01:48 - Source: CNN
Ex-White House coordinator lists Trump's 3 'big mistakes' on virus
CNN  — 

In the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections, Republican David Perdue excoriated President Barack Obama over his handling of the Ebola outbreak – contending that Obama had “failed to lead” and “took a serious threat far too lightly.”

Six years later, Perdue, a first-term senator, is on the ballot again in Georgia – and now is running on the same ticket as a President struggling to get control of a virus far more deadly to the country.

But Perdue has praised Donald Trump, even as the President has repeatedly downplayed the coronavirus, contended it would disappear, called on states to be “liberated” as they were trying to isolate from the virus, was late to embrace mask wearing and has falsely claimed that more testing is the lone reason for more cases.

“It’s a totally different situation,” Perdue told CNN last week when asked about his criticism of Obama in 2014.

Asked if he was concerned about Trump’s handling of the crisis, Perdue said: “No, I think, given the uncertainty that we had at the very beginning, we’ve done everything we could. Right now he sees declaring Covid-19 as the enemy. We’re not fighting among ourselves. We’re all together: Democrats (and) Republicans should be fighting this virus.”

Perdue’s comments are a reflection of how GOP senators in difficult reelection races recognize that their fate is tied in large part to the President’s standing heading into November. And with polls showing voters more concerned about the coronavirus than any other issue, Republicans need Trump to bolster his performance on the pandemic – and have calculated that they must show solidarity with a President who deeply values loyalty in order to win over the GOP base.

In North Carolina, Trump has seen his standing erode – he’s down 7 points to former Vice President Joe Biden among registered voters in a new NBC News-Marist College poll and down 17 points to the presumptive Democratic nominee over the handling of the coronavirus. The same poll shows Republican Sen. Thom Tillis down 9 points against his challenger, Democrat Cal Cunningham.

Before he won his first term in 2014, Tillis railed against Obama over Ebola concerns, as he battled the late Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in a fiercely contested race.

“It’s just another example of where this President and Sen. Hagan just have not worked on a comprehensive strategy,” Tillis said in October 2014, calling for a travel ban from three Western African nations.

Asked last week about his criticism of Obama but praise of Trump, Tillis said of the Democratic President: “There were problems he needed to surge. It’s a very different story.”

The Ebola epidemic claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people worldwide, almost all of them in West Africa.

Just four people were diagnosed with the virus in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and two of them died. By contrast, the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 147,000 people in the United States, with more than 4.2 million cases in the country.

“The President has made a number of good moves,” Tillis said when asked if he has confidence in Trump’s handling of the current crisis, while also praising North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. “When you’re in the middle of a crisis like this, I don’t think it’s productive to criticize everybody. It’s a very difficult job and lives are on the line.”

Trump has, for his part, praised Tillis.

“Good job you’ve done,” Trump said, singling out Tillis on Monday at an event in Morrisville, North Carolina.

Republicans have joined the White House in defending Trump’s response, pointing to his restrictions in February of foreign nationals entering the United States from China and later from European countries. And they are campaigning on the roughly $3 trillion in federal stimulus Congress approved on a bipartisan basis to respond to the crisis so far.

In 2014, GOP candidates also pushed for a travel ban from West Africa, where the Ebola virus originated. The Obama administration eventually directed travelers from West Africa to fly to only to a small number of US airports that had taken additional precautions to screen for the disease.

In 2020, few Republicans have been willing to raise any concerns about shortcomings in the federal response – or Trump’s own rhetoric, which has often downplayed the severity of the virus, including recently as cases surged across the Sun Belt and other parts of the country.

Asked last week if he had confidence in the Trump administration’s handling of the virus, GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado pushed back.

“I’m not going to play political pundit for you,” Gardner said when asked if he agreed with Trump’s claim that the federal government had done a “great job” in dealing with the crisis. Asked again how he would characterize the administration’s response, Gardner said: “You want me to be a Democrat pundit. I’m not going to do it.”

Only two people ever carried Ebola to the US – a traveler from Liberia who died in a Dallas hospital, and who infected two nurses who cared for him, and an American doctor who traveled home to New York before he knew he was infected and who did not spread the virus to anyone else.

Republican Senate candidates in competitive races across the country sharply criticized the Obama administration’s response to the health care threat at the time.

In October 2014, then-Rep. Gardner whacked the federal response during a debate against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. “Perhaps the CDC should quit spending money on things like Jazzercise, urban gardening and massage therapy and direct that money to where it’s appropriate in protecting the health of the American people,” he said.

In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins said during a debate that same month that the administration’s Ebola policy was not only “a moving target” but “a disaster because the President has always been one step behind.” In another debate, she praised Obama for restricting travel, saying he had made a “good first” step, and advocated further temporary travel restrictions.

Collins has been more critical than most of her GOP colleagues about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, contending previously that the President’s response has been “very uneven.”

Many Republicans recognize the difficult position they’re in – given they need to appeal to the Trump base but also win over Biden voters.

“It’s a fine line for down-ballot Republicans running in states and districts that favor Biden,” said Whit Ayres, a top Republican pollster. “It will be a fine line to walk to receive 100% of the Trump voters and some significant share of the Biden voters.”

The pandemic is also a central issue in Montana’s US Senate race, where Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is mounting a tough challenge to GOP Sen. Steve Daines. Asked last week if he had confidence in the President’s handling of the coronavirus, Daines said he has been pushing for billions in funding for vaccines and therapeutics – and that he’s “very pleased” to see Trump with a similar focus.

“We’re not going to stop this pandemic and stop the course to an economic crisis until we have a vaccine ready for the American people, and these breakthrough therapeutics,” Daines told CNN. “I’m very pleased to see his focus there and working with my efforts.”

Daines didn’t respond to a question about whether he agrees with Trump’s repeated claim that testing for Covid-19 is “overrated.”

02:12 - Source: CNN
Bash presses GOP senator: You criticized Obama in 2014 for this

Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa, criticized Obama in 2014 for “failed leadership” over Ebola – but she hasn’t gone that far with Trump as she finds herself in a tight race for reelection.

“I think that the President is stepping forward, and we have Vice President Mike Pence, who is spearheading the task force efforts on the coronavirus,” Ernst said on CNN’s “State of the Union” earlier this month when asked to reconcile her criticism of Obama with Trump’s handling of the pandemic. She highlighted the travel restrictions imposed by Trump and argued that Democrats had pushed back against them, calling that “an extremely difficult environment to operate.”

In recent weeks, Texas has seen a surge of cases and has been forced to halt part of its reopening. The senior GOP senator from the state, John Cornyn, who is up for reelection this fall, had criticized Obama over Ebola, saying in October 2014 that the White House has “done little over the past few weeks to inspire the confidence of Texans.”

Asked last week if he had confidence that the Trump administration has moved to get the coronavirus under control, Cornyn said it’s an issue that’s continuing to hound countries around the world.

“I don’t know any country in the world that has the Covid crisis under control – including the United States,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.

CNN’s Ian Sloan and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.