BY: LAUREN LANTRY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) –After the news broke on Wednesday that President Donald Trump admitted in a recorded interview to downplaying the coronavirus while speaking with renowned journalist Bob Woodward, the president’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill as Thursday on Thursday showed little concern, many having responded with a similar refrain: I haven’t read it yet.
During a Fox Business interview Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida expressed some muted being criticism, saying if the American people knew about COVID-19 sooner, “it would have certainly been helpful.”
“Do I prefer that American people had been told, more fully, sort of the risks and the threat early on?” Rubio said. “Sure.”
“I think in hindsight, a few extra weeks on the front end having done more about it would have certainly been helpful, but I don’t think that negates all the positive things that they have done,” he later added.
Rubio admitted he probably will not read Woodward’s book, and did say he thought the president acted quickly with “the ban of entry from China.”
“I didn’t look at the Woodward book,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell replied on Wednesday when asked by a reporter if Trump lied to Americans who then died. “I will later, but I haven’t seen what you’re referring to yet. Clearly, that’s a question for the White House.”
On Thursday, McConnell, asked about the Woodward interview in an appearance on Fox News, said Trump ought to be applauded for his handling of the pandemic.
“I haven’t read the Woodward book but we all knew it was dangerous, the president knew it was dangerous, and I think took positive steps very early on for which he should be applauded, not criticized,”
The contrast between Trump’s private and public remarks regarding the dangers of the coronavirus dominated headlines on Wednesday. According to accounts in the Washington Post and audio aired on CNN, Woodward’s book includes revelations that Trump privately acknowledged that COVID-19 was “deadly stuff,” while publicly saying that the coronavirus would “work out fine,” and that the situation was “very much under control.”
Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” includes damning quotes attributed to Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. According to CNN, “Mattis is quoted as calling Trump ‘dangerous’ and ‘unfit’ to be commander in chief.”
ABC News does not have the book and has not independently confirmed the reports.
McConnell was hardly the only Republican to steer away from issuing an opinion about the president’s reported admission.
“I haven’t read it,” replied Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama as he walked past reporters Wednesday.
“I haven’t seen his book,” Sen. John Hoeven from North Dakota responded after being asked about Mattis’ critique of Trump.
“I have nothing to say on that,” Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota responded after being asked about Trump’s “moral compass” which Mattis was quoted as saying the president lacked.
“Well, the bombshell hasn’t hit me yet,” Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana answered when asked about Woodward’s bombshell reporting.
Some Republicans issued longer statements, pointing to some of the actions Trump took against the spread of the coronavirus, which they supported.
“I haven’t seen the book,” Sen. Rick Scott of Florida answered when asked about Trump downplaying COVID-19. “I’ve not read it. I want to read it but look, I think the president did the right thing by stopping flights from China. I do believe at the federal level the state level and the local level they could have done a better job of putting out more information. Even today I think they can put out more information on transmission, but I haven’t seen that excerpt.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, when asked about Trump’s comments on how he downplayed the virus, claimed Trump took decisive action in March.
“He took the hottest economy in decades and shut it down,” Graham said. “And I think that was the decision of consequence – is shutting the economy down, and I don’t think he needs to go on TV and scream that we’re all going to die.”
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a regular Trump critic, made it clear he backed Mattis.
“I haven’t seen his comments, but I have a great deal of confidence in General Mattis I think he’s a fine man and of great character,” Romney said. When asked about Trump downplaying COVID, Romney responded, “That doesn’t sound ideal to me.”
On the opposite side of the aisle, Democrats were quick to condemn the president.
“There is damning proof that Donald Trump lied and people died,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “How many people would still be alive today if he just told Americans the truth? He had an obligation to tell the truth.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement, saying, “The President’s own words spell out the devastating truth: Trump was fully aware of the catastrophic nature of the coronavirus but hid the facts and refused to take the threat seriously, leaving our entire country exposed and unprepared.”
“So much of this pain could have been avoided, but President Trump refused to tell the truth or to act to protect the American people,” she added.
ABC News’ Trish Turner, Allie Pecorin, Ben Gittleson and John Parkinson contributed to this report.
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