Vice President Mike Pence stepped around a series of questions from Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday regarding Donald Trump’s tweets urging people to “LIBERATE” their states from governors’ social distancing measures to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic that have closed down businesses deemed “non-essential” and led to millions of people losing their jobs.
Instead of addressing the tweets directly, Mr Pence suggested Mr Trump’s comments were meant to show solidarity with an increasingly beleaguered set of working class Americans who are desperate to re-open the economy, despite warnings from health officials that the US does not have nearly the testing capability to prevent a second mass outbreak of Covid-19 if states re-open their economies too quickly.
In states from coast to coast — Texas, Michigan, New Hampshire, Florida, and California, just to name a handful — thousands of Americans have gathered in close contact with one another in recent days to protest governors’ orders to stay at home and shutter large swaths of the economy, including restaurants and other “non-essential” businesses.
“What you see, I think, among millions of Americans who have been embracing those social distancing measures and making the sacrifices is they want their governors to find a way to responsibly and safely reopen their state economies,” Mr Pence said in response to Mr Wallace’s initial question about the president’s tweets.
Wallace pointed out that many of the protesters who have taken to the streets recently have openly flouted the CDC’s and the Trump administration’s own guidelines regarding social distancing, including not gathering in groups.
“The American people know that no one in America wants to reopen this country more than President Donald Trump,” Mr Pence said in response. “I can assure you he’s going to continue to encourage governors to find ways to safely and responsibly let Americans go back to work,” the vice president said.
On Friday, the president fired off a tweet appearing to side with protesters who had gathered near Michigan’s capitol building in Lansing to oppose Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s new set of social distancing measures that expanded the definition of non-essential businesses to include gardening shops, among others.
“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Mr Trump tweeted.
Mr Trump also tweeted “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” adding that Virginians should “save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican who was one the first governors in the country to implement aggressive social distancing measures, suggested he is fine with Ohioans protesting his decisions — so long as they comply with social distancing guidelines.
“The only thing that I’ve asked our protests to do is to observe social distancing,” Mr DeWine said on NBC‘s “Meet the Press.” “We’re all big believers in the First Amendment. They were protesting against me yesterday, and that’s just fine.”
Mr DeWine added that he is going to continue taking an economically cautious approach to reduce the death toll from Covid-19, despite protests.
“They have every right to do that,” he said of the protesters. “We are going to do what we think is right, what I think is right. And that is try to open this economy, but do it very, very carefully so we don’t get a lot of people killed,” he said.