Vice President Mike Pence defended the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on ABC’s "Good Morning America" Friday, saying he "couldn’t be more proud" of President Donald Trump’s leadership, despite millions of active cases across the country and a death toll above 170,000.
"I couldn't be more proud of the leadership President Trump is provided from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic," Pence told GMA anchor George Stephanopoulos, citing Trump’s suspension of travel from China in late January.
Concluding the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night, presidential nominee Joe Biden reflected heavily on how he would handle the virus and promised to get the virus under control as his top priority.
Biden also said Trump "failed in his most basic duty to the nation. He failed us when the virus hit." Pence responded to Biden’s attack by falsely claiming Biden called Trump’s ban on travel from China "xenophobic."
Biden did tweet the day after Trump announced the travel restrictions, but did not tie xenophobia to the travel restrictions.
"We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus," Biden tweeted on Feb. 1. "We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency."
Reflecting on Biden’s nomination speech at the DNC, Pence said "everything" that the former vice president proposed are efforts Trump has "been doing from very early on."
"In early February we started a march toward a vaccine in record time and while Joe Biden said last night that there'll be no ‘miracle’ cure, we actually believe that it's very likely before the end of this year, that we will have one or more vaccines for the American people and in fact we're producing tens of millions of those vaccines right now. As soon as the FDA determines one is safe and effective we're going to have literally millions of doses to the American people."
Biden has also proposed a nationwide mask mandate, something Trump has not supported.
An Aug. 14 Gallup poll shows 60% of Americans believe that the coronavirus situation in the U.S. is getting worse, a 13 point drop from the same poll released in July. But 55% still say they’re very or somewhat worried about contracting COVID-19.
On April 24, Pence told Geraldo Rivera that he believed "by Memorial Day weekend we will have this coronavirus epidemic behind us." More than 75,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since then. Pressed by Stephanopoulos to admit that, at a minimum, the administration may have underestimated the severity of the crisis, Pence said "we’ve all been learning all along the way."
"The massive increases in cases in losses in places like New York and New Jersey and Connecticut and elsewhere were largely behind us and many of our best experts thought we might be going into a, a summer respite, like a seasonal flu, which -- which abates in the summertime."
Pence touted the amount of testing being done in the U.S. and the call to industries to produce ventilators and develop a vaccine, and said the administration believes the country will see cases declining in the days ahead.
"It's a great tribute to the American people, is a great tribute to our health care workers but we're going to stay focused on -- on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic."
The U.S. has recorded more deaths from COVID-19 than any other country and on Thursday night, Biden pointed out that the U.S. has just 5% of the world’s population but about 25% of the world’s deaths from the coronavirus.
"The reality is that our mortality rate now with more than five and a half million cases identified is among the lowest in the world, and we're going to continue to work every day to provide the kind of medicines and treatments that reduce that," Pence said in response to Biden’s statement.
During a campaign speech in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on Monday, Trump made a remarkable statement, claiming that he could only lose the 2020 election if it were "rigged." Asked by Stephanopoulos if he believes that as well, Pence refused to directly answer and pivoted to worries over mail-in voting.
"We're gonna take a strong stand for ballot integrity, and when you see Democrat politicians and governors around the country advancing what's called ‘universal mail-in balloting,’ we're gonna fight efforts to compromise the integrity of this election, with universal mail-in voting."
Stephanopoulos asked Pence again for a direct answer and pointed out that on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said voting by mail is a "non-existent problem," Pence once again answered with concerns about a mail-in vote.
"I don't think there's any question that if we have widespread voter fraud which I think universal mail-in voting invites. Now I didn't see the Majority Leader's comment but, I want to agree that absentee balloting is not a problem in America today."
Despite Pence’s claim, there is no widespread evidence of voter fraud.
Stephanopoulos followed up by asking, "by definition if Joe Biden wins, it’s not a fair election?" Pence only said, "we're gonna make sure it's a fair election."
Pence also distanced himself from Steve Bannon, Trump's former campaign CEO and chief strategist in the White House, who was federally indicted on Thursday for wire fraud and money laundering connected to a campaign to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Bannon becomes the sixth close associate of Trump's 2016 campaign to face federal charges. Asked by Stephanopoulos if voters have a right to judge the president based on the number of his closest associates being indicted and imprisoned, Pence denied knowing anything about Bannon's case and pivoted to the importance of judging Trump on his record.
"I don't know anything about that case and, frankly, the other matters have different complications as well and I think the American people have a right to -- to judge this president on the record of what he's done for the American people."
Bannon, 66, pleaded not guilty to his charges in a Manhattan court on Thursday afternoon.
The indictment accuses Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea of defrauding hundreds of thousands of people of more than $25 million for the "We Build The Wall" fundraising campaign to cover personal expenses.
Trump sought to distance himself from Bannon when asked about the charges, saying he knew "nothing about the project" and said Bannon's arrest was "very sad" and "surprising."