Image via Shutterstock President Trump at his Tulsa campaign rally on June 20
Image via Shutterstock

“The president, rather than bringing together some kind of national strategy to confront this crisis, simply resorts to tweeting about vandalism and other things to kind of divert attention from the crisis that’s there.”

Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta on Wednesday accused President Trump of abandoning his leadership duties in the face of the coronavirus crisis. 

“This president has essentially gone AWOL from the job of leadership that he should be providing a country in trouble,” Panetta said in an interview on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. “The president, rather than bringing together some kind of national strategy to confront this crisis, simply resorts to tweeting about vandalism and other things to kind of divert attention from the crisis that’s there. He’s not good at crises, very frankly.”

Later in the interview, Panetta continued hammering the president’s coronavirus response. “We have a president that is not willing to stand up and do what is necessary in order to lead this country during time of major crisis. I have never experienced a president who has avoided that responsibility.”

Panetta’s remarks came the same day the U.S. reported its highest single-day total of new infections: 52,789. About 128,000 Americans have died from the virus and more than 2.6 million have been infected, according to Johns Hopkins University. Outbreaks are up in 40 states and hospitals are nearing capacity

Panetta, who served under nine U.S. presidents in various capacities, is the latest in a string of prominent figures to excoriate Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic. In an online address to graduating college students, President Barack Obama said the pandemic had shown that leadership officials “aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer criticized the federal government for being slow to respond to the crisis. And just Tuesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden took aim during an appearance in Wilmington, Delaware. 

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“Remember, back in March, when he talked about the need to act like we were at war with the virus, he called himself a ‘wartime president… Now it’s almost July and it seems like our wartime president has surrendered,” Biden told the audience. “You know the steps you’ve taken so far haven’t gotten the job done, Mr. President. Fix the shortage of PPE for our health care workers before you tee off another round of golf,” Biden said.

Recent actions signal that the president may have deprioritized the epidemic, a political vulnerability. Trump’s televised town hall broadcast on Fox News with Sean Hannity last week spent only three minutes of the hour talking about the coronavirus, according to CNN’s analysis. And the White House coronavirus task force resumed its first press briefing in nearly two months on June 30, but it took place at the health department rather than the White House, where the earlier briefings were held. It was also led by Vice President Mike Pence, rather than the president, who before frequently took the reins.

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A poll by Hart Research found that 60% of voters disapprove of Trump’s national response to the coronavirus and 57% believe the president is to blame for the deaths associated with it. Only 17% believe Trump’s policies have lowered the odds of more deaths from the coronavirus.