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Not ‘a great moment in American leadership:’ Romney criticizes government response to coronavirus

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) heads into a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 19. (Susan Walsh/AP)
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Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) offered a critical assessment of the federal government’s readiness for the novel coronavirus, describing it as not a “great moment in American leadership.”

Romney mostly kept his criticisms broad, avoiding attacking President Trump directly, though he took a few swipes at the president’s management style during an event with Georgetown University students via video chat on Tuesday night.

“The speed of our response looked slow compared to other people. That first phase will not stand out as a great moment in American leadership,” Romney said, referring to the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, adding, “We didn’t look real strong, and that’s kind of an understatement.”

Romney’s hot-and-cold relationship with Trump turned scorching earlier this year when he voted for one of the two articles of impeachment against the president. Romney was the only Senate Republican left off the White House’s bipartisan task force on reopening the economy. Trump said it was because he held a grudge against Romney and didn’t “really want his advice.”

Before joining the Senate this year, Romney was the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, governor of Massachusetts, president of a private equity firm and ran the 2002 Utah Olympics — all jobs that taught him about crisis management, he said.

While Romney said explicitly, “I’m not blaming this administration,” he suggested ways he’d be doing things differently if it were him in the Oval Office, primarily coordinating resources and response through the federal government.

“It’s hard to say to all 50 governors, you guys all do your thing,” Romney said. “I think the federal coordination has been less than my personal style.”

Trump has largely left it up to states to figure out how and when to reopen their economies and has been resistant to the federal government taking the lead on acquiring the necessary testing capabilities.

Romney also seemed to criticize Trump’s advisers, saying he would be surrounding himself with “real experts in crisis management … people who have dealt with this more than I have.”

He added, “The key to leadership is recognizing you’re not the smartest guy in the room.”