McConnell: Obama ‘should have kept his mouth shut’ about Trump’s virus response

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell said Monday that former President Barack Obama “should have kept his mouth shut” after a tape-recorded call surfaced of Obama calling President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic “an absolute chaotic disaster.”

The Majority Leader, in a webcast interview with Lara Trump, also called Obama’s criticism of Trump “classless” and then falsely accused the former president of being the first to ever criticize his successor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks with reporters after the Senate approved a nearly $500 billion coronavirus aid bill on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Credit: Patrick Semansky

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Credit: Patrick Semansky

A recording of the private call was leaked over the weekend and first reported by Yahoo News.

Obama, speaking with members of the Obama Alumni Association, said the response to the coronavirus “would have been bad even with the best of governments,” and then pointedly called out Trump’s leadership. “It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government.”

Obama communications director Katie Hill later confirmed the phone call, which was meant as a way for the former president "to touch base ... and to talk about the importance of helping elect Biden and Democrats up and down the ballot this fall," according to CBS News.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany later gave a statement in response to Obama’s comments, saying President Trump’s “coronavirus response has been unprecedented and saved American lives.”

Beyond the criticism of Trump, Obama can also be heard questioning Attorney General William Barr’s decision to drop charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, saying "the rule of law is at risk."

“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places,” Obama said.

Flynn actually pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI, and not perjury as Obama said in the call.

The move to dismiss the case against Flynn was a stunning reversal for one of the signature cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, with the Justice Department concluding that Mueller did not have a “a legitimate investigative basis” to interview Flynn about his Russian contacts.

News about Obama’s call swirled in the media over the weekend, and by Mother’s Day Trump had retweeted an accusation that Obama was “the first Ex-President to ever speak against his successor, which was long tradition of decorum and decency.”

In the wake of the Flynn decision, Obama’s phone call appeared to also give rise to a viral conspiracy theory on social media accusing the former president “of the biggest political crime in American history.”

The theory trended through the hashtag #OBAMAGATE, and President Trump has retweeted and referenced it numerous times over the past few days.

By Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed the president’s claims in the interview with Lara Trump.

“I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut,” the Senate Majority Leader said. “I think it’s a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you.”

An analysis by The Associated Press, however, shows that several former presidents have made comments criticizing the policies of their successors, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Theodore Roosevelt.

In the interview, McConnell also said Obama shared blame for the coronavirus outbreak: “Clearly, the Obama administration did not leave to this administration any kind of game plan for something like this,” he said.

But that claim is also not true.

Obama warned the nation in 2014 about the potential for a coming pandemic and pushed for billions in emergency funding that was ultimately blocked by Republicans in Congress.

“There may and likely will come a time in which we have both an airborne disease that is deadly, and in order for us to deal with that effectively we have to put in place an infrastructure, not just here at home but globally, that allows us to see it quickly, isolate it quickly, respond to it quickly, so that if and when a new strain of flu like the Spanish flu crops up five years from now or a decade from now, we’ve made the investment and we’re further along to be able to catch it,” Obama said nearly six years ago, pleading with Congress for $6.18 billion in emergency funds to enhance the government’s ability to respond to an outbreak.

Later in the interview, McConnell addressed Obama directly, saying, “you had your shot, you were there for eight years.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden excoriated McConnell on Twitter for saying Obama didn’t leave Trump a game plan for pandemic response.

Trump has publicly maintained that “no one could have predicted this” devastating outcome from the coronavirus pandemic.

More than three years into his presidency, Trump continues to blame the Obama administration for a depleted strategic stockpile of personal protective equipment and faulty diagnostic tests, saying “We inherited a broken test — the whole thing was broken.” Trump also blames his predecessor for the massive shortage of tests that are still nowhere near the capacity needed to effectively curb the virus, health officials say.

“And remember this: We inherited — the word is we inherited bad tests. We really inherited bad tests. These are horrible tests. And it was broken. It was all broken. And we fixed it,” Trump said in April.

Trump also disbanded the White House pandemic response team in 2018.

Experts noted that Trump’s rhetoric around former presidents has gone far beyond the norm, particularly his criticism and blame of Obama on social media and at political rallies, according to the Associated Press.

“It is hardly surprising that norm-breaking bad behavior on the part of a current president puts pressure on other norms, such as the one that suggests that it’s bad form for former presidents to publicly criticize their successors,” Richard Ellis, professor of politics at Willamette University told the AP in an email.

Adding more fuel to the controversy was an unusual moment at Trump’s Monday press briefing at the White House, where Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker pressed Trump about his tweets over the weekend which appeared to accuse former President Barack Obama of committing a crime.

Asked what crimes the former president had committed, Trump avoided any specifics.

“Obamagate!” Trump exclaimed in the Rose Garden, repeating the trending hashtag on Twitter. “It’s been going on for a long time. Some terrible things happened. And you’ll be seeing what’s going on over the coming weeks.”

Rucker then asked, “What is the crime exactly that you’re accusing him of?”

“You know what the crime is,” Trump said. “The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”