But there are two major problems with that.
The first is that there actually wasn’t anything amounting to the resistance he described, and the second is that his move actually came after the airlines had already said they would stop service to China.
Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that “almost all” opposed the restrictions and used that to try to argue that he, in fact, took the situation “very seriously” from the start.
“I was criticized by the Democrats when I closed the Country down to China many weeks ahead of what almost everyone recommended,” Trump claimed on March 2. “Saved many lives.”
“I took a lot of heat, because I did it very early,” Trump said around the same time.
Trump also tweeted about Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.): “He didn’t like my early travel closings. I was right. He is incompetent!”
That tweet, better than any other, crystallizes Trump’s manufactured grievance on this subject. That’s because he’s referring to a Schumer comment that doesn’t exist.
The claim about Schumer seems to have emanated from incorrect reports that the senator from New York tweeted and then deleted a criticism of the travel restrictions. The conservative blog Powerline promoted the allegedly deleted tweet but later acknowledged it had been duped. So did the American Thinker. Schumer doesn’t appear to have criticized the restrictions, even as he has criticized the administration’s broader response.
And neither really has his party. When the Trump administration made the announcement Jan. 31, there was little in the way of a political disagreement about it. I’ve scoured reports from around the time and come up almost completely empty.
Republicans have frequently pointed to former vice president Joe Biden’s comments on the day the restrictions were announced, in which he referenced Trump’s “record of hysteria and xenophobia.” But Biden wasn’t directly talking about the China restrictions, as FactCheck.org has reported.
And in fact, Biden was speaking around the same time that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar first announced the restrictions. When Biden’s event in Iowa began just after 4 p.m. Eastern time, Azar made the announcement at a briefing that started at 3:42 p.m. It’s not even clear Biden knew it had been announced. The White House would later offer a more detailed proclamation at about 8 p.m. that day.
The timeline of that day is also important when it comes to Trump’s claim that this was a bold step. The travel restrictions actually came after the three major carriers who have service to China — American Airlines, Delta and United — had already announced earlier in the day that they would halt that service. As USA Today noted at the time, the move by the airlines “all but rendered White House action moot.” The White House had floated potential travel restrictions earlier in the week, but this was something the airlines jumped on first.
And going back to the claims about opposition to the move, some Democrats actually seemed to praise it. Reps. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) on Feb. 4 commended Azar for the administration’s initial attempts to contain the virus, including mentioning quarantines and the “significant travel restrictions.”
“We strongly support your recent decision to declare a public health emergency in response to the ongoing outbreak of the 2019 novel Coronavirus,” they wrote.
Similarly, 2020 Democratic presidential candidates including Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) at the time criticized Trump for dismantling a White House office that dealt with pandemics, but they made no mention of opposing travel restrictions.
Around the time the travel restrictions were put into effect, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green (D) did criticize the Trump administration’s rush to implement them. “We will be prepared. We are spending 24/7 on this to make sure that whatever steps necessary be taken to keep our people safe,” Green said. “We do, but we never like a rushed job and that’s kind of what the federal government did to us by just announcing this on Friday.” Green, though, didn’t actually take issue with the concept of travel restrictions.
About the closest Democrats have come to criticizing the substance of the restrictions was a Feb. 5 subcommittee hearing featuring experts on responding to such situations. One of the experts, Johns Hopkins University’s Jennifer Nuzzo, said travel bans could be counterproductive in a situation like this.
“I am concerned by our singling out China for travel bans we are effectively penalizing it for reporting cases,” Nuzzo told lawmakers. “This may diminish its willingness to further share data and chill other nations’ willingness to be transparent about their own outbreaks.” She also suggested it wouldn’t do much to contain the spread.
Other experts on the panel also expressed concerns about how the restrictions were being implemented. But even in that hearing, the Democrats on the committee asked probing questions but didn’t decry the travel restrictions.
The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), asked Nuzzo: “How effective is this travel ban? You touched on it, that it actually may worsen things right now and concentrate this.” Bera later asked another witness what impact the restrictions would have on the global supply chain. He added at another point that “there are discussions taking place backwards and forwards as to whether that actually will help us get a handle on this or if the travel ban will actually potentially make things worse.”
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) asked, “Not only does travel ban or restrictions or monitoring impact the economy, doesn’t it also make it more difficult to share information so that we can address the outbreak — outbreaks quickly — or get international cooperation from others addressing the problem?”
Again, these are skeptical questions, but they are not Trump getting “heat” for making the decision. It instead looks a lot like those Democrats were probing a witness who is skeptical of the policy for details about her position. It’s what you should hope takes place in such hearings.
And in that way, it’s emblematic of Trump’s grievance-airing. He seems to regard really any questioning of his and his administration’s actions as politically motivated, no matter how substantive. He has constructed a vast conspiracy against himself based upon very little actual criticism of — and some outright false information about — one particular decision.
This is about all I could find in the way of travel-restrictions criticism. In fact, the most strenuous criticism of Trump’s travel restrictions has come not from Democrats, but from China’s foreign ministry. It decried them as an overreaction to the situation.
This post has been updated.