AP Photo/Susan Walsh Mitch McConnell
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

“It came up while we were tied down in the impeachment trial,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican lawmakers are floating the theory that the White House administration’s disjointed response to the coronavirus pandemic was due to the “distraction” of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial earlier this year.

McConnell, along with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, made the assertions on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s broadcast Tuesday. 

“It came up while we were tied down in the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything every day was all about impeachment,” McConnell said.

But Trump ignored senior officials’ warnings of the impending crisis for weeks before the trial began, and repeatedly insisted after his Feb. 5 acquittal that the fast-spreading virus was “very much under control.” The administration supported efforts to slash funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a day before the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic. And the White House has been severely criticized for blunders leading to a shortage of coronavirus tests when the infection first spread to the U.S.  

RELATED: There Are Now More Than 200,000 Confirmed Cases of Coronavirus in the U.S.

Trump seemed ambivalent about the alibi, supporting the position later at a Tuesday press briefing. “I think I handled it very well, but I guess it probably did [distract me],” Trump said, later adding, “Did it divert my attention? I think I’m getting A+’s for the way I handled myself during a phony impeachment, OK? … I don’t think I would have done any better had I not been impeached.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a withering response in an interview Wednesday with CNN’s Anderson Cooper:

“I think that’s an admission that perhaps the president and the majority leader cannot handle the job,” Pelosi said. “We have a life and death situation in our country and they should not try to hide behind an excuse for why they did not take action, but it does admit that they did not take action.”

Due to shelter in place and other executive orders in their home states, Congress is out of session, but House Democrats are meanwhile creating a “Phase Four” plan for coronavirus legislation to move quickly upon their return. Proposed measures include more support for state and local governments, funding for the National Institutes of Health and other items to reinvest in economic recovery. 

“We have to be ready,” Pelosi said. 

“We’ll have to wait and see,” McConnell responded when asked about next steps Tuesday.