Say anything? Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma)
President Trump held his first campaign rally in three months on Saturday when he dropped in on Tulsa, Oklahoma. In case you missed it, there were two big storylines that emerged from Saturday’s rally.
The first big story was the crowd size. After touting more than 800,000 RSVPs and promoting a huge crowd in Tulsa, only about 6,200 people actually showed up to a venue that seats 19,000. The Trump campaign anticipated an additional 40,000 people to fill an outdoor overflow area; instead they got about 25 stragglers and ended up scrapping a planned Trump speech outside.
The second big story came from Trump’s eventual speech inside the Bank of Oklahoma Center, when the President literally bragged to the crowd that he instructed officials to SLOW DOWN COVID-19 testing because too many people were testing positive for the virus. From The Washington Post:
“Here’s the bad part … when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people; you’re going to find more cases,” Trump told his supporters. “So I said to my people, slow the testing down please.”
Today, Joe St. George, National Political Editor & Washington Correspondent for Scripps (and formerly of Fox 31 News in Denver) asked President Trump — twice — to confirm this statement. Trump dodged both questions:
Here’s St. George’s follow-up question about slowing down coronavirus testing:
ST. GEORGE: But did you ask to slow [testing] down?
TRUMP: Uhhh…if it did slow down, frankly, I think we’re way ahead of ourselves if you want to know the truth. We’ve done too good a job, because every time we go up…with 25 million tests you’re going to find more people, so then they say, ‘Oh, we have more cases in the United States.’ The reason we have more cases: Because we do more testing than any other country by far.
We’ll take that as a ‘Yes.’ (BTW, The New York Times already fact-checked Trump’s claim that the U.S. is the coronavirus testing champion of the world).
When the coronavirus outbreak first became a daily news headline in March, President Trump paid lip service to the importance of increasing COVID-19 testing in the United States. When it became clear soon afterward that said testing was not happening and was not likely to be taking place anytime soon, Trump started to poo-poo the idea that testing was important at all (here’s just one example of Trump saying that widespread testing is “overrated”).
“I’ve encouraged the President and Vice President to get the testing where it should be.”
— Sen. Cory Gardner (Ft. Morgan Times, 3/27/20)
All of this puts Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) in a very awkward position, because Gardner has consistently stated that “widespread testing will be key” to American’s recovery from the pandemic. If they can find him, reporters will be asking Gardner what he thinks about Trump’s claim that he ordered COVID-19 testing to be scaled back. Gardner does NOT want to criticize Trump publicly, so he’ll likely pretend that he was in a coma all weekend and was unaware that Dear Leader Trump said anything controversial. And then Gardner will dive into an elevator just as the doors slam shut.
“Widespread testing will be key to reopening our economy.”
— Sen. Cory Gardner (Twitter, 5/8/20)
The problem that Gardner is eventually going to be forced to square is that he himself has been unambiguous about the importance of COVID-19 testing in the United States. It was less than two months ago, in fact, that Gardner was talking about how he wanted every American to be able to get a COVID-19 test along with their Slurpee. As Gardner told the publication formerly known as The Colorado Statesman on April 24:
“We’ll continue to make sure that this Manhattan Project funding that we put into testing achieves what we need — and that is a ubiquitous, low-cost, rapid test that’s available everywhere in first aid kits and 7-Elevens.”
When workers at the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley were getting sick from COVID-19, Gardner and Vice President Mike Pence loudly proclaimed that they had come to save the day with boxes of tests in tow. As it turned out, that didn’t actually happen, but Gardner has continued to talk about coronavirus testing.
Last month, Gardner penned an Op-Ed for The Grand Junction Sentinel that was almost entirely focused on the “importance” of widespread coronavirus testing:
Without effective, widespread testing and a corresponding strategy that leverages and improves public health infrastructure to support monitoring, we cannot have a real-time response to the virus. Rapid testing and the ability for public health departments to inform individuals with positive cases quickly so they can take appropriate action and prevent further spread is critical to making sure that our entire economy is not forced to shut down in the future.
I’d like our country to get to the place where COVID-19 testing is available at the local corner store. Every doctor’s office should have the capability to screen patients for COVID-19. Families at home should be able to order tests online. Every business should have COVID-19 tests in its first aid kits and be able to offer on-site testing for employees. Every student should be able to go to the nurse’s office and get a test.
Gardner has the same problem here that he has with DACA and many other issues: Either he’s lying about the work he’s doing to actually ramp up COVID-19 testing — “I will continue fighting every day to increase our testing capacity” — or he’s been completely ineffective at his job. Actually, as Gardner’s record has demonstrated, BOTH of these statements might be true.
Now that Trump has flat-out admitted that he’s trying to hamstring coronavirus testing efforts in the U.S., Gardner has a choice to make. It’s time to put up or shut up.