … It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus … This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward.

“Maybe now that people who see the president of the United States, with all the protection that he has, and the first lady, still having this exposure, it might be … a learning experience,” Pelosi said during her MSNBC appearance. “But more than learning, it has to be something that is acted upon.”

The Democratic Ohio senator Sherrod Brown said: “I wish the President, First Lady, and White House staffers a speedy recovery” while also saying he was “extremely troubled by the reports that the president’s family and staff refused to wear masks at the debate in Cleveland, and then held a fundraiser the next day – endangering all who worked at and attended these events.”

Brown’s Twitter statement also noted that Trump, who will not have to pay for his Covid-19 treatment, is presently trying to undermine healthcare access for millions of Americans through litigation against the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“The president has the best healthcare in the world, paid for by taxpayers. Hardworking Ohioans don’t have access to the testing and resources he does because we’re seven months in and still have no national testing strategy,” Brown said. “I hope this might cause the president to rethink this lawsuit to repeal the ACA in the middle of a pandemic and take healthcare away from others who get this virus.”

The Senator minority leader, Chuck Schumer, wished Trump, Melania and affected White House staffers a “speedy recovery” and said he “joined the nation in praying” for the first family in a statement on Twitter shortly before noon.

In this same statement, Schumer criticized the White House’s approach to Covid-19. “This episode demonstrates that the Senate needs a testing and contact tracing program for senators, staff, and all who do work in the Capitol complex. We simply cannot allow the administration’s cavalier attitude to adversely affect this branch of government.”

Trump’s Democratic opponent in the 2020 presidential contest, Joe Biden, expressed concern in a tweet before 9am that said, “Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”

Shortly after noon, Biden’s tweet announcing that he and Jill tested negative for Covid-19 also contained the kind of health advice Trump has undermined. Part of this tweet said: “Thank you to everyone for your messages of concern. I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands.”

There were also well wishes that didn’t appear to go into policy discussions.

Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, said on Twitter just after 9am: “Doug and I join Joe Biden and Dr. Biden in wishing President Trump and the First Lady a full and speedy recovery. We’re keeping them and the entire Trump family in our thoughts.”

The film director Michael Moore noted that Trump had attended a fundraiser despite having been in contact with Hope Hicks, who had developed Covid-19 symptoms.
The film director Michael Moore noted that Trump had attended a fundraiser despite having been in contact with a possibly infected person. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The MSNBC host Rachel Maddow expressed concern for Trump, tweeting: “God bless the president and the first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedy and complete recovery – and for everyone infected, everywhere.

“This virus is horrific and merciless – no one would wish its wrath on anyone. We must get its spread under control. Enough,” Maddow also said.

Some commentators focused more on Trump’s behavior downplaying Covid.

“Wowwwwwww...........” the MSNBC host Joy Reid said on Twitter shortly after Trump’s announcement. She also posted: “Donald Trump said on tape in February in an interview with Bob Woodward that covid was real. He said it was deadly. But he continued to behave publicly, with full complicity by his team, his campaign and Republican governors like it was all a fake. Well … covid is very real.”

Film-maker Michael Moore, on the other hand, did not hold back in responding to the news, pointing out that Trump still went to a fundraiser after the White House adviser Hope Hicks, who he was known to have had contact with at Tuesday’s presidential debate, showed symptoms of Covid-19.

“Knowing Hope Hicks had tested positive, Trump then flew to a fundraiser with fat cats in NJ. Fleeced ‘em for $5M while putting their lives at risk. Puts a whole new spin on ‘Kill the Rich’. Nice to know the low regard Trump has for the wealthy. Probably wishes he was one of them,” Moore said on Twitter.