Elizabeth Harrington, the national spokesperson for the US Republican Party, says Donald Trump's response to the pandemic has been "unprecedented," in Conflict Zone's first interview under COVID-19 restrictions.
This week Conflict Zone returns with an altered format and an interview with a top official from Donald Trump's Republican Party. Since taking office in 2017, the US president has remade the Grand Old Party (GOP) in his own image. Few things show that better than our most recent interview with the party's national spokesperson, Elizabeth Harrington. She joined Tim Sebastian via Skype for our first interview in the age of coronavirus.
Trump's handling of the US response to the pandemic has become the kind of political controversy that has dominated his term in office.
The United States now has the most cases of COVID19 infections and deaths from the virus, and Harrington rejected that Trump has mismanaged the response. "At every step of the way, President Trump has made bold, early decisions where naysayers ridiculed him," she told Sebastian from Washington.
Earlier this year, Trump at times downplayed the threat the virus posed, even calling concerns from his political rivals about his response "a new hoax." At the time, new cases were spiking in Europe and his own government was issuing travel warnings, but the president was still holding campaign rallies.
For now, rallies for the 2020 US presidential election have been put on hold because of the pandemic. Trump's near-daily press briefings at times seem to be conducted in the same style, using his time at the podium to issue contradictory information, attack the press and opposition Democrats and praise his own efforts or offer musings on subjects completely unrelated to the virus.
Meanwhile, Trump's critics have accused him of downplaying the pandemic and even spreading misinformation about both the threat from the virus, as well as unproven treatments and the availability of testing and other resources requested by local and state officials.
At times, Trump has claimed to have total authority and denied all responsibility in the crisis.
Harrington defended the president's record, insisting the US was in a better position "than many other countries in the rest of the world."
"If you look at the speed at which President Trump has acted, it's been unprecedented."
Harrington, who was appointed as national spokesperson for the Republican Party in 2019, accused Conflict Zone's Tim Sebastian and the wider media of trying to rewrite history.
Sebastian challenged the Republican spokesperson about Trump's claim on March 7 that anyone who wanted testing could get it in the US. That was refuted just five days later in Congressional testimony by top US health official Anthony Fauci, who said access to testing in the US for the deadly virus was failing.
Harrington, like Trump, claimed the US has become "the world leader in testing" for the virus. In per capita testing, the US still trails other countries such as South Korea, Germany and Italy.
The Republican spokesperson, like the president, said the US was ready to reopen the economy, but said the focus on testing availability was just another way to criticize Trump.
"Now they're saying testing, testing, testing. We don't have enough … but what good does a test say today that you're negative and then tomorrow you contract the virus? It's just the media is using this to attack the president," Harrington said.
WHO and China
Harrington also repeated the president's recent attacks on China's responsibility in warning the international community of the threat of the virus and the role of the World Health Organization.
"China did not help us whatsoever," she said.
"Their lies have really caused just a tremendous global economic plight. The amount of lives lost, and it's a direct result of a communist regime covering up their failures," she added.
Trump recently announced the US would halt funding to the WHO pending a review. Washington is currently the largest contributor to the organization.
Harrington said the WHO was covering up for China and called a January WHO statement on the lack of proof of human-to-human transmission of the virus a "disgusting lie" that had cost millions of people their livelihoods.
She disputed that the Trump administration had made matters worse by dismantling the office in the National Security Council that coordinated US planning for global pandemics.
Harrington suggested the US intelligence community had failed to warn the administration about the threat posed by the virus. "In early January, I tend to remember it was all about Ukraine and …momentarily pausing aid to Ukraine was our biggest national security threat," which she called "laughable."
Conflict Zone's Sebastian confronted Harrington with the warning from US intelligence officials in the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, and severely affect the world economy.
The GOP national spokesperson said elements of the intelligence community were "leaking and lying" to "sabotage President Trump."
Harrington also attacked the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, again echoing the president. "What was she doing in February? She was saying, come to Chinatown where she wasn't taking this seriously. She should have been in Congress giving relief to Americans," Harrington said.