Multiple senators said Pence pointed to positive indicators, including the fact that while infections are rising, the mortality rate is not. That is partly because there is more testing, and younger and healthier people now account for larger shares of those getting tested, Pence said.
President Trump has repeatedly remarked of late that if there was less testing, there would be fewer infections, and the numbers would look better.
Pence told senators that only 3 percent of counties nationwide — and only 12 states — are actually experiencing case increases. Those figures don’t align with tallies by The Washington Post, which show increased cases in around 20 or more states and marked increases in 5 percent or more of counties.
“I think compared to where we were, we’re in a much better situation, but everybody knows it’s very fragile and we’ve got to stay after it,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters as he left the lunch. “But he wanted to assure us that they’re continuing to work with the states like mine and others that are seeing some spikes, but that the mix of people is a little different. It’s younger people who are getting the virus, people who are getting tested but may be not actually experiencing any symptoms. So it’s hard to pick one number and say that represents a complete picture.”
Cornyn, who is up for reelection, later issued a statement urging the federal government not to withdraw support from seven coronavirus testing centers in Texas as he said the Trump administration had announced plans to do.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in a television interview on Tuesday that given the alarming community spread in the state, Texans should stay at home if at all possible.
Despite the surge in cases nationwide, Congress and the White House appear to be taking little if any action to address it. Democrats have called for a national testing strategy, but the Trump administration has resisted. Congress pumped nearly $3 trillion in economic relief into the economy in a series of bills in March and April, but Senate Republicans have no plans to take additional action on another relief package until late July.
Some Senate Republicans remain unconvinced that any more economic relief is necessary at all, though millions remain out of work and enhanced unemployment benefits expire July 31.
Asked on MSNBC on Wednesday what Congress needed to do to address the case increases, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), replied, “Well, we have done it.” She pointed to the Heroes Act, a $3 trillion tax and spending bill House Democrats passed in May over a veto threat from Trump that would have pumped money into a vast array of health, welfare and economic relief programs.
There have been few if any bipartisan talks since. Next steps on a coronavirus rescue were not discussed Wednesday, senators said. Instead Pence focused on briefing them on the administration’s rosy view of the pandemic.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said senators didn’t take issue with Pence’s description of events.
“He used Florida as an example of where many of the counties are stable to declining — obviously Broward, Miami-Dade increasing. That’s sort of how specific he got in terms of just describing the situation on the ground,” Cramer said. “But no, nobody pushed back. There wasn’t anything to push back on.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters after the lunch that, backing up Pence’s points, he had stood up to point out that in Florida, a significant percent of new cases have come from people hospitalized for unrelated issues who are tested and discovered to have the coronavirus. But Rubio said he wasn’t surprised to see an increase in infections in younger people as they go out and socialize, spreading the virus more and more.
“This is going to be our challenge moving forward until we have a vaccine. But we can’t shut down the economy again, so I just hope everybody does the best they can to protect themselves. And we know how. We’ve been told repeatedly how to do it — just do it,” Rubio said.
“Everyone should just wear a damn mask, like you guys are, like I am right now,” Rubio told reporters.
Pence wore a mask heading into the lunch, which he took off to speak from the podium. Trump, however, does not wear a mask in public and has begun holding large indoor rallies where many people are maskless.
Jacqueline Dupree and Rachael Bade contributed to this report.