After a week during which the nation began to watch the coronavirus horrors we have seen play out in other countries finally make their way into our own hospitals, it's worth remembering the active role Senate Republicans played in getting us here. During the critical early handling of the virus here in the U.S., senators from both parties had a window into what was to come—well before the virus had even made the radar of most Americans.
But instead of focusing on preparing for a potential pandemic in the making, Senate Republicans were busy staging a sham no-witness impeachment trial for Donald Trump so they could ultimately vote to acquit him, ensuring that Trump would be at the helm as the nation faced the greatest public health crisis in a century. That trial began on Jan. 16 and concluded on Feb. 5 with Trump's acquittal. But that critical three-week period also included early warning signs that U.S. senators, in particular, were privy to. As one U.S. official told The Washington Post about the intelligence reporting shared with both Trump officials and members of Congress in January, "Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were -- they just couldn't get him to do anything about it. ... The system was blinking red."
On Jan. 20, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus here in the U.S., a Washington man who had recently returned from visiting Wuhan, China, the city where the disease had first taken hold.
On Jan. 24, the Senate Health and Foreign Relations Committees hosted a private, all-senators briefing on the coronavirus with Trump health officials, including the CDC director and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That date has gained some notoriety in the past week as reports emerged that four U.S. senators began dumping stock shortly after that briefing. In fact, one of them, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, reported her first stock sale on that very day. GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma sold at least $180,000 in stocks on Jan. 27.
But the most glaring case was Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina unloading up to $1.7 million in stocks on Feb. 13 after getting access to all the latest intelligence on the virus as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Burr was also briefed on Feb. 12 by government health experts about overall national preparedness and how an epidemic might impact the U.S. In fact, there's no question Burr was alarmed by what he was hearing because he ultimately relayed a very stark assessment of the catastrophe ahead during a private meeting with wealthy constituents in late February.
Bottom line: Republican senators were getting a window into the calamity the U.S. might be facing in just a couple of months’ time. GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa put out a statement on Feb. 4 saying the panel he heads, the Senate Finance Committee which oversees the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), had just been briefed by the National Security office within HHS.
“The coronavirus doesn’t appear to pose any imminent threat to Americans who have not recently traveled to the Hubei province of China," he said in a statement, downplaying the threat. “For now, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control have the resources needed to prevent any significant contagion from spreading into the United States. If more resources are needed, Congress stands at the ready."
The following day, Feb. 5, Grassley and 51 of his Republican colleagues voted to clear Trump of wrongdoing and keep him in office—every GOP senator except Mitt Romney of Utah.
They knew. They voted to keep Trump in charge. They own it. Never forget.