But he’s not the only one refusing to admit he gave people dodgy advice.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on Sunday morning urged people to go to bars and restaurants, even while Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, was on other shows urging the opposite. Trump then on Monday echoed Fauci, saying the administration was urging people to “avoid discretionary travel and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and public food courts.”
That left Nunes with some cleanup work to do. So he took to the friendly confines of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, where he tried to suggest he was talking about takeout — not actually eating at the restaurant.
“So what I was saying is you have empty restaurants, you can go through the drive-through, you can do takeout. It’s a great place to go,” Nunes said. “The media freaks can do what they want, but they’re endangering lives here by continuing this panic when we have no food shortage in this country.”
It’s a clarification that might have been nice in the 36 hours between his initial comments and his Hannity interview, but Nunes’s office didn’t respond to multiple requests from The Washington Post for further comment.
It’s also a clarification that doesn’t really hold water.
In his comments on Fox News on Sunday morning, Nunes had this to say: “If you’re healthy — you and your family — it’s a great time to go out and go to a local restaurant. Likely you can get in easy. … Go to your local pub.”
At no point in the interview did Nunes say that he was talking about takeout or drive-through. In fact, he said, “Likely you can get in easy” — which suggests there would be no wait for seating. (One also wonders how many people are ordering takeout from a “pub,” though admittedly I’m not familiar with the establishments in Nunes’s district.)
Nunes was also not the only one dealing with the fallout from his bars-and-restaurants advice and refusing to back down. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) drew criticism over the weekend for posting a picture of him and his family eating at a restaurant with the caption: “Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans at the @CollectiveOKC. It’s packed tonight!”
Stitt later deleted the tweet and on Sunday declared a state of emergency. But then his office again went against the advice of Fauci and health officials, telling CNN on Monday, “The governor will continue to take his family out to dinner and to the grocery store without living in fear and encourages Oklahomans to do the same.” (The comments came before Trump weighed in but well after Fauci’s comments.)
As I noted Monday, this attitude has permeated the GOP, with a poll this weekend showing just 12 percent of Republicans had stopped or planned to stop going to restaurants and bars. A Marist College-NPR-PBS NewsHour poll on Monday showed just 40 percent of Republicans viewed coronavirus as a “real threat,” vs. 54 percent who said it was being “blown out of proportion.”
It’s a time in which officials would do well to choose their words carefully to make sure they comply with the guidance from health officials — and now even with the guidance we’re getting from Trump. Trump was asked Monday about the advice Nunes and Stitt had given, which Trump said he was unfamiliar with. After it was (accurately) summarized for him, he noted Oklahoma isn’t yet hit hard but added, “I would disagree with it” and “It’s adverse to what the professionals are saying."
It is, and no amount of attempted cleanup is changing that.