WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump had a hard time deciding Tuesday whether impeachment distracted him from fighting the coronavirus – but he eventually claimed it "probably" did.
"Well, I don't like to think it did – I think I handled it very well," Trump said at news conference with the White House coronavirus task force. "But I guess it probably did ... I mean, I got impeached."
He added that, "I certainly devoted a little time to thinking about it."
Trump echoed the claims of supporters who blamed the administration's slow response to the coronavirus outbreak on the president's impeachment case.
The Senate impeachment trial – which began with the swearing-in of senators on Jan. 16 and ended with Trump's acquittal on Feb. 5 – "diverted the attention of the government," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaking Tuesday to radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
Critics described the impeachment argument – one employed by many Trump supporters in recent weeks – as excuse mongering.
Trump, they noted, began taking questions about coronavirus in January and downplayed the threat until late February, well after the trial ended.
On Feb. 27, Trump said during a speech at the White House that the coronavirus was "going to disappear. One day – it's like a miracle, it will disappear." He then said, "you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens."
Three weeks before, the Republican-run Senate acquitted Trump of House impeachment charges that he abused power and obstructed a congressional investigation into his team's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Democratic political opponent Joe Biden.
Trump supporters like Fox News commentator Sean Hannity have long claimed that impeachment diverted the government's attention from things like the coronavirus.
But Joshua Geltzer, a former national security aide during the Obama administration, countered that impeachment previewed Trump's response, including his ignoring government experts and relying on private sources of information.
"Mitch McConnell just blamed Trump’s COVID-19 failures on impeachment," tweeted Geltzer, a visiting law professor at Georgetown University. "That’s wrong – dead wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: impeachment warned McConnell & other Americans about exactly how Trump would screw this up."