NBC News contributor Hugh Hewitt runs with McConnell claim that impeachment distracted from coronavirus response

Trump actually said virus was “totally under control” in January

NBC News contributor Hugh Hewitt has used his talk radio show to become the latest mouthpiece for a right-wing media argument that Democrats are in some way to blame for the coronavirus national emergency because they pursued the impeachment of President Donald Trump in December through February.

In this case, Hewitt — who has often acted as a conduit bringing right-wing conspiracy theories into NBC’s mainstream media venue — seems to have picked up the idea from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)and then run with it further.

The topic came up in an interview when Hewitt and McConnell praised Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) for allegedly having been first to sound the alarm on COVID-19 and warn that the Chinese government’s assurances could not be trusted.

(While any reasonable person could certainly express doubts about the Chinese government’s handling of the crisis and its continued updates on its progress, Cotton has actually gone much further, spreading a debunked conspiracy theory that COVID-19 might have been produced by a “super lab” in a Chinese infectious disease research facility.)

At that point, McConnell began blaming Democrats and the impeachment for contributing to the current national emergency.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blames impeachment for coronavirus response

Audio file

Citation From the March 31, 2020, edition of Salem Radio Network’s The Hugh Hewitt Show

HUGH HEWITT (HOST): Let me talk to you a little bit about Sen. Cotton. Politico yesterday recognized him as the first to the bell. In your experience in the Senate, was Sen. Cotton the first one to say, “Hey, Leader, hey Mitch, this is a deadly situation and I do not trust the Chinese.” Was he first?

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): He was first. I think Tom was right on the mark. And it came up while we were, you know, tied down in the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government, because everything, every day, was all about impeachment. But Tom figured this out early, and he was absolutely right.

In a discussion in the next block, Hewitt returned to McConnell’s argument during a discussion with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), treating it like a real “debate” going on and challenging reporters to follow up on the idea with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) regarding her criticism of the Trump administration.

Hugh Hewitt and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) blame impeachment for coronavirus response

Audio file

Citation From the March 31, 2020, edition of Salem Radio Network’s The Hugh Hewitt Show

HUGH HEWITT (HOST): Now, I'm hoping for post-partisanship, but there is a debate — on which the leader just opined — and I'd like your opinion. Which is whether or not the impeachment process diverted attention of both the government, the president, and the media, and the legislature, from the pandemic. Do you think it did?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Of course it did. There's no question about it. If you look at the calendar, and see what we were doing, thanks to the House articles of impeachment, during the whole month of January, and I think — there's no doubt in mind about that.

HEWITT: So when Speaker Pelosi blames the president, ought not reporters to ask her about her sitting on the articles of impeachment — I believe for at least two weeks?

CORNYN: I think that's a fair question. And, you know, I really hate to see this at a time of a national emergency. Historically, as you know, Hugh, we've always pulled together as a country. After 9/11, after 2008, and unfortunately, you're beginning to see some of that national unity erode here in the interest of hyper-partisanship. I think it's a shame. I don't think we have time for that now. I think we have to respond as a nation, as we always have, unified, to a national emergency.

First off, the appeal for national unity in a crisis — and specifically invoking the 2008 economic collapse — seems odd coming from a U.S. senator and radio host who both opposed the 2009 stimulus bill under President Barack Obama.

But secondly, the idea that everyone else was distracted by impeachment doesn’t even make sense. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel points out that all the way back in late January, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was already calling out the Trump administration’s failures to respond properly. (Then-candidate Elizabeth Warren was also laying out a response plan.)

By contrast, during that same time frame, Trump was insisting, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” (And moreover, Trump was even praising the Chinese government’s handling of the situation up through February.)

In short, it was indeed possible to impeach and chew gum at the same time — and while Trump’s attention was “diverted,” a lot of other people had their eyes on the ball.

And here’s another obvious counterargument, courtesy of Max Boot, a conservative writer who has left the Republican Party in the Trump era: