Despite revisionist claims that everyone but President Donald Trump knew the coronavirus was serious in January, at that time, Democrats were focused solely on impeaching the president over a phone call.
National Review’s John McCormack has an article explaining that while Democrats and the media were focused on impeachment, one Republican Senator – Tom Cotton of Arkansas – was sounding the alarm on the coronavirus.
“On January 22, one day before the Chinese government began a quarantine of Wuhan to contain the spread of the virus, the Arkansas senator sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar encouraging the Trump administration to consider banning travel between China and the United States and warning that the Communist regime could be covering up how dangerous the disease really was. That same day, he amplified his warnings on Twitter and in an appearance on the radio program of Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade,” McCormack wrote.
“At the time, the Senate impeachment trial was dominating the news cycle. The trial, which lasted from January 16 to February 5, had even blotted out coverage of the Democratic presidential primary in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses. When the first classified briefing on the virus was held in the Senate on January 24, only 14 senators reportedly showed up,” he continued.
In another letter, written to Azar as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, Cotton warned that “no amount of screening [at airports] will identify a contagious-but-asymptomatic person afflicted with the coronavirus.” In that same letter, dated January 28, Cotton requested Americans in China be evacuated and that travel to and from the country be stopped.
On January 29, Cotton spoke to Trump about the virus, missing nearly three hours of the impeachment trial. Around that time, Cotton said the coronavirus outbreak was “the biggest and the most important story in the world.”
National Review spoke to Cotton about why he was sounding the alarm so early about the coronavirus when at the time it seemed contained to China and hadn’t infected many people.
“Two things struck me about China’s response,” he told the outlet. “First their deceit and their dishonesty going back to early December. And second, the extreme draconian measures they had taken. By the third week of January, they had more than 75 million people on lockdown. They were confined to their homes and apartments, otherwise they were arrested. In some cases, the front doors of those buildings were welded shut. All schools had shut down. Hong Kong had banned flights from the mainland. [These are] the kind of extreme, draconian measures that you would only take in a position of power in China if you were greatly worried about the spread of this virus.”
Two days after meeting with Cotton, Trump announced restrictions on commercial flights between American and China. Cotton told National Review that those who supported the restrictions were national security aides and that “most of his economic and public-health advisers were ambivalent at best about the travel ban.”
Cotton told the outlet he was also trying to get the administration “to be very aggressive and very flexible when it came to testing and diagnostic protocols. One consistent thing I had seen in the literature from past outbreaks is that the FDA and especially the CDC is unfortunately somewhat slow to act in these circumstances.”
Cotton said he discussed testing with Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and his deputy, Matthew Pottinger.
Cotton said that ultimately Trump bears responsibility for the CDC and FDA’s testing failures, as “sometimes you have to push very, very hard” to get through the bureaucracy. As to what happens now, Cotton said the virus needed to be contained before the economy can open up again.
“You can’t have a virus rampaging through society and expect the economy to open up, but you can’t have economic collapse and expect our health-care system to continue to work,” Cotton told National Review. “You have to get the virus under control before you gradually start reopening things like white-collar work and manufacturing capacity and low-density retail and ultimately high-density retail.”